Le Grand Depart

Who could resist going to see the Tour de France's first visit to Yorkshire? Certainly not me. We have a friend in York whom we'd been meaning to visit for some time (since our last visit when CycleSeven cycled the Dales in fact!) so this was the perfect opportunity. We took the train from Southampton and it soon became clear that we weren't the only ones with this idea. The further north we went the more cyclists got on – the ones without bikes were easily identifiable from their choice of reading matter, all with the same story of inviting themselves to stay with long lost friends and relations. There was quite a buzz on the train but it was nothing to the atmosphere when we arrived in York to find it full of yellow bicycles.

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Yellow Bikes Everywhere

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A Heartfelt Plea

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Most Imaginative Sign Outside an Indian Restaurant

The plan for Saturday was very simple – take the train to Harrogate and watch the finish. Unfortunately rather a lot of other people had the same idea! Extra train carriages had been laid on but they were still absolutely packed. Fortunately someone immediately gave up their seat for our friend Dorothy who is in her eighties but Dennis and I were standing all the way in a carriage that made the London Underground at rush hour look spacious! The short journey took about an hour and a half but the atmosphere was very good natured. When some poor soul was taken ill a message was passed along the train in the time honoured fashion "Tell the driver the ambulance will be at the next station. Pass it on." Effective but hard to believe in this age of electronic communications! All the stations were decked out in bunting and 2 ladies were hanging little knitted Tour jerseys on the fence as we passed.

Dennis and Dorothy took one look at the crowds in Harrogate and decided to return to York. They had a point, it was absolutely packed. I tried watching the race on the big screen for a while but I couldn't really see much and headed off in search of a much needed cup of tea. Just round the corner a large church was serving refreshments and also showing the race coverage. It was a perfect haven and I spent a happy hour in there eating and watching the race. They even had a bicycle display in the church!

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Heavenly Bikes!

I left this peaceful haven and joined the madding crowd in an effort to see something of the finish. The volume of noise as the riders passed was unbelievable but I'm afraid that all I actually saw was the top of a few helmets! I didn't know that Cav had crashed until someone told me on the train! I legged it back to the station in an attempt to beat the crowds but the police had barriered off the road outside so I needed to go a long way down the road to a crossing point then fight my way back through the milling throng. By the time I reached the station the queue stretched right round the perimeter of the car park and a long way back down the road. I resigned myself to a long wait. Miraculously it wasn't too bad. I managed to get on the second train and even managed to get a seat.

I had intended to head into the centre of York to watch the start the next day but after the crowds of Harrogate I decided to try to see the race as it left the Knavesmire Racecourse. This was a good plan as it was within walking distance of Dorothy's house and arriving early meant we got a spot in the front row. There was a tremendous carnival atmosphere and the large police presence was softened by the fact that they were all wearing yellow hats for the occasion! I was stood opposite the team car driven by Malcolm Elliott, one of the best British riders of the 80s. Dennis was more impressed by the Lancaster bomber that flew over with a Spitfire on its tail. It certainly was a splendid sight.

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Malcom Elliott

The first stage from the racecourse was neutralised and as I was positioned just after a sharp bend I managed to get a good view of the riders as they passed relatively slowly amidst much cheering and clapping.

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Jens Voigt in the Polka Dot Jersey

The cavalcade disappeared, the helicopters buzzed further into the distance. Nothing else to do but walk back and watch the rest of the stage on the telly!

5 comments on “Le Grand Depart”

  1. Kern wrote:

    You have a lot of nerve, Hilary, to brave the crowds for the Tour. It sounds like the excitement was infectious. It's great that the Tour does not appropriate all symbols related to the event. During the Olympics, a sausage maker who had looped five sausage rings in his window had to remove them because of trademark violations :( .

    I do like the bucket brigade messaging. I wonder what the final message was when it reached the driver?

  2. Chris wrote:

    I kind of wish that I had gone to see Le Tour in Yorkshire, despite the mention here of tops of helmets flashing by.

    My choice would have been Buttertubs Pass, but I found myself shouting at the telly "Get out the bloody way!" a bit too often.

    Good point, Kern, about the contrast between "London 2012" (if I dare even type it out) and Le Tour and the symbols associated with each event.

    Yesterday I saw a scarecrow on a bike in East Yorkshire (the only part of the county not visited by the peloton earlier this month – they even went in Derbyshire and *gulp* even Lancashire for goodness sake). It pointed the way to Lockington and Paris. Perhaps I should have made an attempt to see it all in the flesh after all. Maybe next time...?

  3. Patrick wrote:

    Well done Hilary (and well done Yorkshire – amazing crowds). The TDF TV coverage is superb nowadays, with the motorcycles and helicopters, and I enjoy the commentary as well – Phil and the other chap talking about castles all the time. I could watch it all day, which is more or less what I did, and do every year.

    Here's a pic of the Tour whizzing through Sarlat in 1995 (Indurain in yellow).

    Tour de France, Sarlat, 1995

    We stood for an hour or two in the hot sun, then they came and went in less than a minute. It was fun, sort of, but I don't think I'd do it again.

  4. Alan Rowe wrote:

    A great report on the Grand Depart Hilary. It is indeed something of a pain to watch these things, madding crowds etc only to see 'a flash', but even so, to witness these things in the flesh has to be done! Having struggled over to the mainland to watch the 1994 stage in Portsmouth and braved hordes to watch the 2012 Olympic torch go through my town, I can now say 'I've seen the real thing!' and those memories last forever!

  5. Roberto o Fernandez wrote:

    Hello I write from Tiger ARG:
    I read with great interest the note and wonder if it has any meaning painted yellow bikes?
    Thank you!

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