The helicopters buzzing around overhead indicated that it was getting closer. That finally and after many hours the waiting was almost over.
The relentless rise of cheering voices, the sound of whistles blowing and of cow bells being rung let everyone knew that it was almost upon them.
The cars and motorbikes sped past. Police motor cycle riders high-fived the crowds lining the streets. The sound of endless car horns left your head buzzing. Public address systems mounted on official looking cars shouted out instructions. Something in French that not many could really understand. Something about not standing too close. Nobody could really hear it anyway. Nobody seemed to care.
Then it was upon them. Speeding past in a blur of colours. Pumping legs and a bobbing sea of cycling helmets. An unfamiliar crescendo of noise as nearly 200 hundred riders roared past, their pedals turning fast. A rush of air washed over those standing close and the cheering reached a new, louder peak.
The Tour de France Peloton had arrived. In fact no, let me add to that. The Tour de France Peloton had arrived in Yorkshire and the people of Yorkshire were just a bit excited about that.
For the first time in the 111-year history of the race three of the stages were to be held in the UK. The 190km Stage 1 ran from Leeds to Harrogate. Stage 2, the longest of the three at 201km went from York to Sheffield and Stage 3 started in Cambridge and ended 155km later in London.
But over the first two days it was the people of Yorkshire who really took hold of this race and made it their own. The months of planning, the endless organising and logistical arrangements along every stretch of the route was all geared towards those 15 or 20 seconds when the Peloton raced past.
It is estimated that 2.5 million people lined the roads for the first two stages of the tour! That amounts to half the population of Yorkshire!
Bunting was strung out over the streets. The colours of the race – from the race jerseys – was the theme. White, green, yellow and white with red polka dots was everywhere. On cars, in windows, painted on sheep, on flags, drawn on the side of hills, hanging from lamp posts, painted onto people…it covered everything.
Wherever you went in Yorkshire there seemed to be a push bike of some description either propped up against or hanging from something and every single one of them was sprayed yellow. If you’ve always had an ambition to start a yellow bike re-cycling business then I would suggest now is the time.
The Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme, described Yorkshire’s Grand Depart as the “grandest” in the history of the race. Asked whether Le Tour will return to the UK, Mr Prudhomme said: “Yes. The question is not if, but when, although I don’t have the answer for the second part.
“Thank you. It was unbelievable. I can see the Tour in their hearts, and in their eyes. For that, I say thank you to everyone in Yorkshire who has made this Grand Depart so very, very special.”
The five-time Tour victor Bernard Hinault said that it was the first time in four decades he had seen such crowds.
Whether you’re ‘into‘ your cycling or not anyone who watched this event from the streets or from the hills of Yorkshire couldn’t help but feel caught up in the buzz that surrounded it. The build up to the Peloton arriving was a huge part of the event. The participation of the crowd. A young boy of around 5 or 6 cycling through the main street of Ilkley was cheered and encouraged as loudly as the race leader by onlookers. The 4-seater quad cycle making its way slowly up the steep hill of Holme Moss was treated to the shouts, the whistles and the ringing cow bells that all potential ‘King of the Hill’ riders get. Anyone and everyone on a bike was cheered along as a prelude to the main race passing by.
As for me? Well I was living, sleeping and eating out of my Land Rover for the three days I covered the event for Getty Images . I spent the Friday looking at the build up at Harewood House near Leeds prior to the start the following day. A wet and grey day that lacked a little of the colour that was needed to help lift the occasion.
On Saturday as the sun shone and the weather improved I covered the race and the crowds in Ilkley during Stage 1 before finally making my way further south to cover the Holme Moss climb on Stage 2 on the Sunday.
I’ve put a few of my pictures below and have broken them down in to the various parts that I covered. Enjoy.
Harewood House – The day before the ‘Grand Depart’…..
Ilkley sees the Peloton arrive on stage 1…..
One of the many impromptu campsites that sprung up to cater for spectators along the route – this one was just over an hours walk to the Holme Moss hill climb…..
From the surrounding campsites spectators made the long walk in to get to the hill…..
…and then they waited. Until the pre-race caravan past by to entertain the crowds before the Peloton made its way up Holme Moss hill…
Some of the photographs I saw coming out from other photographers during these stages were pretty amazing – the sort of pictures where you say to yourself “Shit! I wish I’d thought of that or done that!” But you can’t be everywhere and you can only keep working hard to get into a position that might work and do the best you can throughout the job and to be honest I’m reasonably pleased with the pictures I shot – but I’m never fully happy! No photographer ever is.
But nonetheless many of the pictures I shot have started to appear all over the place as a result. Too many links to put here and bore everyone with but I’ve seen some of the pictures used as far afield as St Louis in America to Australia and the Sydney Morning Herald.
On various websites forming part of the global coverage that this race in Yorkshire has received from the likes of CBS News, Al Jazeera, BBC, The Guardian, Independent, Daily Telegraph, The Metro, Eurosport and so it goes on. As a photographer it’s always good to see your work out there, of course it is, but also to be part of the coverage of an event of this magnitude is a very rewarding experience even for a non-cyclist like myself.
See more of my work on my website and blogs via the link here
Images remain copyright Ian Forsyth / Getty Images
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