Yorkshire has always been a stronghold of cycling. The hills are hard, the clubs are big and countless elite racers have emerged from its dales.
But when the county wooed Tour de France organisers ASO and, in a renegade bid, won the right to the 2014 Grand Depart, it set in motion a taste for hosting top level events that just seems to continue gaining momentum.
After a magical couple of days in July 2014 when the crowds thronged ten deep along Yorkshire’s verges, Yorkshire worked hard to sustain the legacy with its annual Tour de Yorkshire. Five years on from that Grand Depart, however, the ante will be upped again with the hosting of the UCI World Championships.
At the heart of all this race promotion is Welcome to Yorkshire – essentially the local tourist board albeit with a name that reflects its modern, forward thinking outlook. To discuss just how they’ve managed it, Rouleur caught up with its CEO, Sir Gary Verity, when he opened the inaugural Cycle Expo Yorkshire.
Rouleur: When you sat down and did the planning for the 2014 Grand Départ, did you have in mind that it could lead to hosting the world championships as well?
Sir Gary Verity: We certainly had a project to increase cycling and hold more major events but we hadn’t thought we would get the world championships this soon. Hosting the Worlds is the pinnacle, when it comes to organising cycle events.
What was the catalyst that made you bid to host the Grand Départ in the first place?
We wanted to put the county on the map. At Welcome to Yorkshire, where our job is to raise the profile of Yorkshire, we sat down around the time of the 2012 Olympics and thought about ways to increase tourism. We thought, what better way than to hold the biggest event in the world right here?
How much buy-in did you have from the different parts of Yorkshire?
People were very much in favour of it. They didn’t necessarily know what it was, and the idea of decking out Leeds as though we were in Limoges was a little strange to the local people, but they were sold on the idea that this would have a global audience.
The regional councils were willing to get involved and assist with the staging of the Grand Depart, and we also had a lot of help from former bike racers like Dean Downing and Brian Robinson.
Did you face much opposition?
Not so much. I think people were keen on the idea of something that was bringing more tourism into the region. Tourism is worth £8bn to Yorkshire, which is a significant increase since 2011. We feel that through increasing the appeal of cycling, by organising cycle races this can help grow tourism in Yorkshire, and businesses seem to be buying into that.
You’ve staged the Tour de Yorkshire for four years now. What was the most challenging aspect of organising it?
Sorting out a route can be quite challenging, as you need to design a course that fits the start and finish towns together neatly, while making for an exciting race. We also have quite a lot of towns bidding to host a stage start or finish. For this year’s Tour de Yorkshire we had 18 towns bidding for eight starts and finishes.
It was the same for the World Championships too, where we had twice as many towns bidding to be a start or a finish town as there were places available.
What happens with those towns that aren’t successful in their bid to host a stage?
Well, we try to run the route near another town in the county. For example, Hull has not hosted the Tour de Yorkshire and they did not bid to host the World Championships, but nearby Beverley will be one of the towns for the World’s and Bridlington will be one of the host towns for next year’s Tour de Yorkshire.
What were your criteria for choosing a host town?
We look at the infrastructure of the town, hotel facilities, how it fits in with the other towns along the route, and the interesting roads that can be fitted in. We also work out how picturesque it will be from above with a helicopter camera. Yorkshire is such a big county and we have to make sure we fit in all the parts – North, South, East and West – while also designing stages that can suit sprinters and climbers. The towns also need to slot together logistically too. It’s like doing a giant Sudoku puzzle.
The towns in this year’s Tour de Yorkshire (Beverley, Doncaster, Barnsley, Ilkley, Richmond, Scarborough, Halifax, Leeds) fitted well together and came as a nice package, and that’s what we try to achieve each time.
Innsbruck this year set a very bar. In what way do you plan to make the world championships in Yorkshire follow suit?
Well, we have a cracking route, with a trio of climbs in the men’s race. We will have the climb up to Aysgarth, Buttertubs Pass, and Grinton Moor. That’s going to give it dramatic effect to have those punchy climbs, but I think that the race will be won after those climbs because there is enough of a run into the finish for sprinters to regroup after the climb and do something during the seven laps around Harrogate. So it could be a race of two halves, providing an exciting finish.
It could be a climber, a sprinter or a rouleur who will be in with a chance. We wanted to add as much suspense to the race as possible.
The women’s event will also be exciting, having the Lofthouse climb, which has featured in the Tour de Yorkshire, and three circuits of Harrogate.That loop around Harrogate will also be included in this year’s Tour de Yorkshire, so riders can get the chance to check it out then before the World Championships.
Yorkshire 2019 will be presenting their vision for the Worlds at the Rouleur Classic on November 1-3