Tour de Yorkshire: Sheffield 'buzzing' as its prepares to host race finale

Stocksbridge has been decorated with bikes and blue-and-yellow bunting in preparation for the finale of the Tour de Yorkshire
Stocksbridge has been decorated with bikes and blue-and-yellow bunting in preparation for the finale of the Tour de Yorkshire
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You can barely move for bunting, painters are touching up the lavishly decorated shopfronts, and even the street furniture has been dressed up.

You could be forgiven for thinking Stocksbridge is readying itself for a visit from the Queen or Pope, and not a bunch of sweaty men in lycra.

Even the Grandad Fox sculpture on the roundabout at Fox Valley has been dressed in Tour de Yorkshire colours

Even the Grandad Fox sculpture on the roundabout at Fox Valley has been dressed in Tour de Yorkshire colours

Only these are not any sweaty men, but the cream of the cycling world who are set to take on the area's fearsome hills when the Tour de Yorkshire climaxes in Fox Valley on Sunday (April 30).

Hosting the finale of one of Britain's premier cycling events is a major coup for Stocksbridge and in particular for the newly built Fox Valley shopping centre, where riders will cross the finish line.

Its denizens were rightly proud of the honour, when The Star visited on Thursday, but mostly they were just looking forward to the carnival atmosphere expected as spectators line the streets to catch a view of cycling's elite competitors.

"There's been a real buzz since all the decorations went up," says Fiona Parkinson, who works at The Hub café along the route in Manchester Road.

Many shopkeepers are proudly displaying Yorkshire roses in their windows

Many shopkeepers are proudly displaying Yorkshire roses in their windows

"I think Stocksbridge is really excited and proud to be hosting such an exciting event, and it's definitely boosted morale."

Customer Dave Pickering concurs, saying: "It's great for the area and the local economy. Viewers will get to see how great the countryside is around here, which I think people appreciated until the Tour de France came and you had all the aerial shots."

Anthony Siddall and his twin daughters Lottie and Niamh, aged three, will be watching at Stocksbridge Cricket Club, which is throwing a party to celebrate the Tour's arrival.

"The atmosphere's been great. There's a lot of community spirit going off here, with people giving up their time and money to make the most of the day," he said.

Giants banners have been hung to welcome riders and spectators to Stocksbridge

Giants banners have been hung to welcome riders and spectators to Stocksbridge

Preparations for the Tour have been not months but years in the making, and Joelle Etienne claims the transformation in the six years since she moved to Stocksbridge has been remarkable.

"It's great for the area. There's already been a lot of investment thanks to the Tour coming and the work's been done very tastefully. Stocksbridge was becoming like a slum but it's massively improved," says the 49-year-old head gardener.

"We're already getting people coming from areas like Bradford, Wakefield and Huddersfield, who say how nice it is, and hopefully the exposure from the Tour will attract even more visitors and encourage new businesses to invest here."

The pristine stone walls and immaculately maintained hanging baskets at the shopping centre, which opened last summer, are complemented by the best-groomed security staff I've ever met.

Fiona Parkinson, who works at The Hub cafe

Fiona Parkinson, who works at The Hub cafe

Nathan Brookes and Andrew Kane are suited and booted in the manner you would expect of a doorman at The Ritz, not guards patrolling a shopping centre car park.

But, as they explain, they are not just security guards but ambassadors for Fox Valley, known as 'beadles', who greet visitors and even shelter shoppers from the rain when necessary.

"When people think of Stocksbridge, they just think of the steelworks but we want them to think that's where Fox Valley is," they say.

"The area really needed this to help improve its image, and the Tour will showcase how good it's looking now."

As Nathan and Andrew point out, Stocksbridge is synonymous with the speciality steelworks, where hundreds of jobs were recently secured, but also with the now ubiquitous paragon-frame umbrella, which was invented at Samuel Fox's factory in Stocksbridge.

The town's superb scenery and challenging ascents already make it a popular spot for bikers, but there are hopes the Tour will cement its reputation as a haven for cyclists.

Dave Pickering

Dave Pickering

At the cycling shop Full Gas Bikes, in Fox Valley, manager Andy Cook says the Tour has already attracted many amateur riders keen to try the route for themselves or to prepare for one of the event's fun 'sportive' rides.

The shop organises guided rides and recently opened a 'bike library', funded by Yorkshire Bank, where people can borrow refurbished bicycles in the same way they would loan books from a conventional library.

"The Tour de Yorkshire isn't just for the cycling purists. It's a big family event, with lots going on, and that's why it's so popular," he says.

"Cycling's moved from a minority sport to a mainstream one. If we'd done this 20 years ago, there would have been three men and a dog out there, nothing like the crowds we're expecting on Sunday.

"It's great that the Tour's promoting smaller towns and communities like Stocksbridge, and not just the big cities."

Outside the town hall, workers are busy digging up bollards to clear the path for riders sweeping down to the finish line.

Inside is the town's museum, run by Stocksbridge & District History Society, which usually only opens on Tuesdays and Thursdays but will be opening specially on Sunday to educate cycling fans about the area's heritage.

As the society's chairman Dennis Pindar shows me around the artifacts, including historic Bolsterstone glass and Midhope pottery, recently acquired from Weston Park Museum, he pours forth about the benefits the Tour has brought.

"It's an important weekend for Stocksbridge and it can only be good for the town. The majority of people are really embracing this and looking forward to it. After all, it doesn't happen every day," he says.

"The corner here's going to be like death corner, but at least they're taking out the bollards temporarily, otherwise you would have had riders going over their handlebars."

The shops, pubs and cafés along Manchester Road have decorated their windows with the race's blue-and-yellow colours, Yorkshire roses and all manner of bike-themed adornments, and many are planning events to mark the Tour's arrival.

The Friendship pub is holding a street party throughout the day, complete with live music, a hog roast and bouncy castle.

Inside, Luke Bentham, a 19-year-old engineer sat at the bar, explains how the Tour has done wonders for the town.

"Stocksbridge needed the investment which the Tour has brought. It's really been revamped," he says.

"It's going to be rammed in here on Sunday. It's going to be that full they've asked me to work here."

Not everyone's thrilled about the Tour's arrival, with a bunch of regulars complaining they'll be forced to 'move to higher ground' to escape the crowds and increased prices.

But even Glenn Wakelin, who's none to happy about having to find an alternative watering hole for the day, admits the Tour is good news for Stocksbridge, saying 'it's great for the village, just not for us'.

* The Tour de Yorkshire is a three-day race, from Friday, April 28, to Sunday, April 30. The final stage runs 194.5 km from Bradford to Fox Valley, in Stocksbridge. Riders must complete a testing final circuit around Stocksbridge comprising four climbs, including the Cote de Wigtwizzle , before sweeping down to the finish. The first competitors are expected to cross the finish line between 5pm and 5.30pm.

* The Star will have a stall close to the finish line at Fox Valley, where visitors can get their hands on complementary sun cream.

Ladival sun cream, which comes in Sun Protection Factor 15 or 50, is hypoallergenic, waterproof and excellent for sensitive skin and prickly heat, and retails at £20 a bottle.

Anthony Siddall with twin daughters Lottie and Niamh

Anthony Siddall with twin daughters Lottie and Niamh

Luke Bentham

Luke Bentham

Glenn Wakelin

Glenn Wakelin