Two hundred acres of open green grassland punctuated by thousands of yellow, green, and red spotted miniature knitted jerseys. Shopfronts decorated with yellow bunting and white houses donning red spots. This can only mean one thing, the biggest cycling race of them all takes to the roads of Yorkshire. And Harrogate is at the heart of it!
For months the locals have been preparing and every day as I return home I notice another decoration has been added to the route. You can sense the atmosphere and excitement building around the town. A week before stage 1 began I drove along the A59 to Oxenhope, a lovely little village in the Yorkshire Dales (a lot of the journey is used in the stages) and amongst the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales I passed many a yellow bike as well as flags.
The day came and there was a weekend of road closures, 2000 journalists and 121 different TV channels meant 3.5billion pairs of eyes were looking down on Yorkshire; “God’s own county”.
On day 1, my wife-to-be and I decided to take a walk down to the finish line. We set off walking the 20 minute walk, the streets were lined with people and as we edged towards where the riders would finish, the congestion only built. It was about 1.30pm and the spot we had chosen to watch from was at the 150m mark. Two hours waiting and then the caravan came and went (the biggest cheer of the day went to Yorkshire Tea!). The big screen was above us and as the last vehicle of the caravan passed by we looked up to see the riders were only 34km away, about 1 hour to wait. The sun was beating down and everyone was in high spirits, the time flew. Commentary coming over the speakers built the crowd up, for the piece of history they were about to be a part of. Cavendish being the main man, his mum’s home town of Harrogate and the question on everyone’s lips “could he collect the yellow jersey?”
Suddenly you could hear the crowd roar as the riders came up the hill, Cavendish pushing for the lead. Gasps swept through the crowd, I saw bikes flying through the air. The riders came in, but where was their star man? Cavendish had fallen. Two minutes later he finished the race. Looking at him I would say that it was his pride that was damaged more than anything else.
We woke the next morning to the news that Cavendish was out. We were lucky to see him on the first day. The thousands that made the journey just to see him would have to be disappointed; he simply couldn’t carry on with the race.
It is said that the average spectator travels 130km to see a stage of the Tour. I was lucky, my journey was 0.3km. I ventured outside to take my spot, the caravan passed for the second time, once again around an hour and a half before the riders. I was stood in a quieter place than yesterday, sat in a camping chair at the end of my street complete with flask and packed lunch. The riders passed and I was less than a metre away (getting some great photos!) What an experience! It was such a great feeling to be part of the world’s biggest cycle race!
Along with so many other spectators I was inspired to start cycling again. So while the summer is upon us, what better time to get on our bikes and retrace the stages of the cycling legends-Cavendish, Froome or Kittel. There are plenty of BEST WESTERN hotels scattered along stages 1 and 2, the
BEST WESTERN PLUS Cedar Court Hotel Harrogate being on of them. Overlooking the famous 200-acre Stray, the magnificent hotel building is Grade II listed, with bags of character to complement the convenience of its prime North Yorkshire location. With all the modern facilities you’d expect of 4 star accommodation, yet all the charm and elegance you’d associate with a 17th Century building.
With the Yorkshire Dales as its back garden, Harrogate is a wonderful place to stay, I am especially lucky to live there. If you haven’t been (or even if you have) I would thoroughly recommend coming to visit and maybe even making a weekend of it!