I was there! Britain is a world beater at celebrating big moments, writes Anna Doble – who watched Le Tour pass through her home town.
Giant Shimano trains, peloton selfies and “Yorkshire trumping the capital” (Chris Boardman’s words, not mine): the Tour de France in Britain was weird and wonderful, wasn’t it?
The Frenchification of English landmarks (l’abbaye de Westminster) and the complexities of elite cycling (I may be your domestique, but I don’t fancy being the lanterne rouge*) all made for a very new sporting experience for anyone who doesn’t regularly spend their weekends dressed in Lycra.
For me there was the added fascination of seeing the dazzling multi-coloured peloton speeding down the high street of the town I grew up in, Knaresborough.
We’re a nation of big kids always in search of that Christmas eve feeling.
This was the most famous race on earth blazing down the street I walked to school up, past the pubs of my teens and the butcher’s where my granny bought mince.
On Sunday morning, viewing location staked out the night before, chicken sandwiches packed and smartphones at the ready, we waited for Le Tour. First came the eurodisco convoy; the giant teapots, the pretend French cheeses and the high-fiving North Yorkshire police bikers, clearly given orders to be cheery, while their dark blue Gendarmerie colleagues played it cool.
Then, at exactly 11.54am, just like the Yorkshire Post said, the riders whooshed into town: a blur of speeding colours. “Exhilarating! I felt a real buzz as they went by,” said one spectator, surrounded by flags proudly bearing Yorkshire’s white rose.
Fans gather at ‘Côte de Blubberhouses’ – many travelled to see the race by the only transport permitted on the roads… the bicycle
The peloton sweeps through Yorkshire farmland – ‘never seen anything like it’
Epic is an overused word. But for once this event was truly epic. The sight of hundreds of thousands of people lining the route, even in the most remote parts of Yorkshire’s vast countryside, was emotional. A friend posted on Facebook: “Not afraid to admit that I’ve just had tears in my eyes looking at photos of the Tour in the Dales. Never seen anything like it.”
Our beautiful county has done itself proud. Gary Verity, Welcome to Yorkshire
Race director Christian Prudhomme put it like this:”When you said you would deliver the grandest Grand Départ of the Tour it was the truth. You have raised the bar for all future hosts of the Tour de France.”
All in all, five million people lined the three stages – from Leeds to Harrogate, York to Sheffield and Cambridge to London
The riders tackle Holme Moss during stage two of Le Tour
Over the cobbles of Haworth in Bronte country, one of the iconic images of Le Tour 2014
“Our beautiful county has done itself proud,” said Gary Verity, Welcome to Yorkshire’s chief executive and the man who brought the world’s most famous cycle race to the UK.
From the crags of Yorkshire to the fields of Essex, Le Tour scorched into London on Monday afternoon, racking up a massive five million roadside spectators along the way.
Read Alex Thomson: As a democratic spectacle, nothing comes close to the Tour
Many compared the joyful mood to the London Olympic Games in 2012 and it is fair to say the British public showed again that they are mostly not so grumpy and sceptical, but a nation of big kids always in search of that Christmas eve feeling. I bet there were smirks in France; flecked, perhaps, with admiration for Britain’s hunger for “I was there” moments. A French friend of mine messaged me: “Never been a big fan of Le Tour, to be honest. I’m watching the tennis.”
Le Tour passes through Finchingfield in Essex on stage three, Cambridge to London
The riders arrive in London at the end of the third day of racing in the UK
The truth is Britons love a massive event they can all get behind. Who else would knit 20,000 miniature T-shirts to decorate the race route, when asked for 8,000?
The good news is race organisers have strongly hinted Le Tour will be back in Britain again soon.
And in the spirit of the entente cordiale, I think it would be nice to see the red rose join Yorkshire’s white rose on Le Tour map. How about it: Tour de Lancs?
Until then you can follow the progress of the Tour de France through… France, for the rest of July.
Knitting things together – organisers in Yorkshire asked for 8,000 mini T-shirts to line the route – and got 20,000.
The red spotted shirt is awarded to the best climber in the race – King of the Mountains – but the spots adorned just about everything at the weekend. From faces at Holme Moss…
To the mayor’s house in Knaresborough…
Not forgetting small dogs in Ilkley…
*A domestique is a “servant” – a team cyclist who helps protect the lead rider. The “lanterne rouge”, like a red bumper light, is the name given to the rider who comes last. Au revoir!
Anna Doble is Online Editor at Channel 4 News. Follow @annadoble on Twitter