The Tour de France in Yorkshire has got everyone in Britain going crazy for cycling. The nation has fallen in love with bikes in a big way.
Standing by the roadside at East Witton on the opening stage of this year’s Tour in Yorkshire is like a surreal dream. I never thought that I’d see Le Tour in Yorkshire during my lifetime.
Ten years ago the definition of a British cycling fan was someone who had a niche interest in the sport who was prepared to battle the weather in very small numbers to watch their heroes.
Over the last 15 years we travelled to France where we were often the only British cycle supporters. Back home we shivered on roadsides watching the Tour of Britain with a handful of cycle buffs.
It was easy to rub shoulders with Mark Cavendish in a sleepy French village after a sprint win. You could even share gossip with Bradley Wiggins next to the team bus at the start of a Tour stage.
But after Olympic success in the velodrome and two consecutive Tour de France winners in Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, British cycling has become as big as it is on the continent.
It seems almost unthinkable but this revolution in cycling has proved that Britain can be a big player in the cycling world. And I’m loving it!
We’ve been planning our trip to ‘Le Tour’ in Yorkshire for months in common with many British cycling fans.
Being there on the first stage of this year’s race was never in doubt – and we knew that the camper van had to be part of the experience.
The excitement was building as we drove down to North Yorkshire the night before the race . The Tour was less than 12 hours away and we couldn’t wait to see how Britain’s hot favourite Chris Froome would fare in a competitive field.
There was also the added bonus of the Manx flyer, Mark Cavendish, sprinting for the green jersey on home territory. The race couldn’t have been closer to home – it was going right past Cav’s mum’s house in Harrogate.
When we arrived, it was amazing to see how Yorkshire had responded to the Tour. In East Witton the whole village was covered in bunting and yellow Tour bikes.
Later in the day, I spotted a pet dog from the village wearing a red and white polka dot King of the Mountains T-shirt!
In the thick of it
The trick, of course, with the Tour is always getting close to the action and battling the crowds and road closures.
So we arrived early on Friday night at The Blue Lion, an olde worlde gastro pub in East Witton, North Yorkshire. The pub has the charm of an old style hostelry with top class food.
We’ve been regular diners at the pub for several years so it seemed like the ideal place to watch the action unfold – whilst enjoying the food and drink experience!
The night before the Tour we enjoyed great traditional English food including a giant haunch of venison and halibut in a cream sauce prefaced by a very French confit of duck.
Paul Klein, who runs The Blue Lion, once again, showed himself to be the host with the most! The pub had – like most of the village – themed up its rooms with a Tour style.
The Tour in Yorkshire
On the day of the race, the Blue Lion couldn’t have been in a better spot to watch the spectacle of Le Tour coming through the village. The race came right past the pub’s door!
There’s a real sense of occasion when Le Tour hits your village. Little East Witton got 100% into the party spirit with roadside parties, marquees and fan mania!
After a great pub dinner the night before the race, we were early to grab a prime pitch to watch the race come through.
We selected our perfect pitch by the roadside at the top of a climb before the cyclists hit the village. A couple of camping chairs and glasses of wine eased us into the French spirit.
Nearby a few locals had chosen to go the ‘full French’ with black berets. Others were waving national flags or – in my case- waving noisy rattles!
Like Le Tour de France in its home land a caravan of floats came through first as an ‘amuse bouche’ for the main event.
Ever hopeful I looked out for flying giveaways thrown from ther floats but small children were more agile than us grabbing the free goodies!
Then an army of Tour cars, outriders and even half of the French gendarmerie leading out the riders!
After much waiting around, a strange hush descended on the village as there were murmurings that the race was only 10 minutes away.
The excitement built. This was the moment we’d all been waiting for – the Tour in East Witton for goodness sake!
As the first riders emerged, we struggled to work out who was in the lead but the ever-reliable BBC website commentary confirmed that had been a break away group of three riders.But the peloton had hunted them down and was taking control.
By the time they reached the our village the peloton were in control of the race.
Meanwhile the crowds were going crazy. One group were hoisted above the hedges and fields on a tractor extendor arm or ‘cherry picker’. What a great view!
The peloton flies by
After much waiting around the riders were just around the corner, having wrestled with two steep climbs at Buttertubs Pass and over the moors.
As they appeared coming up the hill, trying to pick out individual riders was tricky. They fly by so quickly that they’re gone in the flash of a blinking eye.
Was that Chris Froome I spotted in the Team Sky jersey? He was so well-protected by his team mates that he was hard to see.
There was also a small group of back markers preceded by a man with a broom. Was that Fabian Cancellara near the back of the race? The shame of it!
Although it’s a great thrill being at the live event, it’s much easier to spot what’s going on when you’re watching on TV!
The race flies back too quickly but there’s a real sense of being in a place where history was being made.
Who would have dreamed the Tour de France would come through the tiny village of East Witton?
After the bikes whizzed through the village at great speed there was a gulp of amazement. Le Tour in Yorkshire – the unthinkable had become a reality!
There were gone in less than a minute.
We headed down to the village green to watch the final stages of the race unfold on a giant screen.
Germany’s Marcel Kittel was the eventual victor of the stage when it reached Harrogate but the real winner was British cycling despite Mark Cavendish’s horrendous crash on the final sprint.
The Tour in Yorkshire was a true tour de force!
Tammy’s top tips for Le Tour
The Tour de France continues through Britain on stages 2 and 3 of the race in Leeds, Cambridge and London between 5-7 July before heading back to France for the main section of the race.
The race reaches its climax in Paris on 27 July 2014. Book your place for the grand finale on the Champs Elysees for one of sport’s great spectacles.
For more tips about the Tour de France in France read Tammy’s top travel tips. Watch out for road closures and grab your pitch early.
Follow the route of the Tour de France in Britain and France.
Best of all is getting into the Tour spirit, something that Yorkshire embraced brilliantly as one million people turned out to support the race on its Grand Depart.
What an event and what an amazing achievement in Britain!
If you’re going to the rest of the Tour, don’t miss the crazy carousel which precedes the main cycling event. It’s a blast with its crazy rabbits, gyrating dancers, loud klaxons and mad floats.