Featured image by Andrew
In a summer packed with sport, Britain will soon be seized with cycling fever as the 2014 Tour de France hits our shores. Visiting many destinations in Yorkshire for the first time, “Le Tour” will pursue a scenic route that takes in Leeds, Harrogate, York, Sheffield, Cambridge and finally London over the course of its first three stages.
For visitors and locals in the area, it’s a brilliant opportunity to catch some world-class sporting action right on their doorstep – not to mention a chance to take in the many sights the cyclists will pass along the route. Make the most of the occasion with our round up of the top ten places to watch Le Tour throughout its British stages.
Stage 1 – Leeds to Harrogate
The race’s Grand Départ on Saturday 5th July 2014 is sure to be one of the most exciting parts of the event. Leeds will come alive as over 40,000 people pour into the area and line the edges of the route. Get there early and grab a vantage spot next to the Art Gallery in Victoria Gardens, or enjoy the bustling atmosphere along the Headrow.
This is also the place to pick up your official Tour de France merchandise – including the new, limited-edition cycling jersey – at the Grand Départ pop-up shop, which will be open in the Trinity Leeds shopping centre from now until 14th July.
2. Buttertubs Pass
This spectacular 4.5km climb along the flank of Pike Hill, deep in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, will surely be one of the most popular spots to watch the Tour pass. The category 3 slope is tough enough to slow down the riders and string out the peloton, so you can get a good look as they labour up the hillside. The road itself is narrow, but there are good views from the surrounding banks looking down on the riders – get there early to find a good spot and enjoy the breath-taking Yorkshire scenery.
3. Yorkshire Dales Villages
Stage 1 passes right through some of the most picturesque towns in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, so take your pick from the quaint, historic villages of Skipton, Grassington, West Tanfield, Ripon or Hawes and enjoy the festive atmosphere throughout. Many towns in the area are hosting community events to coincide with the race, usually featuring big screens so you can watch the rest of the stage after the peloton has passed, in addition to barbecues, children’s activities, music, market stalls and plenty of local food and drink.
Stage 1 concludes in the lovely spa town of Harrogate, which is also the site of the only official Tour de France Fan Park outside London. Situated next to the finish line, the park is the perfect place to watch the race’s progress on the big screens before cheering on local favourite Mark Cavendish at the finish. There will also be live entertainment, bars and restaurants, exhibits on Tour history, cycling merchandise for sale, interactive activities and more to keep even the most avid cycling fan entertained.
Stage 2 – York to Sheffield
On Sunday 6th July 2014, Stage 2 will set a dramatic course through historic cities and rolling moorland countryside as it travels from the ancient stronghold of York through to the industrial centre of Sheffield. The locations below are great places to spot the riders as they battle through the hills and valleys:
The almost impossibly pretty town of Holmfirth is best known as the setting of the long-running sitcom Last of the Summer Wine. The hilly landscape surrounding the town is nowadays an ideal destination for walkers, cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts, or indeed anyone looking for a peaceful rural retreat.
Nearby, the category 2 climb up Holme Mosse is the perfect place to see the Tour riders at their best. Expect crowds large enough to rival those at the Tour’s Alpine stages to turn out for this stretch of the race.
6. Peak District
From rolling, rugged moorland to scented meadows and leafy forests, the Peak District National Park is home to some of the country’s finest scenery. Watching the colourful peloton surging over the green hills and dales will be an unforgettable sight – spot the riders from picturesque South Yorkshire villages such as Langsett (with fabulous views and great walking paths) and High Bradfield (home to historic architecture, including a medieval church and remains of a Norman castle).
Stage 2 wraps up in the northern city of Sheffield, a key player in Britain’s industrial revolution and once a chief centre for iron and steel production. Nowadays it’s a leafy green city with a lively cultural scene, an ideal place to unwind after watching the thrilling sprint finish at the Motorpoint Arena – or catch all the action at one of the city’s spectator hubs, which are free centres equipped with big screens, refreshments and live entertainment throughout the race. Afterward you can drop off your hire car in Sheffield or continue to follow the race as it heads into Stage 3.
Stage 3 – Cambridge to London
On Monday 7th July, stage 3 sees Le Tour depart Yorkshire and head south toward the capital along a short and fast 155km route through picture-perfect villages in Cambridgeshire and Essex before entering the bustling suburbs of London. Here are the best places to catch the action:
The normally idyllic city of Cambridge will be absolutely teeming with cycling fans as the riders head off for the final British stage from the city centre. It’s guaranteed to be a fabulous atmosphere, so soak it up before checking out the city’s famous university, architecture and museums. If you’re feeling ambitious, hire a car in Cambridge and head for London to catch the exciting stage finish, or simply explore the pretty villages along the way.
9. Epping Forest
The peaceful surrounds of Epping Forest are a fantastic place to watch the riders streaming by as they make their way towards London. The historic royal hunting forest was once the preserve of Tudor monarchs, and on 7th July will experience a different type of sporting action as the town of Epping itself hosts one of the stage’s sprints along its High Street. Most roads in the area will close early in the morning, so get there in plenty of time.
London is the final destination visited by the Tour de France in Britain this year, with the riders following a route past some of the capital’s best-known landmarks. Spot them as they speed past the Tower of London or the Houses of Parliament, or get to The Mall in St James’s Park early enough to get a view of what will surely be a dramatic sprint to the finish.
Alternatively, watch the race unfold on the big screens at the capital’s three official fan parks in Trafalgar Square, Green Park, and Canary Wharf. When the day’s excitement is done, you can drop off your hire car in London without having to journey back to Cambridge – perfect for getting on with the next stage of your trip.