This week Yorkshire has been celebrating our successful bid to host the Grand Depart of the 2014 Tour de France. The Tour de France! Starting in little old Yorkshire! Best of all: it will be practically coming down my street in Harrogate.
Rock hard northern sports fans lined the square in front of Leeds Town Hall in near blizzard (for Yorkshire) conditions to show their support and excitement. Neville Longbottom himself, aka local lad Matthew Lewis, lent his sparkling (though slightly incongruous given the occasion) celebrity presence to the event. City leaders cracked open the fireworks and every Bed and Breakfast owner in the county cracked open the champagne. Everyone is just so proud and excited.
Except me. I am frankly confused. It’s the Tour de France. FRANCE, people! Yorkshire is a long way from France, especially if you’re going by bicycle. Even my lousy American education knows that is not geographically sensible. From the multiple eye rolls I get from my cycle-loving Brit family members I can tell I have revealed my Euro-Ignorance again. In my defense I don’t know much about American Bicycling Sports Events either. Or any American sports events really–aside from ones no one can avoid like the World Series or the Some Bowl or Other. But it’s amazing how quickly you can educate yourself about a topic you normally wouldn’t care about when said topic shows up on your doorstep.
This has been a stellar year for British cycling. Bradley Wiggans won the 2012 Tour de France. Team GB cyclists ruled the Olympics in several categories. Cycling appears to be Britain’s thing at the moment–all capped off nicely by a winning bid to host 2014’s most prestigious cycling event. But how is possible that the Tour de France is coming to Yorkshire? Isn’t it…you know…in FRANCE?
I had always been under the impression that the Tour de France was a big bike race around France. I base this on my extensive sporting knowledge which comes exclusively from the film Bellville Rendevous or The Triplets of Belleville. Considering this is an animated film with no dialogue it’s probably not surprising that I learned virtually nothing about the actual sporting event at the heart of it.
Fortunately for me, I car pool with and am related to a pair of enthusiastic amateur cyclists who were only too happy to educate me a few basic facts of the Tour de France.
- Fact One: The Tour de France is not just a single race. The tour takes place in 20 different stages. Each stage differs in terms of length and type of course. The first, called the Prologue, is a timed heat which takes place in France along a flat course. The proper race begins elsewhere. This is known as The Grand Depart.
- Fact Two: The Tour de France does not take place exclusively in France. The Tour de France Grand Depart usually takes place in one of the surrounding countries. In 2012 it began in Liege, Belgium. This year it will begin on the island of Corsica. In 2014 it begins in Yorkshire (which is a long way off being a “surrounding country” but hey–we won so suck it up). In fact, the first three stages of the twenty stage race take place in the UK before moving on to France, finishing in Paris.
- Fact Three: One does not simply “win” the Tour de France. In fact, there are several different ways to win the Tour and the winners can change from day to day, from stage to stage. Obviously the most prestigious honour is to end the race with shortest over-all time. This is calculated for each day. On the following day of the race, the competitor with the shortest time gets to wear the coveted but frankly unattractive Yellow Jersey. At the end of The Tour, the cyclist with the shortest accumulated time wins. In 2012 that honour went to British superhero and side-burn god Bradley Wiggans who was the first British cyclist ever to win the Tour de France. However, you can also win by crossing the finish line first at the end of the last day of the race. In 2012 this went to another Brit and half-Yorkshire lad Mark Cavendish. (Told you British cycling was on a high.) For the best time on hills there is the King of the Mountain title which earns you an even less attractive polka dot jersey, making the biker look a bit like Minnie Mouse. The Green jersey goes to the best sprinter, the White to the best under 25 and my personal favourite the Red Jersey goes to the most aggressive cyclist as judged by commissaires (referees).
Thus concludes my knowledge of the Tour de France. I now know more about this event than I have ever known about any other sporting competition anywhere ever. Despite my general ignorance I am excited for my adopted county. For the revenue it will generate for tourism and the attention which will be lavished on the beautiful countryside I love. Although if those idiotic southern journalists refer to our moors as “bleak” one more time, I might have to get all Yankee on their Home County asses. And we all know how terrifying that can be.