Author Topic: Leeds gets up to speed on the Tour de France

Zoe Williams writes:

in roughly 18 months, this will be the grand d├ępart of the Tour de France. "I don't think people realise how huge it is," said James, the manager of Evans cycles in the middle of town. "It's like the Olympics, arriving for one day, and disappearing again."

Sheila Harding, of Cycling Time Trials, tells me later, "I think people will be very surprised at the enormity of it. The whole presence, the atmosphere, the history, the spectacle, the razzmatazz!" To sound a note of caution on that, James lived for a while in a French town on the route: the whole place stops for two weeks, but "people are going to be disappointed if they think the riders are going to show up and perform for an hour. It's just a sound, a flash of colour, they're gone. It's like lightning."

People who don't like sport will wonder what the point is, and people who love sport will already know that it's not so much about what you see as how close you were when you almost saw it.

If it's anything like the Tonbridge leg of the 2007 Tour, razzmatazzers will outnumber actual competitors to the extent the latter might be mistaken for overenthusiastic club cyclists accidentally caught up in a parade.

There will be clowns. There will be cows. There will be more freebies than a Christmas cracker convention. There will be excitement in the air and police instructed to pepper spray anybody who even mentions EPOs or uses Lance in a sentence not followed by boil. And yes, there will be proximity. With some forethought spectators shouldn't have trouble getting close enough to the riders to smell their fear. It smells like victory.

Enriched by the wool trade in the 17th and 18th centuries, Leeds is now better known for being unofficially twinned with Mumbai. It is also home to The Dalek, which has already killed and may kill again, and (in spirit at least) to the relatively harmless Leeds Leek. The Tour is expected to enrich local businesses sufficiently so that call centre workers can be given time off for good behaviour.

People who don't like sport will want to steer clear, which might be difficult given traffic conditions on that day. People who love it will want to start training now so that they might rise from Cat 4, bidon filler to Cat 1, licenced to be taken seriously at the pub afterwards.