Well, what can I say, words at this point fail me so I'll have to resort to simple words like incredible & unbelievable to describe the two days of the grand depart in Yorkshire this year.
It was a long trip up here from home with many matrix signs on the A1M warning of delays around the tour areas of Leeds and York. We left the motorway at Ripon to get to my brothers house just outside Harrogate and then it hit you, yellow bikes, bunting, knitted jumpers, painted tractor tyres, you name it and it was painted in tour colours...excitement was growing.
Friday evening we went into Harrogate and wandered up to the fan park past the finishing area and past all the VIP areas and tv commentary boxes. The fan area consisted of a number of stands and big screens which would no doubt be rammed the next day. Unfortunately with the wet weather we didn't really hang around too much. Mind you slightly surreal was seeing all the French staff watching France v Germany on one of the big screens in French!!
Saturday dawned and my brother managed to plan me a route over to a small town called Pool which the peloton would ride through 5 minutes after the ceremonial start at Harewood house. Now I thought Devon was hilly, well, Yorkshire is even worse. Anyway a rolling ride and a lovely descent brought me into Pool. However, on the way was a reminder of how dangerous some of the roads can be in Yorkshire with the road blocked momentarily by an ambulance attending to a cyclist who had come a cropper on a descent. She seemed ok and was certainly with the right people.
Once we re-started I joined a group of riders who were just riding out with their wives and we had a really nice gentle ride into Pool in Wharfedale enjoying the glorious Yorkshire countryside. Any doubts as to whether we would find the route were totally unfounded as the crowds were already 3 deep on the barriers but a bit of cyclo cross through a field and up an alleyway brought me out a little bit further down the road just outside the Post Office.
Slightly less busy-only 2 deep!! Excitement was growing, every car or motorbike that passed was cheered. Soon, jet planes were heard and the Red Arrows were spotted which raised the excitement even further. Now the riders were due to leave Harewood House at midday so were scheduled to pass Pool about 10 minutes later. Sure enough they arrived and already 3 riders were clear: Jens 'Jensie' Voigt (Trek Factory Racing), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis).& Benoit Jadrier (Bretagne) with almost a minutes lead on the peloton who sped past followed by the many team cars that accompany a bike race.
That done I was able to check my route back to Killinghall so that we could all walk down the road to watch them pass the "4km to go" banner later in the day. Now my brother had suggested rather than coming back the same way I should cut across to a little village called Farnley and pick up the B6451 which promised a nice run past some reservoirs and then up a climb. Looking closely at the map I realised that the road had a single arrow on it. I was with someone at the bottom who asked if I had ridden this road before which I hadn't so I asked him if I should engage bottom gear now, yes was the answer!! The climb rose steeply initially then levelled out past a few houses and opened up enough to see that the road climbed round a sharp bend and rose towards some trees which stupidly I thought was the top -nope. It dragged on even further through the trees towards what was definitely the top and the treeline ended giving way to the wide open vistas of the Dales. Up ahead I could make out a wind farm and the 'golf balls' that marked the rather secret establishment of RAF Menwith Hil which the Tour riders would pass the next day on Stage 2.
Now my brother had told me that I needed to take a right turn at some point on this road and that if I got as far as the A59 then under no circumstances use this road as it is very dangerous for cyclists. Anyway, I ignored the first right and took the next right which resembled a bit of a farm track only to find that it looped back round to the first road I could have taken. Anyway, a nice stretch of dead straight road with a tailwind meant a few clicks up the block to a higher gear......nice. Up ahead though I could see the road rise and thought, yeah, that should be fine, stay in the big ring, no problem....How wrong was I, the inner ring and a lower gear was needed. After that it was downhill all the way to re-join my outward route at Beckwithshaw then a short undulating section bought me back to Killinghall.
After a wash & brush up and a spot of lunch we watched a bit of the ITV coverage and soon realised that the crowds I had seen in the morning were more or less replicated along the entire route of the stage. The climb of Buttertubs could easily have been anywhere in France. Whilst the breakway negotiated the narrow road easily it was the peloton that were held up by the sheer size of the crowds.
After lunch we walked the short distance to the main road in Killinghall where the riders would pass under the 4km to go banner. On the way I could have been back in Belgium with the Omega Pharma-Quick Step mini buses parked at the side of the road just like when I have been to watch the Tour of Flanders. Walking down the road we found a convenient place to stand on a slightly uphill bend. Again every car and motorbike that went past was cheered, British police outriders on motorbikes were giving kids high fives and playing tunes on their sirens.
Soon the publicity caravan arrived with loads of weird and wonderful vehicles from the various tour partners like Carrefour, Ibis Hotels, Credit Lyonnais & RAGT Semence to name but a few. Perhaps one of the most thought provoking was the information handed out to commemorate the centenary of the First World War with poppy and cornflower seeds.
With these vehicles passed, now it was a wait for the riders. Unfortunately, internet connection was sketchy so I had to put a call in to Jez, knowing that he would have it on in the shop, and he told me that they had just passed Ripon, approximately 12-13 miles north of us. Soon the helicopters announced the arrival of the riders and before we knew it they were upon us and sweeping past at a rapid pace with the sprinters teams starting to mass at the front. Whoosh and they were gone followed by the almost endless line of team cars. Soon that was it, wait all that time and they speed past in what seems like seconds!!
As we started to walk back to my brothers house we nearly got caught out by a couple of stragglers from Lampre and Omega Pharma who were still racing. However a few horns and sirens were enough to warn. On the way back I was able to check the internet and was told the bad news that Cav had crashed and Kittel had won the stage. My brothers mother in law who was with us did not believe me that the riders had already finished-yes they do ride that fast! What a day with more to come the next day!!
My brother decided on the Sunday that he would show me one of his favourite local riders so that we could watch the race just before they started the climb of Blubberhouses.
Another nice day dawned on Sunday so off we set and soon we were in lovely quiet country lanes passing through lovely quaint villages with names like Swincliffe, Tang and Kettlesing Bottom. We came out on the A59 which being shut for the Tour was perfectly safe to ride on. Riding up the slight rise we pitched up outside RAF Menwith Hill. Today we missed the publicity caravan so sat on the side of the road waiting for the riders. Again every car and motorbike was cheered and waved at. Soon the helicopters announced the arrival of a small breakaway group of 7 riders who took the slight rise in their stride, perhaps knowing that Blubberhouses was to come. Not long after the peloton arrived which was fairly well strung out with The yellow jersey of Kittel sitting comfortably in the bunch. Mind you after the riders had gone through it was seeing one of Kittel's team mates sitting 6 inches off the rear of the team car at 30+mph that was decidedly uncomfortable.
Once they had gone by we decided to continue along the A59 which remained closed to normal traffic-what a joy. We decided that it would be nice to continue to Blubberhouses but after cresting the rise and seeing the sea of people ahead we decided against it so disappeared again in to some lovely lanes. Our plan was to meet the rest of the family at Darley for a spot of lunch. Well, my personal opinion was that my brother decided to show me all the local descents and ascents he knew. The problem being that the descents were quite narrow in places which meant you weren't able to carry much speed on to the ascent which were steep.
We took a slight diversion near Heyshaw so that my Brother could point out the various local and not so local points of interest. All I can say, what a view across the Dales - you could just make out the chimneys of the Selby power station. Mind you, what wasn't so nice was being able to see the golf balls at Menwith Hill and feeling that you had ridden for ages but hadn't really travelled that far. A fast descent bought us back towards Dacre then onto Darley for lunch of a Tomato and Mozzarella ciabatta sandwich.
After a great lunch it was a small rise before we turned off to the actual village of Darley, then passed through Birstwith and Hapsthwaite before a short fast section bought us back to Killinghall in time to watch the conclusion of Stage 2 of the Tour in Yorkshire. A great run in to Sheffield showed who this years favourites were, Froome, Nibali and Contador all to the fore on the final climb of Jenkin Road but the stage was taken by Nibali following a cheeky attack within the last 2km.
After a great couple of days in Killinghall with my brother we travelled over to York where the shops had also taken the tour to heart. Near where we staying was a lovely shopping street called Bishy Street who had put on a great show for the Tour with various window displays on a tour theme, bunting across the road and a street party was had on the Sunday evening.
All I can say is what a great event put on by the organisers in Yorkshire and it was really great to see everyone taking the race to heart. There is talk of a UCI approved event taking place in Yorkshire next year over the May BH, well, if it is organised as well as the Tour was and the locals take it to heart to the same level then it will be a sure fire success. I know it's a long way to Yorkshire but take the time to go up their to enjoy some great cycling country and scenery. I think both stages have been permanently signposted so anybody can go up there and ride the same route as the pros.