Le Grand Depart

Le Grand Depart

With only a day or two to spare, arrangements were made with my friend, David, to take our bikes to Yorkshire to watch Le Grand Depart.

I had initially thought watching the opening stage of the Tour de France on the box would be the way to go, but David wanted to see the race first-hand and who was I to say no?

To ensure we set off from Lincoln in time to park in Wetherby and cycle the 15 miles or so to Harewood House I stayed over with David Friday night. With a bowl of cereal and coffee inside us we loaded the bikes into the back of the car and made our 06:30 start.

The aim was to reach Wetherby, park up and be on our bikes heading for Harewood House by no later than 08:00. However, this didn’t take into account a battle of wits involving a public loo in Wetherby that ate my coins and refused to open its portal. Feeding more coins into it than was strictly needed did eventually persuade it to open and give me a counted down 15 mins – talk about under pressure…

Nature’s call answered, we set off at 08:15 as a light smattering of rain descended. The weather wasn’t looking promising. The idea was to be at Harewood House by 09:00 in time to see the advance parade pass through the entrance of the hall. It’s good that we didn’t encounter much traffic, as I’d certainly been anticipating a whole lot more.

Arriving in good time, there didn’t seem to be very many spectators, the reason becoming apparent when we spoke to a steward, who showed us a schedule indicating we’d turned up an hour too early.

Harewood House
Entrance to Harewood House

The parade, when it did arrive, was a little disappointing – consisting almost exclusively of vehicles decked out in commercial liveries, advertising their wares, kind of like having to sit through a commercial break on television.

Parade car
Parade Float
Festina – official time keepers to the Tour de France

The actual start of the race took place inside Harewood House, which was a ticketed event. With this in mind we decided to cycle round to the other side of Harewood House to see the peleton emerge. As it happens, we got there but decided to see if we could ride part of the course in advance of the peleton, which was an hour behind.

This wan’t a problem and I’m so glad we did, because as we headed along the A659 towards Otley and passed through the villages for Arthington and Pool-in-Wharfedale we were greeted with continual cheering and shouts of “Allez, Allez, Allez” – the enthusiasm and good-nature of the crowd was palpable. So much so we started waving back, which seemed to ellicit even more cheers. In fact, so much so, David fished out his mobile and videoed the crowd as we passed through.

Half way between Pool-in-Wharfedale and Otley we pulled off the road and into a field where there were a number of food stalls, tables and toilet facilities. We ordered cheeseburgers and coffee. Once we’d eaten and used the free loos (no charges or time limits here) we crossed the road and sat down to wait for the race to come through.

Once again, the parade passed by, this time at speed and with their horns sounding off like demented banshees. Time passed and before too long the lead race vehicles came into sight and shortly afterwards the peleton with its distinctive whoosh of tyres on tarmac. What a colourful parade of teams, strung out down the road, all 165 participants, I believe – what a sight! It was all over in about a minute – see the video.

[youtube video=9jyXYpQjPRs allowfullscreen=1 start_m=0:00 end_m=01:05]

We remounted and headed into Otley. Here, the roads were choc-a-block with pedestrians and, ironically, it would have been quicker to ride on the pavement. By now the heat was building, and it was looking like it would be a scorcher.

David checked the route on his phone. The plan was to head out of Otley and take the scenic route to north of Harrogate, where we would be able to see the peleton for a second time as it headed into Harrogate for what was to be a spectacular sprint finish in which Mark Cavendish crashed out.

Having left Otley, we joined the road to Darley and Summer Bridge. These roads were a lot busier and we often came up behind queues of cars building up behind slower moving cyclists, which slowed the pace down. The terrain was quite hilly and we had to put some effort into climbing, and all in what was turning out to be a very hot summer’s day. But it’s good to have the sun on your back.

At Summer Bridge we headed east to pick up the A61 where we turned southbound. Approaching Harrogate we decided to see how far we could get before the crowds meant it wasn’t worth trying to continue on towards the finish line. We did manage to go under the Flame Rouge (1km marker) which David was chuffed with, before we spotted a hotel serving food and drinks, and with a good view over the road. Here we sat at a large table and chatted with anyone who came to sit and eat their food. Everyone was in a very friendly mood and there was definitely a feel of excitement and anticipation in the air.

Eventually, we heard news of the peleton’s progress towards Harrogate and decided to head out to the 3km marker where we knew we’d get a better view of the race as it passed by.

Unfortunately I decided to try to video the peleton, but the battery was too low making it impossible to get any footage and I missed taking any stills. Never mind. What was impressive, though, was the speed at which the peleton was travelling after all those miles – in a word, awesome.

We decided we’d head back to Wetherby as soon as the peleton had gone, to try to beat some of the traffic.

I’m so glad we went now, because I watched the whole stage using ITV’s version of iPlayer and got to experience the atmosphere of a Tour de France stage – amazing.

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