THERE WILL be little chance of Sir Gary Verity standing on ceremony – or taking a back seat – after he was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his role in bringing the Tour de France to Yorkshire.
“Just Gary is fine,” he tells The Yorkshire Post with slight embarrassment when asked whether the accolade, for services to tourism and the successful staging of the Grand Départ last summer, will change him.
He is more at home, however, recounting an exchange earlier in the day at Oxenhope School in Brontë Country which clearly meant as much to the indefatigable chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire as confirmation of an impending visit to Buckingham Palace.
He’d been asked to give a talk to pupils after the primary school had converted an old stone building into a bike shed. “There was a lad, Harry – he must have been only 10 – in all the cycling gear and he said to me ‘I’m going to win your cycle race one day’,” he recounted with trademark enthusiasm.
“I said ‘top lad’. He then said something like ‘I’ll race you – and I’ll beat you’. He meant it. He had all the cycling gear. It would have been a good race! His teacher had to point out to young Harry that he was meant to race other riders and other organisers.
“But the point is an important one. It is evidence – and proof – that what we are doing is working and that the Grand Départ was just the beginning. My ambition now is for the Tour de Yorkshire, after a very successful inaugural race last month, to become the second biggest bicycle race in the world behind the Tour de France.
“We have a very distinct brand for world cycling – huge crowds, stunning scenery and great sport. It is a really powerful combination. Take the Giro d’Italia which is steeped in cycling history. They have stunning scenery, great sport but they do not have huge crowds.
“It makes us very attractive for riders, sponsors and broadcasters. We’re working on a lot of plans with Bob Howden and his team at British Cycling, and we have great plans to boost women’s cycling. This is just the start.”
This is the extent to which cycling has taken over the life of Sir Gary and his young family. This workaholic lives and breathes his sport – even when off duty. A quiet drink at the end of the day at his local pub in Wensleydale sees him meet – and become friends – with two visiting GPs from the Dutch city of Utrecht which hosts next month’s Grand Départ and which has the unenviable job of following Yorkshire’s world-beating example.
He then chats at length to a team of amateur cyclists who have pedalled miles in the searing summer sun to the community-run Foresters Arms in Carlton, and who are pleasantly surprised to meet the man who has been instrumental in changing the face of their sport and pastime.
This is Gary Verity – he says he will only use the title ‘Sir Gary’ when protocol dictates – in his element six months after his omission from the New Year Honours List attracted controversy.
Even though he was on honeymoon at the time with his wife Anne after their marriage on December 27 last year at Bishopthorpe Palace, he did hear about the debate and admits to feeling “a bit awkward” and “a bit embarrassed”.
“Such things are reserved for people who climb Everest, win four or five Olympic gold medals, win the Tour de France, not for ordinary people like me,” he added.
“I reckon 20,000 people all give it their best shot... I hope they can take a lot of pleasure and comfort from this. In many ways, this is for the people of Yorkshire who bought the dream and went with it in such tremendous fashion.”