Tour de Force: How new race re-ignited county’s cycling passion
AFTER last year’s grandest of Grand Departs came the stage that launched thousands of fish and chip suppers.
Peloton-sized queues of lycra-clad visitors snaked from Whitby’s famous eating emporiums and the man from Fortunes Kippers had managed his hang up his ‘sold out’ sign by half past three.
The sun shone - as if the weather had ever been in doubt - and an array of the world’s top cyclists returned to whet local appetites.
The opening stage of the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire - a direct legacy of last year’s spectacularly successful opening stage of the Tour de France - provided another tasty showpiece for a region ever more intent on securing its cycling fix.
From boneshakers to BMXs, mountain bikes to twikes, pedal power of all shapes and sizes was propped against dry-stone walls and rusting sign-posts in the ancient villages which speckle the sides of the picturesque Esk Valley.
Most had been primped yellow and light blue to match the backdrop of the Yorkshire flag - an emblem so proudly profligate it might have led an untutored observer to conclude they had happened upon a breakaway republic. In these parts, it would not take long to find a local keen to confirm that assumption.
Bunting flapped from beer gardens and farm silos and the sides of humped-back bridges steeped in local lore, while knitted woolly sheep poked from blue-and-yellow-daubed wheelie bins on the edge of Egton Bridge.
A ‘Team Wiggo’ banner greeted the visiting riding royalty outside the North York Moors National Park Centre at Danby and a pair of steam engines rolled up to give the riders a tooting boost to the start of their precipitous climb out of Grosmont, deep in the heart of the moors.
Echoes of last summer’s Grand Depart were evident in more than just the hastily blue-daubed bikes and the wholesome enthusiasm with which crowds converged on the famous Whitby swing bridge or crowded the tortuously twisting 219m incline of the Cote du Robin Hood’s Bay.
It was referenced in a top-quality field consisting both of those like Sir Bradley and Yorkshire-born Ben Swift, who had missed out on a place on last year’s Tour, and those like Grand Depart stage winner Marcel Kittel who had cast an indelible mark upon it.
Kittel’s return was destined to be nothing like as triumphant, the illness-hit German abandoning the race near to the Moors Centre at Danby, where he might have eased his disappointment with a game of quoits or an acclaimed cream tea.
Fittingly for a stage which would wind its way through a town which provided the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, there was blood, a bunch of riders cascading to the tarmac on a slippery moorland bend. Not so fittingly, the crash accounted for the Yorkshire-born Swift.
Wiggins, the obvious fans’ favourite, was conspicuous for his inability to emerge from an increasingly stretched peloton, but his absence from the leaderboard scarcely mattered to a crowd who cheered the successful five-man breakaway led by eventual winner Lars-Petter Nordhaug up the lung-busting bank out of Robin Hood’s Bay.
Gary Verity, the Tour’s chief orchestrator, who had only half-jokingly dubbed the opening day the “fish and chip stage”, also spoke in suitably grand terms of his desire to see the new race evolve into an annual cycling event of global significance.
Nothing that happened on the opening day gave any cause for scepticism: The sun shone and the stars and Sirs swept their way over the moors and down the county’s east coast, leaving only chalked odes to Wiggo and swiftly satiated appetites in their wake.
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