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23 June 2014

Embracing TdF

I'm not a big fan of sport. The neverending off-field saga of who-owns-what at Leeds United has me reaching for the 'off' button on the radio faster than the Archers theme .. and that's pretty damn quick.

I've made it to 55 without ever attending a professional sporting event. Certainly not cycling. I do vaguely recall going to a Speedway fixture in Halifax where Pennine Radio were doing some promotion or other. My lasting memory of that is of ear-splitting noise and flying cinders, not of who won.

But I'm genuinely excited about the Tour de France Grand Départ coming to Leeds. Here's why.

It's so much much bigger than 200 anonymous blokes on bikes. Frankly I don't give a stuff who wins. Sport is all about the taking part, isn't it?

The TdF has done wonders for Yorkshire, and it's not even happened yet.

First of all it was pretty audacious of Gary Verity and his team at Welcome to Yorkshire to snatch the event from under the noses of national tourism wonks who can't see beyond London and Edinburgh as potential venues for anything. Even when Yorkshire nabbed the prize in Paris those same bureaucrats wanted to brand the whole thing as 'England's Grand Départ' with the spotlight, naturally, on Cambridge and London.

Wooing the TdF north has led to an upsurge of Yorkshire regional pride and community involvement from thousands of people along the route. Every rusty bike frame from every garden shed has been painted yellow and stuck on a pole, and sales of knitting wool are up 400% as volunteers produce yards of Yorkshire-themed bunting. Sometimes bending the lamp-posts. Spontaneous, not orchestrated, involvement.

Because it really is our event. 

Unlike the risible Olympic Torch Relay, where Yorkshire was told by the BBC (in full 'there shall be rejoicing' mode as official broadcaster to the games) that we were actually an important part of London's Olympics - really, really, really - because someone carrying a replica gilt torch jogged past us in the rain.

The London audience, meanwhile, had Danny Boyle. And Usain Bolt.

This one is ours. 

The Tour de France starts in Leeds. That can't be conveniently airbrushed out of the picture, and the positive coverage of the city in European and even US media can only do wonders for its international profile.

The route goes through some breathtaking Yorkshire scenery which will be seen by a worldwide audience, viewing as I've watched the race in previous years - not for the grunting and the groinstrains but for the helicopter shots of the Chateaux of the Loire and the sleepy towns of Provence.

Inevitably, there's a backlash and it's happening now as people begin to realise how disruptive the event will be, with our city centres in lockdown and laybys closed for hours, or days, on end.

I for one will be staying well away from the mud and the gridlock over the two days of TdF weekend, enjoying the spectacle on TV. With a baguette from Le Croissant d'Or in Rawdon. Avec un coup de rouge (or deux), naturellement. I've even bought an Edith Piaf CD.

Why add to the mayhem? I'm lucky. I can enjoy Leeds city centre, or Harrogate, or the Dales, or the Worth Valley any weekend of the year. Let the tourists get the best view - and spend a bob or two whilst they're here. Treat 'em well and they'll come back.

Meanwhile, these are some of the stories Mystic Dickie predicts will emerge on and after the TdF weekend:

  • "On Ilkla Moor - what's that?" It was always tempting fate to cut arty bike shapes into cornfields, daub white sheep on hillsides, and erect Hollywoodland-style signage. Someone is going to cut, paint or spell out a giant thingy on the hills just before those TV helicopters arrive.

  • "We're calling him Wiggo". Mum will give birth to a bairn in back of ambulance held up/diverted because of crowds, cyclists and razzmatazz. Let's hope it's a happy story.

  • "Muddy Hell - You're Welcome to Yorkshire". With most of the North Riding converted into an impromptu campsite our tourist chiefs are playing the highest-stakes poker game ever with the weather. Sunny (or just fine) and it'll be a triumph. If the heavens open every southern stereotype of the north will be confirmed (ignoring, of course, the annual mudbath that is Glastonbury. That's different.). They'll be sacrificing a maiden or two at Welcome to Yorkshire HQ. Hope it works.

  • "Beer - Puddings - Flat Caps - Flat Vowels" The national print media will show themselves incapable of writing a single story on the Grand Départ that doesn't make reference to at least one of these tropes ...
  • " " ... whilst the national broadcast media (I said national, and excluding ITV who have the TV rights) will ignore it completely in favour of the World Cup and Wimbledon. They have coverage pencilled in for Cambridge and The Mall. It was always going to be.

The message of this.

Whatever doubts we in Yorkshire may harbour about TdF now is the time to get behind it 100%. Enough outsiders are ready to mock, sneer at and generally put down our region. This is our moment - hopefully in the sun. Let's enjoy it, exploit it and think positive.

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