The Grandest of Grand Departs Captivates a Nation

Cycle//Tour de France

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When it was announced that the Grand Depart of this year's Tour de France would take place in Yorkshire we were promised 'the greatest Grand Depart in history', and that is exactly what we got; the Tour's general director said so himself.

If eyebrows were raised in certain quarters when it was announced that the opening three stages of this year's race would be held in England, Christian Prudhomme and the race organisers can now sit back and bask in the glory of what was, in his own words, the "the grandest Grand Depart ever." All those doubters have been well and truly proved wrong.

Speaking at the end of the second stage yesterday (Sunday) Mr Prudhomme could not speak highly enough of the support that was seen on the roads.

"It was unbelievable, unbelievable,” he said. "On Saturday I was very, very impressed, I was delighted. But today, it was unbelievable, incredible, amazing, astonishing."

When I first read that quote I couldn't help but think it was tinged with a little hyperbole. That was until I spent the day on the streets of London, mingling with fans from all over the globe and watching the world's greatest bike race in person. Now I too can say it was truly amazing, an incredible experience. The streets of London were awash with fans, all waiting patiently to catch a glimpse, because that's all it was in truth, of the riders as they hurtled past.

The Olympics aside I can't remember a time when we as a nation have been so captivated and engrossed in a sporting event. The rise of cycling over the past few years has been fascinating to watch. Not until Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first British rider to win the Tour de France did the general public ever really take that much of an interest in cycling. Granted there were fans, myself included, who had followed the sport for years, but with the successes of the likes of Wiggins, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish came a new found interest that saw cycling become widely accepted.

That was reflected today (Monday), not to mention at the weekend, by the millions (yes, really, millions) of people who lined the streets to cheer on not only our British riders but the entire peleton. Furthermore there was such diversity within the crowd - from those who were keen to show they were true cycling enthusiasts, dressed in their full cycling club lycra and with bike in tow, to families, groups of school children and seemingly endless groups of young adults (many who were sipping champagne) - highlighting that cycling now has a wide-reaching appeal.

Cyclists might not share the same status as our footballers, which might not be a bad thing based on recent events, they are fast becoming household names, and the past three days will have further increased their popularity amongst the general public. That the Tour is now leaving our shores and heading back to France is rather depressing. However, it doesn't end there, as there is a genuine sense that a cycling legacy has been created in Britain and I think it is safe to say it won't be long before the Tour returns.

There may still be some traditionalists who argue the Tour de France should be exactly that; a tour of France sans any deviations into other countries, least of all England. But on the evidence of the last three days even the traditionalists must admit, albeit not openly, that the passion shown for this wonderful race has been second to none. Vive la tour.

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