Vive la Yorkshire and vive la tour was the resounding message as the 2014 Tour de France got off to a rousing start in Yorkshire.
With the race beginning in ‘God’s county’, there was real Yorkshire feel to the official team presentation and opening ceremony in front of more than 10,000 cycling fans and special guests at Leeds Arena.
Live music came from Yorkshire artistes with York’s Alistair Griffin and Bradford’s Kimberley Walsh performing Tour anthem The Road before West Yorkshire band Embrace – introduced as one of Yorkshire’s biggest ever bands despite the fact many would argue they wouldn’t make Sheffield’s top 10 – closed the show, ending with classic All You Good Good People.
The Yorkshire theme ran throughout the show, as the gaps between each team’s presentation was filled with clever video clips of Yorkshire people revealing facts about the tour, before they declared Welcome to Yorkshire and the French translation Bienvenue a Yorkshire in a nod to the Tour’s home country and first language.
The opening stages of the race – known as the Grand Départ – will see riders head from Leeds to Harrogate on Saturday’s stage one, before Sunday’s stage two takes them from York to Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena in Attercliffe.
And Sheffield was not forgotten in the ceremony, with a Sheffield wheelchair basketball player Sultan Alesayi featuring in one of the video clips on the big screen, talking about the number of tyres used (800) – even if host Sébastien Piquet referred to Sheffield as a ‘steel town’ at one point, sparking much anger on social media among those watching on TV back in the Steel City.
The crowd showed great appreciation for the top riders of all nationalities including top German sprinters André Griepel and Marcel Kittel and Grand Classification challengers Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador.
The loudest cheers were unsurprisingly for the four British cyclists taking part – Simon Yates, Geraint Thomas, sprint star Mark Cavendish and defending champion Chris Froome.
However, the warmest welcome of the night was reserved for Welcome to Yorkshire’s Gary Verity, the man who has probably done the most to bring the tour to the county.
He was visibly moved by the lengthy ovation he received when he was introduced to the podium by tour director Christian Prudhomme, appearing to wipe away a tear on more than one occasion.
Both gave speeches to open the ceremony with Monsieur Preudhomme talking about the stunning scenery of ‘God’s county’, before Mr Verity closed by almost shouting ‘Viva la Yorkshire, vive la tour’, to the appreciative crowd.
The stage was then handed over to Embrace to finish, with their set failing to capture the imagination given the number of empty seats in the venue by the time they finished.