Ilkley is a town I know well – I visit regularly. But this weekend’s visit has been like no other, as this weekend the Grand Depart came through. What a spectacular experience it has been.
In the centre of town what is usually an open grassy area by the river Wharfe has becomes a mini village of giant TVs, information tents and displays. There are viewing platforms and of course closed roads. The race route itself is marked out with yellow bicycles – and yellow is everywhere. If you have watched any of the Tour on TV you will doubtless have seen yellow sheep among the many images. Everyone seems to have entered into the spirit of the event and there is bunting everywhere – on schools, public buildings and homes. And thousands of people have descended on the town.
The atmosphere is wonderful. Two hours standing on the street waiting for the race to pass by in the blinking of an eye might sound like a strange way to spend time, but in fact there was plenty to do to pass the time. Lots of vehicles pass by before the race, and it was great just to drink in the atmosphere.
I knew the race was coming because of the approaching helicopters that provide the TV pictures, and then the massive roar that came up the road towards me.
Photography was tricky, but I did grab shots of the three leaders Benoît Jarrier (Bretagne), Jens Voigt (Trek) and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), and then, a couple of minutes later, the pack. And, of course, of the many vehicles that preceded the riders with their amazing decoration and freebies liberally tossed into the crowd.
The Tour de France has only just begun, with passing through Ilkley part of the first Leeds to Harrogate stage, and there are two more UK stages – York to Sheffield followed by Cambridge to London. If you are able, get down and take a look at the spectacle for yourself. Details at the official web site http://www.letour.com/le-tour/2014/us/
And of course, if you feel inspired, get on your bike!