TWENTY thousand free tickets to watch the Tour de France when it sets off from York Racecourse have been snapped up in just four and a half hours.

Racecourse spokesman James Brennan said the website and phone line were both extremely busy from opening at 9am, with inquiries coming from all over the country from people wanting to see the start of Day Two of the Grand Départ on Sunday, July 6.

He said:”People calling the team of 20 people manning the phones were predominantly from York, Harrogate, Tadcaster and the York postcode, but we had calls from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Hertfordshire, and one from an Australian.”

He said the website’s broadband width had been widened in an attempt to meet demand, but there had been some frustration early on, as people struggled to get on to the site.

Ticketholders at the racecourse will be able to go into the stands to watch the build-up to the race and then the cyclists, with the leading riders being presented to the crowds before they head into York and then start the competitive racing.

Giant screens and hundreds of televisions around the site will allow visitors to follow all the action from the Tour itself as it heads towards the daily finish in Sheffield.

Mr Brennan urged anyone who had obtained a ticket but later found they would be unable to make it to contact the racecourse, so that their booking could be cancelled and their ticket given to someone else.

He said there would be a review as to whether another allocation of tickets could be made, with an announcement on this due to be made on March 3.

He stressed that there would be many other locations around the city where people would be able to see the riders.