THE BLOG

Le Tour Descends on Harrogate

09/07/2014 10:30 BST | Updated 07/09/2014 10:59 BST

It was the week that sleepy Yorkshire villages became the centre of world cycling and the Tour de Yorkshire built to a frenzy.

Vanessa and I took the little man for a walk into Harrogate on Friday where a sense of anticipation was taking hold; there were more buses and vans than you could shake a stick at; actual buildings popped up along the Stray that had appeared from nowhere presumably as makeshift media centres and team HQs; blokes in berets walked down Parliament Street looking questioningly at the Yorkshire skies; and the odd European accent here and there might be heard asking 'ou-est Le Betty's?'.

Harrogate was unrecognisable really, transformed. I found it fascinating that such a sporting occasion seemed to bring out the participant in the fans. Why was everyone cycling when the best in the world were in town? People don't go to a rugby match with their playing kit and start playing at the match do they? But this was Le Tour, where folks don't just watch, they do. And most of them were taking it seriously, hell bent on looking the part in their lycra outfits.

Even the ultra-novices were dragged in. One couple I passed epitomised the occasion: he, ardently displaying all the relevant biking attire was encouraging her, despondent and dressed up to the nines, to negotiate a tandem.

I don't know whether this sort of fervent interest is typical of all Tour de France stages, but my word Yorkshire has certainly embraced it full throttle. And I loved the gently fused French-Yorkshire vernacular the TV coverage presented us with, as they showed the map of the route: Côte de Blubberhouses and Cote de Buttertubs. Just charming.

Sorry to burst the bubble a little, but Le Tour is a damp squib from a spectator's view, and I haven't spoken to anyone in the last few weeks who actually understands how it works. Vanessa and I loitered around the finishing line on Saturday, until somehow I heard they were 10km out. I tried to close in, peering over the sea of heads, thinking my height would be useful. It wasn't.

We heard a couple of murmurs, one which would have been the crash. Otherwise I stood, having seen nothing, slightly confused like many others, as the riders must have been finishing.

The only big screen was a hundred miles away and there was no one announcing or commentating on the result. Most folks happily poured themselves more punch and carried on; some reverted to mobile phones for answers. A replay perhaps, or even a result would do! But no, there was a network crash, and so people continued to stand about looking perplexed.

Vanessa and I ambled back home, lamenting how Le Tour must draw its interest on reputation. For the first time in our lives we had come to a sporting event, seen nothing but sunburnt backs and hotdog stalls, and left not knowing the result....

At least we hadn't had to pay for parking.

What is a little galling for a squash player, is that we are told that to increase profile and become Olympic we need to be drug free and appeal to spectators. Cycling has failed on both counts, but Le Tour is as popular now as it has ever been. And, as embroiled as we have become, we forget to ask as Nicole Cooke perceptively did last week, where are the women?

The Stray was a festival site last weekend, and of course the weather was good, spirits were high, people drank, and there was joy in celebrating Yorkshire. Media driven, Le Tour proved to be a huge occasion for the county. What a showcase it was.

And the athletes deserve it. Those that are playing fair that is. It is a supremely physical challenge, and watchable or not, they deserve their plaudits.

James' book 'Shot and a Ghost' is available from willstrop.co.uk