In Northern Ireland for the Giro d’Italia earlier this year, we’d wondered whether Yorkshire would match the enthusiasm seen in NI, with sheep painted, villages decorated, shops and restaurants with cycling themed menus and stock. I was sceptical of Yorkshire’s chances, having been hugely impressed by Northern Ireland (and of the opinion that NI felt it had more to prove). But Yorkshire caught the Tour de France bug, and soon sheep could be seen sporting fetching yellow fleeces, the Three mobile phone company had rebranded as “Trois” and there was bunting, bunting everywhere.
I left everything late and didn’t book my train up to Leeds until the week of the tour, meaning I couldn’t book my bike on. This wasn’t a huge problem, as I was able to borrow my housemate’s 2-speed Brompton. He handed this over to me the day before I left, filthy, with no pedals and a puncture. I got it sorted and although I hated riding it at first, after a few minutes it felt less weird (although still twitchy) and I really got in to ringing the bell.
Kings Cross was busy and I had to sit in the vestibule all the way to Leeds, although I was then lucky enough to get a lift to Harewood House, where we were camping. With help from Tanya, we pitched my tent (borrowed, after what happened in Austria) just before the rain started and enjoyed some beers in the campervan.
The morning of the Grand Depart, and the sun was out. The riders were due to come through Harewood shortly after 11am, so that meant we could leave our tents at about 10.45, allowing me just enough time to paint my nails.
I found a spot by the road and enjoyed the atmosphere in the crowd. A woman next to me handed me her three-month old baby. Isn’t Yorkshire friendly, I thought. I got a wave from Kate Middleton, as our lizard overlords drove past. I was then told that a friend was standing a bit further down the road so I went to join him and his family. General Lucifer is one of the nicest people I know, he’s witty and has the observational abilities of a hawk, but is also extremely good company and an all-out laugh to be around. It was a pleasure to watch the peloton go past with him and his family.
Before the riders came past, there was a huge convoy of vehicles – official TdF vehicles, police cars, police bikes, French gendarmes, camera crew bikes. And that’s before you get to the team cars, the Mavic support cars and so on. Finally, the riders! The race was due to start properly at Harewood House (ceremonial Royal start and all that jazz) so they’d been rolling along and chatting. I really like seeing the riders having a good time, talking to the other riders, especially those who aren’t on their team. I guess these guys have spent years in each other’s company and might have known each other since they were kids.
The race started and the Red Arrows flew over – something I’ve seen before but forget is quite so awe-inspiring. For the rest of the day I hung about at the campsite, watching the stage on the big screens set up around the main arena. I wasn’t feeling particularly well and was in a cycle of feeling too hot, shivering and falling asleep. By the end of the stage I was feeling quite hazy and it took several replays of the Mark Cavendish crash for me to figure out what had happened, with no chance of really figuring out why. I really felt for him, sobbing by the side of the road, before being put on his bike and limping over the line, holding his arm in such an obviously injured way (get well soon, Cav!).
We spent another night at the campsite, barbecuing asparagus and talking too much shop.
The following day I felt a bit better, although I’d not slept well (freezing cold, and imagining that it was raining when it wasn’t). Tanya and I decided that we needed to use our bikes, having dragged them up to Yorkshire, so we decided to head for Harrogate, where Stage 1 had finished and where Stage 2 would be passing through again (Harrogate *is* very nice, who can blame the organisers?). Tanya was on her heavy touring bike and I was on the Brompton.
Immediately leaving Harewood House is a large descent, which was fun until I realised how twitchy the bike felt and OHMYGODTHISISABROMPTON. There are also a few ascents on the way to Harrogate, all of which I managed on the “hill climbing gear” on the Brompton, stamping on the flat pedals and trying to spin as fast as I could before I could lose momentum. This happened on the final hill, as I ran out of steam and had to push the silly-wheeled bike up to the top.
We didn’t really know where we were going in Harrogate, so just kept going until we found the Tour route, at the north of the town. There was already quite a crowd, all in good moods. As the motorcade started coming through we laughed at the police high-fiving the crowds, sirens and horns blaring. We could see the coverage helicopter overhead so knew the riders would be through soon, and an official vehicle came through announcing that the first riders we’d see would be the breakaway, with the peloton following shortly after.
The breakaway came through – no idea who they were! The team cars made it a bit clearer, but at the speed the riders were going you could barely count how many there were, let alone who they were. When the peloton came past I held my phone up and took a few snaps, nothing fantastic but nice to have a memento. I even snapped Chris Froome, looking far better than he did a few days later in France (get well soon, Chris!).
With the riders passed, we waved at some team cars before nipping back into Harrogate and beating the crowds to Betty’s Tea Rooms. We had some tea and soup, then bought a chocolate bar each and had a quick nap in the park before tackling our return to Harewood.
The return to Harewood wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. The final climb saw a lot of traffic on the road as well as a cycle sportive, but I followed a roadie up, using the gaps he made in the traffic to squeeze my tiny wheels through. A lot of the sportive riders looked put out to be passed by a Brompton, and the roadie turned to me when we reached the top and was probably going to congratulate me on sticking with him when he realised a) I was a girl and b) I was on an impractical bike.
Back at Harewood, we watched the rest of the race on the big screens, eating chips, before heading back to London and its angry car drivers.
With all the action in this Tour, I’m glad I got to see some of it and be part of the Tour experience – and by seeing the race right at the very start I was able to see it before anyone had crashed out. As I write, Cavendish, Froome, Contador and 15 others have abandoned the race, and we’re only at the first rest day. It’s been very exciting, for cycling and for Yorkshire, and I hope all the injured riders heal up fast.
Final thought: Froome tries to carry on riding with two broken hands, Contador climbs a Cat 1 mountain with a broken leg – and people still think football, with its pantomime diving and theatricals, is a real sport?