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Thursday, 10 July 2014

Bonjour, Leeds!

It's not very often you'll find me happily getting up at 3.30am, especially on a Saturday, but it's not every day that the most prestigious bike race in the world comes to the streets of Yorkshire. Leeds had been chosen to host the start of the first stage, le Grand Départ, of the Tour de France on 5th July, 2014. Living in south-east Derbyshire, we're not that far from Leeds but we wanted to make sure we arrived in plenty of time to get a good spot. After leaving the house at about 4am, we arrived at the Elland Rd Park and Ride at about 5.30am. Just before 6am we boarded the first bus along with many of the volunteer Tour Makers who helped to make the event a great success.
This was the first time we'd been to Leeds city centre and we were very impressed with the quality of the shops. If you live in Leeds, how lucky are you to have a Hotel Chocolat and a Patisserie Valerie? Even better than that, the latter is right next door to an old-fashioned sweet shop! We'll definitely be back at some point to do some shopping but that day was all about le Tour. It had certainly capture everyone's imagination and many of the shops had decorated their windows with Tour-themed displays, yellow being the dominant colour. For those who don't know, the overall leader of the race is awarded the yellow jersey (le maillot jaune) and this bright and sunny colour was very much in evidence throughout the streets, helping to create a carnival atmosphere. There were even banners translating French into Yorkshire dialect: 'ooh la la' became 'by eck' and 'je ne sais quoi' became 'it's neither nowt nor summat'.
After a lovely breakfast in a certain New York-Italian diner, we took our place at the barriers on The Headrow (the main street through Leeds). The clock on a building across the street told us it was nearly 7.25am and I thought that waiting four hours for the peloton to come by would feel like forever but it went surprisingly quickly. It's a good job we got to the barrier when we did because by 8 o' clock the streets we much more crowded.
Before the race starts, the caravan of the Tour's official partners and sponsors comes through with freebies which are thrown into the crowd. We got lucky with Bic and RAGT (a supplier of seeds) but unfortunately we missed out on the Haribo.
The excitement began to build as the time for the Départ drew closer. The helicopter hovered above as the fleet of support cars went past sounding their horns. The biggest cheers were for Team Sky, home of reigning TDF champion Chris Froome.
Not long after 11am the noise of the crowd increased as the peloton began to make its way along the route. Luckily for us Chris Froome was on our side of the road and passed by just feet away, alongside Mark Cavendish and Alberto Contador.
It was one of the most exciting events I've been to, much more so than when we went to see the Tour of Britain when it went through Ilkeston in 2012. My favourite headline of the day is this blog from French newspaper Le Monde - Roule, Britannia! It also features a photo of a bike made from various items from a local butcher. I want to give a special mention to the police who joined in with the fun, laughing and joking with the crowd and taking pictures for people. It was also a real novelty to see them alongside their French colleagues the gendarmerie. Chapeau to you all.
There was a nice surprise for me in the official fan pack that we bought. As well as the bandana (which has become my new must-have fashion item) and T-shirt, there is a set of bracelets which are ribbons representing the Tour's jerseys. As well as yellow, there is a spotty one for King of the Mountains and a green one for the best sprinter. I am planning to use them to create a piece of hoop art to commemorate the day. I've never used ribbons before so any tips and ideas are welcome. You can contact me through Twitter and Facebook.
It's a shame that Mark Cavendish crashed out that day and it's even more disappointing that Chris Froome was forced to abandon the race during stage 5 but he's such a great champion I'm sure he'll be back. Allez, allez, allez!
All photos (c) Karen Eley and Roy Eley 2014.

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