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Last updated: December 14, 2012 11:30 pm
As ice gripped Yorkshire on Friday morning, two lone cyclists wound their way up one of Britain’s most arduous and popular climbs – the 204m ascent of Holme Moss near Huddersfield, swallowed by the freezing fog.
In July 2014, with the sun hopefully shining, they could be joined by a peloton of 200 riders as the Tour de France visits God’s own county for the first time.
A prolonged campaign has secured Leeds for Le Grand Départ, the traditional send off for the world’s most popular cycle race, the second time it has taken place in the UK after London in 2007.
The two-day route, likely to encompass the Yorkshire Dales and Sheffield as well as possibly Holme Moss, is to be announced next year.
A third stage will take place in London before the Tour moves to mainland Europe.
Amaury Sport Organisation, the Tour’s organisers, acknowledged the growing role of British cycling in the event, which next year marks its centenary, as well as the level of British public support for cycling during the Olympics.
“After an outstanding 2012 for British cycling, marked by the historical victory of Bradley Wiggins on the Tour de France, the United Kingdom will again hold pride of place in 2014,” ASO said.
Christian Prudhomme, Tour director, described the 2007 Grand Départ in London “a resounding success”. The prologue is regularly held outside France, with Holland and Belgium each hosting the event several times.
“Bradley Wiggins’ historical victory last July and the enormous crowds that followed the cycling events in the streets of London during the Olympic Games encouraged us to go back earlier than we had initially planned,” said Mr Prudhomme.
“Yorkshire is a region of outstanding beauty, with breathtaking landscapes whose terrains offer both sprinters and attackers the opportunity to express themselves.”
Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, the tourism agency that led the bid, told the Financial Times: ““I am honoured and humbled. When we first started talking about it some people thought I was crackers.”
He even enlisted divine intervention for God’s own county, retweeting minutes before the announcement the archbishop of York’s comment: “With God even that which seems impossible can become possible.”
For professional riders such as Ben Swift of Team Sky, who is from Rotherham, the idea of the Tour beginning in Yorkshire seemed implausible.
“ I never dreamt the Tour would ever start in my home county,” he said.
“It’s going to be amazing for the region, a massive honour, and I’m sure everyone in Britain is going to embrace this now.
“You only have to see the crowds that turned out in London in 2007 when the Tour started there, and cycling has boomed in the country since then.”
According to Lizzie Armitstead, the road medal winning cyclist from the Yorkshire town of Otley, Leeds is “the centre of the universe”.
Welcome to Yorkshire said the tour would bring at least £100m to the region and attract 1m spectators, travelling at least 350km across the broad acres.
The Tour alone requires 5,000 bed nights in local hotels, boosting the region’s £7bn tourism industry, providing more than 200,000 jobs.
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