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    Racing

    The Tour in Britain: Hits and Misses

    We look at the highs and lows of the 2014 Tour de France's three days in England.
    Words
    Andy McGrath
    Photographs
    Offside/L’Équipe

HITS

Yorkshire

This Grand Départ was a coup, well-organised and captivating a whole county. Foreigners and British folk alike will have been stunned by Yorkshire's beauty. Having Prince William and Princess Kate start the Tour was an even classier move than Vincenzo Nibali's successful attack into Sheffield too. Gary Verity and his team pulled it off spectacularly: it says a lot that the London stage, still electrifying, felt like an after-thought.

The crowds

Unimaginably, astonishingly large. It was hard to distinguish peloton from fans at times. They came in their millions over the weekend, and we’d wager the majority were people who are not cycling fans and had never seen a race in their lifes. The fan parks seemed popular too. How could the Tour de France not come back to the UK given the turnout?

Sunshine

It was close at times, but the showers stayed away till the last moments in London, leaving the peloton and punters to enjoy dazzling sunshine for the weekend. Pleasantly un-British.

Bretagne-Séché Environnement

The little team from Brittany seem to be honouring their Tour wild card by making it into every breakaway from Leeds to Paris. Chapeau, chaps: three down, eighteen to go.

Enterprising racing

It’s been a long time since the Tour de France favourites came to the fore so early, their hands forced by the narrow, grippy hills around Sheffield. The Côte de Jenkin Road was reminiscent of the Cauberg or Saint-Nicholas, and the stars raced up and down it with the urgency and hunger of a one-day Classic finale. An annual race over the same course sounds great to us: Sheffield International Classic, anyone else?

Community feel

More evidence, if it was needed, that the Tour de France is one big, good natured celebration that unites people above class, race and nationality. Cities, towns, pubs and strangers all came together to make the weekend a giant communal love-in.

The legacy

Countless kids – let alone adults - will be inspired by the day the Tour came past their front door. The Yorkshire club scene is rejuvenating, as we discovered and the county is hosting an annual UCI stage race from 2015. The Tour's successful trip to the UK could even have an impact on cycling infrastructure. Less importantly, one lasting legacy will be those Strava times on the Yorkshire hills toppled by that pesky professional peloton. 

MISSES

The Tour de France team presentation

There’s a reason that every past Tour de France team presentation has been free: cycling is a sport for the people. This would have worked better in a public square, such as the Trafalgar Square unveiling in 2007. The do itself was decent, but not worth £45 or even half that.

Mark Cavendish

Well, that wasn’t in the script. Cavendish has bounced remarkably well in past crashes, but his heavy fall in Harrogate was too many. The Tour hasn’t even left Blighty and we’re missing the most prolific Brit.

The crowds

It was dangerous at times, as fans spilled into the road or took that selfish symptom of the 21st century, selfies. Often, mind, it was due to the sheer mass of people: where are folk meant to stand with drystone walls everywhere? The riders were dazzled and occasionally displeased with the masses. That said, this is part of Britain's cycling education: you can’t expect people that never attended a bike race before to have the know-how.

The trains

Turns out the Yorkshire trains couldn’t take the strain. After each stage, queues snaked for hundreds of metres at Leeds and Harrogate Stations, unable to cope with the deluge of cycling fans.

comments

shereewhatley@y...
07/08/2014 - 11:05
I travelled over from France to see the first three stages and your comments are spot on!

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