CYCLING’S profile and popularity has risen spectacularly over the last few years here in Yorkshire. Home to our latest world champion Lizzie Armitstead, triathlon superstars Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, and Olympic gold medallists Hannah Cockcroft and Ed Clancy, our county has no shortage of cycling talent.
Living in Ilkley, I have witnessed how this change has come from the bottom up as much as it has from the top down. My club, Ilkley CC, has 1,400 members, equivalent to one in 10 of the population, and many others in the county are thriving to a similar extent, buoyed in part by the phenomenal success of Tour de France’s Grand Départ in 2014 and this year’s inaugural edition of the Tour de Yorkshire.
On the back of this wave of euphoria for all things cycling, I haven’t therefore been surprised by the number of people wanting to see next year’s Tour de Yorkshire extended from a three-day to a four-day race. Indeed, it has been a real pleasure to see the cross-section of people who have got behind it. They include many thousands of members of the public, as well as politicians, journalists, businesses and some of the biggest names in cycling. All have signed a petition calling for a four-day race that was launched on social media late last week. Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome, Dame Sarah Storey and Sir Chris Hoy have all lent their weight to the campaign to extend Yorkshire’s race.
With riders of this calibre calling for an extra day of racing, it’s clear that there is strong demand for a longer Tour de Yorkshire, particularly as it would undoubtedly strengthen the event. Adding an extra day of racing would change the Tour de Yorkshire’s profile, allowing the inclusion of an extra stage for the sprinters and therefore making it more attractive to sprinters like Cavendish and his great rival Marcel Kittel. With the two other stages featuring lots of the climbs that have put Yorkshire on the international cycling map, we would expect to see even more top cyclists heading our way. More of the leading names means more broadcast coverage, which in turn means more international exposure for the county.
It should be remembered too that the Tour de Yorkshire is not all about the biggest names in the men’s sport. The race is also an incredible opportunity for domestic teams to race on home soil in front of a national and international audience. It’s one of the rare occasions the young GB squad, featuring the likes of Holmfirth’s Gabz Cullaigh and Wakefield’s Oliver Wood, can race with the world’s best cyclists such as Marcel Kittel and Sir Bradley Wiggins.
The inaugural edition also featured a women’s race. Of course women’s cycling has a long way to go to catch up to profile and prize money of the men’s tour, but building this race into the Tour de Yorkshire from the start was a good indication of the ongoing ambition for the women’s race.
Last weekend, I tuned in to watch the finale of the World Road Race Championships in Richmond, Virginia. Still on a high from watching Otley’s Lizzie Armitstead take the rainbow jersey of the world champion the night before, I was intrigued to hear that over ten days total crowds of 650,000 watched the races and the championships were hailed as a huge success. Staggeringly, the Tour de Yorkshire attracted 1.5 million spectators in only three days. The crowds were so big that many riders, including those with Tour de France experience, said they had never seen anything like it.
Millions of people around the world watched the Tour de France and the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire. What they saw alongside thrilling race action was Yorkshire’s beautiful countryside. This is something that those of us who have the privilege of living in this stunning county know all about, but to many people in the UK and around the world it was the first time that they had seen it. It’s clear from the big increase in the numbers of tourists visiting Yorkshire in the last year that some of the people watching the race have decided to come and see where it took place themselves.
The race also brought money into the pockets of Yorkshire businesses – a recent report by the council in my home town of Scarborough highlighted that 91 per cent of people in the town on race day were there for the Tour de Yorkshire. That single day of focus on Scarborough generated £1.7m of economic benefit for the town, partly from the 5,500 visitors who stayed in the town’s hotels, pubs and B&Bs.
Reports like this might explain why there are already 14 towns and cities across Yorkshire vying to host a start or finish of the 2016 or 2017 Tour, with another opportunity for councils to bid to host a 2017 start or finish opening next year. A four-day race would mean that more of these places could experience first-hand the magic of the Tour de Yorkshire, which can only be a good thing.
Peter Cossins is a cycling journalist and author.