The Tour de France begins in Yorkshire this July. Emma Hudson talks to the people behind-the-scenes getting everything ready for cycling’s biggest event.
Don your yellow jerseys and start pedalling, British cycling fans.
This year’s Tour de France Grand Départ starts in Yorkshire, travelling through Leeds, Harrogate, York and Sheffield before heading to Cambridge and London for Stage 3.
It’s the second time in seven years that Le Tour has rode through England – 2007’s Grand Départ took place in London – and comes during a cycling renaissance in the UK.
“Cycling has gone through a huge transformation in this country,” James Tibbetts, the Grand Départ’s operations director said. “As someone who has worked in cycling for such a long time, it’s great.”
Coming off the back-to-back Tour wins of Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome in 2013 – not to mention Wiggins’ gold medal time trial during the London 2012 Olympics – cycling in Britain has never been more popular.
According to results from a December 2013 Sport England survey, 99,000 more people are cycling than in 2008 and British Cycling touts that more than two million people are now cycling at least once a week.
What’s more, competitive cycling is on the rise, with more than 25,000 people participating in almost 3,500 competitions each year.
So it’s very, very good timing for England to host three stages of the Tour de France. Yorkshire won the 2014 Grand Départ in a surprise bid that saw them competing for the event against British Cycling and UK Government-approved Scotland. It is an historic event, bringing the start of the Tour to the north of England for the first time ever.
The Tour de France Hub 2014 (TdFHUB2014) was created to deliver the Grand Départ and Stage 3. Within that new body, Tibbetts and his team have been tasked to coordinate the delivery of the infrastructure and management of the event.
That means that when the 198 riders – 22 teams of nine – hit the roads of Yorkshire on 5 July, Tibbetts will be in the control room, anxiously steering the peloton, 3,000 supporting vehicles and 50,000 spectators away from the unexpected.
At the moment, Tibbetts is in the thick of planning, finalising road closures, crowd management plans and seating arrangements – as well as contracting and bringing together suppliers, local authorities and agencies to work on every aspect (major and minute) of the Grand Départ.
There’s also the little matter of weather. With any luck, the sun will shine through 5-7 July, but if it doesn’t, there are contingencies in place to keep everyone – riders, support and spectators – safe.
“There are plans in place for every eventuality,” Tibbetts said. “The ASO have their plans in place around looking after the riders – to them, the riders are the most important people on the road. In our opinion, everyone is the most important.”
While Tibbetts is using every contact he has in the Met Office and employs a range of staff across medical, management and operations, the best he can do is have contingency plans in place for if it rains – and hope for sunny skies.
Preparations took a big jump forward in late April, when live communications agency WRG was confirmed to deliver the event management infrastructure for the first two stages.
For the Mancunian agency, it’s a privilege to help their fellow northerners deliver the event. “Yorkshire fought off worldwide competition to bring this year’s Grand Départ to the north of England for the first time ever and, needless to say, we’re extremely proud to be involved,” WRG’s managing director Tim Elliott told Access.
WRG will commission traffic management, barriers, fencing and trackway, stewarding and marshalling, medical provision, radio communications, signage and wayfinding – in short, almost everything an event could need to make sure it runs to plan. They will be on-site with Tibbetts the night before Stage 1, during which roads will close, kit and barriers will be installed and the first of approximately 10,000 volunteers over the three days will be deployed.
“The biggest challenge has been that it’s a long process, working with so many stakeholders,” Tibbetts said. “Managing an event of such scale, that impacts on so many stakeholders across both urban and rural environments and diverse stakeholders in terms of business and landowners, has been a challenge.”
It’s a task that has involved collaborating with no less than 16 local authorities. The nature of the race means that up to 90 miles could separate the lead rider from the peloton and from the riders at the very back, stretching across five or six local authority boundaries at any one time.
Despite this logistical headache, Tibbetts, TdFHUB2014 and the Welcome to Yorkshire team – who are organising all the events surrounding the Grand Départ – haven’t lost sight of why they’re doing all this.
“I think it’s a fantastic honour to host the Tour again,” Tibbetts said. “The growth in cycling over here and how we’ve done as a nation – on the track and on the road with Wiggins and Froome – has given the world an opportunity to come and experience that. “Yorkshire is going to put on a fantastic show.”
A taste of Le Tour
Fan Parks galore are helping England celebrate Le Tour. Here’s a breakdown of where you should go to experience all the Tour has on offer.
Harrogate – Placed conveniently right next to the finish line of Stage 1, this inaugural Fan Park boasts the biggest celebration of cycling that Yorkshire has ever seen. It’s open 3-6 July.
Green Park – The biggest free cycling festival takes place 5-7 July in Green Park to celebrate the Tour. Expect film viewings and thousands of spectators – as well as the Stage 3 finish sprint on The Mall.
Trafalgar Square – Nelson’s column will cast a historically appropriate eye over the big screen at this Fan Park 5-7 July. The peloton will fly through Trafalgar Square on their way to the finish line on 7 July, so keep an eye out for your favourites here.
Canary Wharf – Last year’s inaugural Fan Park returns this year with a big screen beneath the glistening skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. Enjoy a riverside big screen, French cuisine, pop-up shops, prize giveaways and celebrity cycling fanatics as you cheer on the final days of the Tour 24-27 July.
This was first published in the June issue of Access All Areas. Any comments? Email Emma Hudson