Head to Yorkshire this summer and you’ll be greeted with some unusual sights and sounds.
In Huddersfield, your ears might prick up at the sounds of musicians plucking guitar strings that have been wired across old bicycle frames, or playing handlebar trumpets.
On the South Pennines, you might gaze upon one of many giant land art installations, including Louise Lockhart’s of a lady cyclist which has been embossed into the field by the tracks of cyclists following its outline.
But all this fanfare isn’t just for folly. With the annual Tour de France starting in Yorkshire this year - and the boost the sport has had since Team GB’s impressive run of Olympic medal sweeps - it’s no wonder God’s own county is pulling out all the stops to show itself off and celebrate cycling. The chance to be seen via TV in the homes of 188 countries worldwide certainly isn’t an opportunity England’s largest county is squandering.
But if you’re struggling to get to grips with the ins and outs of this year’s race, the 101st in the Tour’s history, ITV’s long-time cycling commentator Phil Liggett, known to cycling fans in more than 150 countries worldwide as ‘the voice of the Tour de France’, pedals a few pointers in the guide below...
There are 22 teams taking part. They form the peloton, which is the name for the main group of riders in the race. “The peloton is 198 riders strong and they’re the 22 best teams in the world,” explains Liggett. “Each one has nine riders and a designated leader who is hopefully a winner, as Team Sky have with Chris Froome.”
Riders compete to win one of the Tour’s special jerseys. These include the polka dot ‘King Of The Mountains’ jersey for “the man who gets the most points on all the designated mountain stages throughout the race”.
The ‘maillot jaune’ - the famous yellow jersey - is awarded to the rider who takes the least time to cycle each stage of the tour. They are the leader at this point so wear the jersey, but many different riders can wear it during the course of the race, if they beat the leader’s overall time. After 21 days of racing, the scores are added up and the rider with the lowest overall accumulative time for completing all stages is the winner, and takes home the coveted jersey and prize money.
Green is for sprinters and is “the second most important of all competitions behind the yellow jersey”, while white is worn by the best young rider aged 25 years or under, in the general individual time classification.
Sideburn-sporting cycling hero Bradley Wiggins isn’t in this year’s Team Sky line-up to enable his teammate Chris Froome to have a go at winning his second Tour. Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas, Mikel Nieve, Bernhard Eisel, Vasil Kiryienka, David Lopez, Danny Pate and Xabier Zandio will all be flanking him.
GEARING FOR SUCCESS
But who else is hoping to scoop a jersey? “If we’re looking for favourites, obviously Great Britain’s Chris Froome is hopefully going to be right in the frame to defend his title,” says Liggett. “I’d be surprised if he doesn’t podium, I’m not saying he’s going to win, but hopefully [he’ll be in the] top three.”
Elsewhere, Liggett reckons the “terrific Spanish rider” Alberto Contador and young American Andrew Talansky are both on “good form”. While Brit Mark Cavendish apparently stands a chance of winning the yellow jersey for the ‘Grand Depart’ stage.
The start of the Tour, the Grand Depart, is often outside of France. This year’s starts in Leeds and continues in the UK for three days, passing through Harrogate, York, Sheffield, Cambridge and London.
“From a cycling and spectating viewpoint, the roads in Yorkshire are fantastic, because they’re narrow,” says Liggett. However, this isn’t necessarily good news for the cyclists.
“The famous dry stone walls and narrow bridges and sharp descents are all big challenges to a big peloton of the Tour de France, because these guys are racing for nearly £500,000 in prize money for the winner so they’re very cautious, and they’re a bit worried about the roads in Yorkshire being too narrow for the job.”
THE SET UP
Coverage starts on ITV and ITV4 on Saturday, July 5 and will be presented by Gary Imlach, with reports from Ned Boulting and Matt Rendell and commentary from Chris Boardman as well as Liggett and Sherwen.
The latter work a day ahead of the riders, driving four or five hours each evening so that they are positioned at the finishing line for the next day’s stage.
Once the day’s over, Sherwen usually takes the wheel to drive the four or five hours to the next hotel, while Liggett scans the papers for cycling stories to prepare for the following day’s commentary.
The average spectator spends six hours waiting roadside for the riders to come past. But they won’t be ‘tyre-ing’ of the scenery in Yorkshire.
“From what I hear, the villages and the towns have gone completely crackers. They’re so enthusiastic, it’s unbelievable,” says Liggett. “I heard a story only this morning that there’s a cafe on the Yorkshire Moors that’s painted itself white with red spots, which is the King Of The Mountain jersey. So they’re all set up.
“Another antique shop is selling clocks made from bicycle parts. Betty’s Cafe, which is always well known to cyclists, is now being exposed around the world in stories and it’s been quite amazing.”
Liggett and Sherwen have become known for their lyrical insights into the countryside, cattle breeds and landmarks along the route, as well as their invaluable cycling observations.
Such is the power of the footage of France in all its beauty and their accompanying insights, Liggett admits many people email him saying they’re booking their next holidays on the Tour route.
But he’s quick to downplay this knowledge: “The French organisers send a woman out on the race route six months before the Tour begins, and she logs every single monument on the route then writes the book, and that book is given to us on the start line.
“So we seem to be absolutely brilliant in our knowledge, but in fact we’re frantically looking for the picture so we can match it up with what is on the television screen. If in doubt, you just say, ‘Louis XVIII lived there’, or, ‘Louis XIV lived there’. You can’t go wrong.”