Le Tour in Yorkshire exceeds all expectations
Press cycling columnist Christopher Gargett, a York-based cycling blogger and Sky Ride leader, gives his verdict on the opening two stages of the Tour de France
Stage 1 – Leeds to Harrogate
In what must be a record for a Grand Depart, the enthusiastic Yorkshire crowds started gathering at 4am in Leeds to see the 2014 Tour de France get under way. At 11am, the 198 riders representing 22 teams rolled out for an extended procession towards Harewood House.
Two national anthems and three members of the Royal Family later and the racing got under way in earnest, with the renowned and much-loved veteran Jens Voigt wasting no time in making his presence felt.
At 42 and riding his 17th and final Tour, Voigt attacked his two breakaway companions at the first sprint points stage and didn’t look back, knowing that as long as he got over the climbs at Buttertubs and Grinton Moor, he’d be pulling on the King of the Mountains Jersey at the end of the day.
The crowds up the big climb of the day made the Cote de Buttertubs resemble Alpe d’Huez as the riders wound their way up to the highest point the Tour visits in the UK.
Even in their wildest dreams, the Tour organisers and Welcome To Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity would not have thought the crowds would be as numerous and vocal as they were.
Estimates for the first day were in excess of one million live spectators on the streets, roads and fields of North Yorkshire.
As the race wound its way through the Dales, Voigt’s lone work was done for the day as the three big sprint teams of Omega Pharma Quickstep (Mark Cavendish), Lotto Belisol (Andre Greipel) and Giant Shimano (Marcel Kittel) jostled for position on the run in to Harrogate. With 500 metres to go, it was looking like a textbook sprint-off between the three main quick men, when Fabian Cancellara (Trek) launched a surprise attack and caused panic among the stage favourites.
It was partly this panic that contributed to the big drama of the day, as Cavendish and Aussie quick man Simon Gerrans came together, resulting in both riders hitting the Tarmac.
Cav landed on his shoulder and Gerrans on his back, and on such margins are races decided, with Cavendish’s Tour over with a dislocation and Gerrans able to continue. Cavendish quickly accepted responsibility and manfully apologised to his Australian rival.
In any case, Kittel would have won the stage – such is the big German’s dominance in the sprints this year – and for the second year running he pulled on the first yellow jersey of the Tour.
Winners – Jens Voigt - the veteran German exceeding his reputation for breakaway attacks. Marcel Kittel - the big German sprinter winning stage one (just as he did in 2013) and becoming the first Maillot Jaune of this year’s race.
Losers – Fairly sure you don’t need my input on this one!
Stage 2 – York to Sheffield
At 8am, I was leaning on a crowd barrier on Goodramgate, giving a friendly family a very quick rundown on the team system, and waiting for whatever freebies the publicity caravan threw my way.
All through the city, crowds were stood three or four deep as the 197 surviving riders (Cavendish confirming that his injured shoulder was too swollen to continue) rolled through to a wall of cheers, applause and lots of shouts of “Allez", with a distinctive Yorkshire twang of course.
The tension in the peloton could be felt as the race wound its way to the short, steep climbs on my home turf of Halifax and it was nice to see the likes of Ripponden Bank putting the hurt on professional legs!
One of those suffering the most was stage one winner and yellow jersey holder Marcel Kittel, who soon fell off the back of the main group.
Attacks started to go off the front as the riders made their way up the day’s big climb of Holme Moss, where once again the crowds thronged the roadside.
The peloton began to break up and it was a select group that made its way towards the Cote de Jenkin Road.
Much was made of this hellishly steep 800-metre climb prior to the race, and it really didn’t disappoint as it forced all the big names to the fore, with reigning Italian road race champion and contender for the podium in Paris, Vincenzo Nibali, getting away to take the overall lead by two seconds.
What a weekend and what a race – the Tour in Yorkshire has exceeded all expectations.
I thought it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it back here one day.
Winners – Vincenzo Nibali (obviously), Chris Froome and Alberto Contador - for the simple fact that the three big race favourites got through a potentially tricky day unscathed.
Losers – Hard to say as all the big favourites survived and Marcel Kittel knew full well his time in yellow would be brief. Peter Sagan will be disappointed with the way he handled a last five kilometres that were set up for him.