“The world is watching us,” said the man from Malham in the Yorkshire Dales tourist office. “We best make a good showing of it.”
Aye. The world is watching my neighbourhood. And not just in a creepy googlemaps kind of way. And not just watching. Over the next few days the world—or at least the bicycle lovers of the world—will be descending up on us as host to the most prestigious cycling event on the athletic calendar: The Tour de France.
For those of you who are rather confused why Le Tour is coming to Le Nord, allow me to refer you to my blog post of January 2013. If you can’t be bothered to click on the link, let me sum it up for you: The Grand Depart (start) of the Tour De France (big bike race) will be in Yorkshire (Leeds-Harrogate then York-Sheffield) this week-end.
I have never been at Ground Zero for a major sporting event. Being taken unawares once on a Saturday morning during football season in Lincoln, Nebraska was enough to turn me off all sporting events for life. Not that I was ever turned on by them. If you are not au fait with American College Football, in the mid-late 1990s, the Nebraska Cornhuskers were Kings of the…errr…I want to say “pitch” but I’m not really sure what to call the thing people play football on. For me, that nightmarish football Saturday felt like being caught up in some cult parade: a human tide of red surging in one direction with singular intent. I dropped my farmers’ market booty, got on my bike and pedalled away at speed just in case the mob needed a virgin (to football) sacrifice.
My bicycle saved my life that day, and it was not the only time. Children of the 80s lived on bikes and I was no different. As a teenager I hated my driver’s ed instructor so much that my bicycle became a form of protest. “I have no need of a car. My two-wheeled environmentally-responsible rebel vehicle takes me where I need to go in this frankly very small town. I shall ride it with smug superiority.” And I did. Everywhere.
In fact, my best memories of getting from point a to point b all involve a bicycle. Racing a thunderstorm with my cousins in Iowa, the sirens blaring in our ears, rain drowning us and lighting all around. Riding Constitution Trail in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois during my college years on a bright red Trek mountain bike I named Felicia. I even, one memorable evening, rode it in the dark without a bike light. But only once. It was far too scary. But memorable. The summer I spent as a girl scout camp counsellor in Wisconsin. Every day we had two hours off. Every day I spent those two hours riding around the incredible countryside. I saw the best sunsets that summer. And here in Harrogate we are lucky enough to cycle paths like The Nidderdale Greenway, where I experienced my favourite moment as a parent so far: seeing my daughters biking side by side.
I am certainly not alone in my love of the spoke and chain. Recently, cycling has enjoyed a surge of popularity in the UK. Great Britain has won The Tour de France two years running and dominated cycling events at the 2012 Olympics. This has led many to take it up as both exercise and a greener way to travel. I see more bikes every day. Maybe in the near future York will be like a second Amsterdam in the sheer number of people cycling everywhere. Who can say what Le Tour may bring?
Meanwhile, in the present day, Yorkshire is getting her glad rags on for the spotlight. It’s quite exciting being on stage. I do love a spotlight and a stage. The Yorkshire decorating committee has been hard at work for some time dressing up our already beautiful county. In November 2013 the call went out to knitters of all ages and persuasions to deck the streets with boughs of jerseys. Tiny little knitted t-shirts in colours representing the various winning Tour jerseys have been draped from the lamp posts of every city, town and village in the county. So many tiny knitted t-shirts in fact that local councillors were concerned about the structural soundness of iron posts groaning under the weight of adorably rampant woollyness. Worry not though, dear readers. No lamp posts have been harmed and the bunting is cute as hell!
On a purely selfish note, I am thrilled that Le Grand Depart is happening the day after American Independence Day. I never get to celebrate The Fourth of July. This year not only do I get the day off but I get to ride the Pre-Depart celebratory wave. Of course, I realise the bunting, streamers are not for my silly little national holiday but If I tilt my head and squint a bit, all the little GB flags look almost like the stars and stripes. Almost.
Flags, ickle knitty jumpers and bunting draped around anything that holds still long enough are just the beginning of the party atmosphere in Yorkshire. Yellow bicycles have been appearing in the most amazing places and in some truly creative ways. Businesses in particular have been going all out for the customers they expect to pour into our area. A Harrogate restaurant even customized its wine labels to celebrate “a summer of cycling.”
Madder things are happening as well. In the town of Ripley, just off the aforementioned Nidderdale Greenway, a man is working night and day to complete a stone sculpture of a cyclist biking atop what looks for all the world like a pyramid. Art is happening. Music is happening. Drama. Film. Food. And lots and lots and lots of bikes.
Pride. That is what’s happening in Le Nord. Folk here take for granted that Yorkshire is the best county in England. This is not news. I think these hard northerners are really looking forward to showing off for the rest of the world.
Of course, Brits being Brits, there are many who would make a face at my grandiose claims. “Oh, dear,” I’ve heard them say when conversations shift to Tour Talk. “It’ll be awful. I may have to hide/leave town/immigrate.” I take these protests with a block of salt. They said the same thing about the Olympics and we all know how that turned out. Granted, Le Tour will not garner the same level of attention as the Olympics but now that England is out of the World Cup, I reckon the country is ready to get behind a sporting event we stand a good chance of winning.
Even if Wiggo is awol.