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The 2014 Tour de France begins in Leeds.
Gary Verity: "We are keen to establish Yorkshire as the cycling capital of Europe"
With this year's Grand Départ well under way, Welcome to Yorkshire Chief Executive Gary Verity has been taking the opportunity to get an insight into what Yorkshire can expect next year when the 2014 Tour de France starts in the county. As well as getting the best seat in the race alongside race director Christian Prudhomme in the Tour's lead car, Verity has also been giving members of his own organising team an insight into the size and impact of the race, which will start in Leeds on July 5 next year.
"I've been to the Tour many times before, but it's been useful to get even more insight into what we can expect next year," said Verity on the Mega Smeralda ferry that has been the race's HQ for the opening days of the race. He said spoken with Prudhomme about Yorkshire's progress towards the Tour's arrival. "Christian has told me, 'You are in very good shape. We like what you're doing," said Verity.
"The thing that impresses more than anything is the scale of the whole thing, what Christian describes as the 'hugeness'. Going into the press centre and seeing hundreds of journalists working away is astonishing."
Speaking about the specifics of Yorkshire's preparations, Verity revealed that most of the roads set to be used for the opening stage of the 2014 Tour have been "made good". Plans for an arts and cultural festival running for the 100 days leading into the Tour are also well under way.
"We've done most of the logistical bits with ASO - the hotels, the route. I'd say probably two-thirds of the roads on stage 1 are good to go," said Verity. "With the cultural and arts festival, we will be into full-on Tour mode from March onwards."
Verity admitted that he has been hugely surprised by the positive reaction of people in Yorkshire. "They are buying into the Tour in a way we'd never really anticipated this far away from the actual event. We knew that the cycling world and the cycling purists would be very excited about it. What we didn't know was that the general populace would go mad for it. I think it's fair to say we've had virtually 100 per cent support across Yorkshire," said Verity, who described Yorkshire as being hit by "Tour fever".
"It's the biggest event that has ever happened in Yorkshire. I think at this tough economic time, people are looking for good news, and this is a great news story. With it only being 12 months away, people are starting to get very excited. There's another side to it as well, as businesses are already telling us they are getting an economic benefit from the Tour. On the feelgood side, you only need to look at the roads right across Yorkshire. They are filled with cyclists every weekend. You never used to see that. There's been massive uptake of cycling across the county, which was always one of the aims of bringing the Tour here."
Verity also offered a more insight into what he hopes will be the Tour's long-lasting legacy for Yorkshire. "There are two aspects to that. Firstly, we are keen to establish Yorkshire as the cycling capital of Europe. We'll probably have to wrestle that off the Belgians at the moment. I think that will mean more races. We don't want the Tour to be a flash in the pan. We want to have more racing of all types.
"The other part to it is that we want every child in Yorkshire to have access to a bicycle. We want people to donate the bikes their kids have outgrown and donate them to organisations, charities, local councils and whoever else sets up what I call 'bike banks'. People will be able to borrow a bike for their child just as they would a book from a library. Children will be trained to ride them safely, and hopefully that will enthuse a whole new generation of cyclists. I think it would be a great thing for us to be able to say that Yorkshire is the first place in the world where every child has access to a bicycle. We hope to be able to unveil the first one of those in the not too distant future."
Verity concluded by urging anyone planning to go to next year's Grand Départ to get their plans in place as soon as possible. "We estimate a minimum of three million people turning up to watch the three stages, and even more if the weather is good. Our message to people would be to book early, get your plans together early and make a real stay of it."