Winning the Tour De France Grande Depart bid
By Stephen Bailey
ROGER Harington knew Britain was in with a great shot at winning the 2014 Tour De France prologue thanks to the fast hands of the tour director.
He was the political face of the team put together by the Yorkshire region to argue their case at last year’s race.
Yorkshire is not a glamorous part of Britain – known for its windswept moorland, working class towns and broad accent – and it was up against world famous European cities like Venice and Barcelona.
And there was a rival British bid from the Scottish capital Edinburgh, a beautiful and historic city which had won the official backing of British Cycling.
But Roger had seen the great relationship the team and its head of tourism Gary Verity had built up with tour director Christian Prudhomme.
Roger, bike mad councillor in the city that will host the start, Leeds, told Cycling Illustrated: “That Gary Verity is a smooth operator!
“He texted Christian Prudhomme on the morning of the 2012 prologue to say ‘good luck’.
“I thought ‘he won’t take much notice of that – he has other things on his mind this morning’!
“Christian had replied within five minutes. I thought ‘Gary has certainly made his mark here’.
“That all stemmed from when they visited Yorkshire – we took them on a helicopter tour of the dales and wined and dined them at Harewood House.”
“He was obviously very impressed by the way Gary had put the bid together.
“I think Edinburgh had their noses put out of joint by the decision because they were firm favourites.”
The team mixed with riders like Bernard Hinault and Stephen Roche as they tried to drum up support at last year’s Grande Depart in Liege.
Their winning bid shocked and amused many British non-cycling fans but the region has a proud racing history.
Sprinter Barry Hoban, a man who fits the regional stereotype of being tough and outspoken, held the British record for stage wins, with eight victories between 1967 and 1975, until Mark Cavendish took the honour.
More recently Lizzie Armitstead won silver in the women’s road race at the London 2012 Olympics – another excuse for a friendly text to Monsieur Prudhomme.
Roger, who is ‘somewhat obsessed’ with the race, addressed the tour director himself in semi-fluent French about the region’s benefits.
“There’s a thriving cycling community in Yorkshire, there’s a mixture of hills and flat, you can race along the sea, and in a built up area in Leeds,” said Roger.
Yorkshire should also provide a fitting swansong for the 2012 Tour Champion Bradley Wiggins, if he keeps to his retirement plans.
Wiggins and Cavendish have helped put cycling on the into British sports news for all the right reasons, after years of doping scandals, not least this year’s damning USASA report into US Postal and Lance Armstrong.
Roger said the bad publicity never put them off bidding because the British team itself was known for being clean – and it had shown the race could be won that way.
“I would hope it was an important factor for the tour organisers – that our riders were definitely clean. I would definitely like to think that was a factor.”
The Yorkshire bid emphasised sustainable cycling and health, factors which also impressed the tour organisers about Britain’s winning bid in 2007.
Around one million people watched each day’s racing and this year’s Olympic road races attracted around the same number.
Roger said: “The tour organisers realised there was a huge amount of interest and that British cycling has gone from strength to strength.”
Christian Prudhomme praised the area’s outstanding beauty but stressed the huge size of those British cycling crowds had been a major factor.
Yorkshire is home to rolling hills and dales that are nothing compared to an Alpine pass, but which are still big enough to make it a tough first two days.
Mr Harington picked out local cycling spots like the climb of Holme Moss, which features in the Tour of Britain, and Tan Hill, home of the highest pub in England, at 1,732ft – it is, though, up to the Tour team to decide the route, which will be announced on January 17.
Yorkshire will host two stages, followed by a third in London, a reward for the boom in modern British cycling since the country held stages in 1994, the year Chris Boardman’s prologue win helped set in chain the development’s that led to Bradley Wiggin’s 2012 triumph.
The 2007 Grand Depart generated an estimated £88million and the travelling circus is predicted to generate around £300million for its extended visit in 2014.