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From Leeds to London: What the Tour de France riders will probably miss

By Laurence Cawley
BBC News

image copyrightGetty Images

Tourism bosses hope the Tour de France will showcase England's beautiful scenery to the world. But ironically the riders will not see much of it. Instead they will see bitumen, road markings, perhaps some blurred spectators' faces, a forest of whirling wheels and Lycra-clad bottoms. So what cultural treats will they be missing out on?

The Tour de France is two races in one. The first will see 198 riders set off on Saturday from Leeds on a 21-stage, 2,271mile (3,656km) pedal slog to Paris.

This first stage - the Grand Départ - finishes in Harrogate and is followed by a second stage between York and Sheffield and a third between Cambridge and London.

After that, the Tour de France hits French soil. Away from the riders though, another battle is taking place - the race for exposure.

Councils and tourism bodies hosting (however fleetingly) the wheels of the Tour de France riders are lining up to show off their wares.

image captionThe riders will take part in a procession which starts on the Headrow in Leeds City Centre. The Black Prince statue has been dressed up with a yellow jersey for the occasion
image copyrightAFP
image captionEvening, by Alfred Drury, has also been given a yellow jersey in the centre of Leeds

Yes, for those who live along or near the route, the Tour de France will mean road closures and delays.

But for those seeking to put "Le Tour" into their tourism ambitions, those all-too-scant hours of association with the greatest cycle race on earth is a unique opportunity.

And they want to tell the world about their "picturesque villages", "vibrant cities" and "stunning countryside".

image copyrightAP
image captionFarmer Keith Chapman, a keen cyclist, has painted his flock in the various shirt colours of the Tour de France. The riders will pass his fields near Harrogate on Saturday

In its introduction to the Grand Depart 2014, Visit Yorkshire tells of the county's "rolling hills", "glorious countryside" and "the spectacular beauty" of its coastline.

It also tells of its tea-making talents, breweries and pubs.

image captionOne of the hundreds of bikes painted yellow throughout Yorkshire

Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire said the county had been seeking to "invigorate and galvanise the Yorkshire tourism industry" since 2009.

With the "world's largest annual sporting event" on "our doorstep", he said, "the eyes of the entire world will be on Yorkshire".

Those eyes will have plenty to fix upon.

In Leeds, bronze statues have been clothed in yellow jerseys, the bunting is out in force and there is a giant inflatable bicycle in front of the Old Post Office building.

The landmarks along the route do their best to capture a grand, humorous and cultured Yorkshire some of which might be recognised as television locations.

These include Harewood House, where riders will head for the official start after leaving Leeds city centre.

It's a grand 18th Century country house whose grounds, designed by landscape architect Capability Brown, are now more widely known as the location for ITV's long-running soap Emmerdale.

On Sunday, they will ride past Sid's Café in Holmfirth, best known for its pivotal role in Last of the Summer of the Wine. To mark the Tour de France, the cafe has been decorated with the Tour's 'King of the Mountains' polka dots.

Polka dots can also be found on some of the sheep belonging to Harrogate farmer (and cycling enthusiast) Keith Chapman, who has painted his flock in the various shirt colours of the Tour.

Meanwhile, again in Harrogate, a large yellow jersey made up of French marigold flowers was created on one of the town's grassy mounds.

image copyrightPA
image captionSid's Café in Holmfirth, best known for its pivotal role in Last of the Summer of the Wine, decorated with the Tour's 'King of the Mountains' polka dots

And across the county, hundreds of yellow-painted bicycles have been put up on walls, railings and at the entrance to villages.

One of the most unusual is in Silsden, where the village's branch of the Royal British Legion has created a cyclist and his bike stuck half way into a gap in the wall as part of a speed warning to those passing through.

The tour will also pass through the Pennine village of Haworth which was home to the Brontës, arguably the world's most famous literary family.

In the mid 19th Century the sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë, who lived at the top of the village in The Parsonage, wrote some of the most acclaimed novels in the English language.

Haworth sits in the middle of the moors.

And the best views of the race as it cuts through the countryside will come from the helicopters above - a fact not lost on the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionHome of the Brontës: The village of Haworth

The authority has recreated its ram's head logo on the side of Elbolton Hill using the fleece of sheep.

image copyrightYDNPA
image captionYorkshire Dales National Park Authority has recreated its ram's head logo on the side of Elbolton Hill using the fleece of sheep

In Huddersfield, the country has been brought into the town, with the sudden appearance of a fully working farm outside the train station thanks to the French artistic group Le Phun.

image copyrightPA
image captionMaurice Legood from Dewsbury looks at La Vengeance Des Semi, a fully working farm, outside Huddersfield train station

After reaching Sheffield on Sunday, the Tour ups sticks and moves down south to the university city of Cambridge. Before they depart, some riders might just notice some of the 2,000 mini yellow, green and polka dot jerseys which have been knitted to form bunting in the city.

Knitters have also been busy at work creating woollen bike wheel covers while artists in all media have been turning out Tour-related works to go up in shop windows and business receptions.

image captionDay three of the Tour de France will begin in the university city of Cambridge, which has thousands of mini-knitted jerseys on show in the form of bunting

Liz Bisset, Cambridge City Council's director of customer and community services, says this demonstration of "creative energy" will "help showcase the city to the watching world on a day that is sure to be spectacular and memorable".

The riders will pass via Trumpington, Great Shelford and Stapleford and across the border into Essex.

One site which will be invisible to the riders and bystanders will be a huge piece of art on a 10 hectare patch of land at North Weald Airfield.

image copyrightEssex County Council
image captionThe 'meadow art' at North Weald 'has been carefully chosen so it can be seen from the air', says Essex County Council

Artist Nicola Burrell, who came up with the design, said: "I've taken inspiration from the shapes of the bicycles, riders and slip streams, and I think the design represents the dynamism and excitement which is the Tour de France."

A spokesman for Essex County Council, which commissioned the work, said the site "has been carefully chosen so it can be seen from the air".

image copyrightChris Morgan
image captionThe riders of the Tour de France will pass Saffron Walden, home to the Norman Walden Castle

The Tour will mark a Gallic return for the ancient town of Saffron Walden, which is home to the Norman keep Walden Castle. It was built by Geoffrey de Mandeville during the 12th Century to reinforce his power across the region.

The boundary wall, railings and gates of the castle have recently been restored - just in time, says Uttlesford District Council's leader Jim Ketteridge, for the Tour de France.

The council also plans to open its museum for the whole day because, according to its visitor services manager Gemma Tully, "it gives us a perfect excuse to dust off our cycling related exhibits and present them to the cycling enthusiasts we hope to have visiting throughout the day."

image copyrightHistoric Royal Palaces
image captionRiders will pass the Tower of London before finishing in front of Buckingham Palace

After 73 miles (119km) of riding that day, the Tour's competitors will enter Greater London for the last stretch.

They will pass the London 2012 Olympic Park in Stratford, the Tower of London, head along the side of the Thames, passing the Houses of Parliament and finishing, with Buckingham Palace as the backdrop, on The Mall in St James's Park.

Exactly how the Palace will welcome the riders of the Tour de France is currently unclear.

But painted sheep, knitted bunting and yellow bikes sticking out of its heavy masonry are unlikely.

As is a polka dot paint job.

Related Topics

  • Cambridge
  • North Weald
  • City of London
  • Harrogate
  • Leeds
  • York

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