Aside from a decent special offer in the local shops there is little that gets a Yorkshire man’s heart really racing other than perhaps sport. With this in mind it was a rare occurrence when my stomach fluttered with excitement as the words ‘Yorkshire’ emerged from Tour director Christian Prudhomme’s mouth. He had just announced the destination for ‘Le grand depart 2014’. The news saw the iconic city of Venice choking on its pizza as the charms of the Leeds- Liverpool shipping canal left the city’s famous gondola drivers wondering where the summer influx of tourists would come from. The mumblings of money switching hands were swiftly muted; the Tours history is filled with more donations than the Godfather series but with everything Yorkshire has to offer it’s easy to see why the French would elect to cross the Channel rather than the Alps. So I ask, what can ‘this ere bike race’ bring to the people of Yorkshire and what can Le Tour expect from ‘Les Rosbifs’?
There is a reason the tour visits the same beautiful places every year of its 101 year existence. The reason is tourism: unashamedly putting the tour into tourism means ‘Le grande Boucle’ is as much about the landscapes and the scenery as it is about the people and the personalities. But puns aside this is why Yorkshire wants a slice of the tart. An opportunity to reach a global television audience of potential tourists who like me spend most of July ignoring the good weather in favour of gluing ourselves to the T.V. to watch our idols do battle. With this in mind I should point out the best bits of Yorkshire are free. Expect the famous cols of legend to be joined by the lesser known cattle grid of notoriety, from the rolling green and pleasant hills to our cobbled back streets as steeped in history as they are steep in gradient. England’s biggest county offers a veritable wealth of Holiday snap shot opportunities and a pleasant change to the camp site clichés that are replicated on a million memory cards every year. But aside from the hordes of fanatical tourists, what else can Yorkshire expect on the big weekend? Well, don’t be surprised if the street markings of ‘Bus stop’, ‘No parking’ and ‘School zone’ are joined overnight by the names of local heroes ‘Swift’, ‘Edmondson’ or perhaps the more exotic ‘Contador’ or the French housewives favourite ‘Voekler’. This is merely a precursor of things to come, the first sneeze before tour fever really strikes. Cue the day of the race and expect to see the diehard cycling fan base: the middle aged men in replica jerseys out and riding the roads ahead of their heroes. But the tours gravity attracts so much more. The families will be out en masse, their picnic blankets down at dawn claiming their spot of prime road side real estate like a well placed German beach towel. Then there are the younger more exuberant followers for whom the tour transports them back to their 8 year old self. They run alongside the stars of modern cycling hoping to extend the moment, the names may have changed but the emotional ecstasy remains. These young men have shed their suits and ties for the day, dusted off the millennium fancy dress costumes, the Borat mankini or the increasingly popular morph suit and pray their boss isn’t watching as they shake off the mornings sickie. In seconds it’s whooshed by, a lycra clad moment transforming a piece of anonymous tarmac into stories for years to come. For those in the crowd young enough to still require a souvenir from a day out, the Tour can provide with many a young fan going home clutching a free polka dot hat from the sponsors or perhaps a much sought after used bottle.
So with the Yorkshire’s enthusiasm for the tour now up into levels reserved only for a war of the Roses cricket match or buy one get one free offer, it’s a good idea to give the continentals a heads up before they cross the North sea. Firstly we must dispel the myth that Yorkshire is a dreary, wet place populated by penny pinchers, pint drinkers and flat cap wearers. Sure it could rain but with the barbecues still smouldering from the summer’s heat wave I urge our European cousins to bring their optimism…and their brolly, just in case! Now for the hardest myth to dispel: that the whitest part of a Yorkshire man’s skin is the patch just underneath where his wallet sits, so rarely does he allow the queens face to see the sunlight. Quote a Yorkshire man the full price on anything and expect an exasperated ‘How much’ in a scene reminiscent of a Bowler appealing to a stern umpire. Sadly as a well travelled son of the white rose I can honestly say this affliction of thrift has as much of a reputation internationally as York minster. On the subject of international reputations, France’s culinary creations are well known and recreated the world over, but what can Yorkshire’s kitchens, its bakeries and its breweries do to compete with such Michelin stars? In simple terms we don’t. The craft of a Parisian patisserie is replaced by the honesty of a pie and pea supper. We shun the pomp and delicacy of a 30 year old vintage wine in favour of a locally brewed, proudly Yorkshire bitter as a reward for a week’s hard graft. But these are not things that should be compared. The tour is the playing field for comparisons, man against man, country against country and that mes amis is why Le tour needs to visit Yorkshire. The Tour de France may be a home grown event but like most global events the foreign contingent has raised the bar. British sport and especially cycling is experiencing a golden era. We have an embarrassing wealth of talent and the results to match; the question isn’t so much who will win but most recently which Brit will win. We have left the French and other traditional cycling nations to scrap for stage wins with fewer and fewer of their new crop able to remember a home victory. It is perhaps to ‘Les Rosbifs’ that the world must turn. They must come to Yorkshire, to this proving ground of athletic potential and after spending millions in our tourist shops hopefully they can take away more than just a memory card full of Yorkshire’s beauty. So drink up my guys, this one’s one me, oh dear, I think I’ve left my wallet in my other pants.