York & North Yorkshire

C'est bon? What the French made of the English Tour

Image copyright Le Monde/ France Magazine
Image caption French media praised the start of the Tour, but some question whether England is truly a nation of cyclists

The Tour de France returned to Britain for the first time since 2007 - and about five million spectators are said to have shown their support. But what have the French made of the English stages of the Tour? And how likely is it to return to these shores in the near future?

The opening stage of the Tour de France - known as Le Grand Départ - likes to be a bit different.

And the selection of Yorkshire as its push-off point certainly felt like a surprise for many.

"We were up against some amazing places like Florence and Barcelona," said Andrew Denton from Welcome to Yorkshire, the tourist organisation which helped bring the Tour to the county.

"We knew we had to do something really special and we said from the start we would exceed the expectations of the organisers."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The success of Britain's cyclists had put the country in the "cycling spotlight", Le Monde said

And those behind the event seemed to agree their expectations had been exceeded.

Christian Prudhomme, the Tour's director, said the race's opening, in Leeds, had been the "grandest" in its history.

"You have raised the bar for all future hosts of the Tour de France," he said.

But what about the reaction of the French media?

The Tour's legend runs deep in the French bloodstream. It is a chance for the country to display two of its defining passions - cycling and spectacular scenery - to a global audience.

"We look at the Tour as a postcard and we are actually seeing England as a postcard at the moment," said Emmanuel Versace, chief online sports editor at French newspaper Le Monde.

"It's actually very nice to see Yorkshire, Cambridge and now London that way.

"There are lots of helicopter shots of the English countryside, there are lots of people along the route and it's stopped raining for once - which is good.

"It's working very well."

Image copyright Marcel Kittel
Image caption Marcel Kittel's team enjoyed their time in Otley

But when asked whether the good publicity meant Yorkshire would be hit by hordes of French tourists, swapping the Côte d'Azur for Scarborough, Mr Versace was not totally convinced.

"For the French, the holiday destination is France," he said.

"However, places like Yorkshire, Scotland and the Cotswolds, around Worcestershire, are increasingly becoming known as cycling destinations.

"The wins of previous Tour winners, like Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, mean Britain is in the cycling spotlight.

"Thanks to the Tour, we now know Britain is not flat - it has hills. And many cyclists enjoy a challenge."

Elsewhere, news broadcaster France 24 praised Yorkshire's "photogenic qualities" and said: "In the sunshine, Yorkshire looked glorious."

"The crowds were amazing," said Carolyn Boyd, editor of France magazine.

"I think the riders were amazed and excited at how warm the welcome in England was."

French newspaper The Local, meanwhile, said: "Some people compared the crowds in the Yorkshire Dales with the throngs usually seen in the Alps or Pyrenees."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Welcome To Yorkshire is already working on their next major cycling event - the Tour de Yorkshire

However, not everyone was won over.

Journalist Yann Duploye, from French newspaper La Voix Du Nord, wrote: "England is not yet the country of bicycles.

"The cycle paths are there, but you have to look for them.

"More than one Briton in two does not feel safe on a bike on the busy roads."

The riders themselves seemed impressed. First stage winner Marcel Kittel tweeted a picture of him and his team enjoying a coffee break in Otley, along with the hashtag "#greatpeople".

Mr Denton remained convinced that the overwhelming response from the home of the Tour was positive.

He said the press rooms, filled with representatives from the French media, had swirled with words like "fantastique" and "incroyable".

"They were smiling and patting us on the head everywhere we went," he said.

Image caption French journalists say cycling enthusiasts could swap the landscapes of France (left) for those of Yorkshire

Experts are divided on how soon the Tour could return to the UK, which spent £27m on hosting this year's event.

"Maybe not next year but maybe in the next 10 years," said Mr Versace.

Mr Denton said: "Rotterdam has hosted it twice in 10 years so why shouldn't it come back to Yorkshire?

"I'm sure there will be a great clamour to get it back.

"Yorkshire is never going to host the Olympics or the World Cup, so this is our 'big one' and we have seized it."

Meanwhile, the county is in talks to host a new three-day race in May 2015, expected to cover East Yorkshire and some of the other areas that the Tour did not reach.

Does it have name at the moment?

"Well," said Mr Denton. "Its working title is the Tour de Yorkshire."

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