Let the Tour Legacy Begin
The support that the Tour de France received as it threaded its way through throngs of fans, lining the route from Yorkshire to London, exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations.
More than 2.5 million people cheered on the riders over the first two days, with many more taking a day off or stealing away from work to be part of history, as the race continued from Cambridge to the capital on Monday.
I personally experienced goosebumps when I saw the hordes perching on to crags and swelling village streets to show their support. And how fitting that on the ninth anniversary of the 7/7 bombings on Monday, the world’s attention was on London for incredibly different reasons; for a global celebration that positively permeated every community it passed through.
I spent the three days ‘tour chasing’ and I am confident that this triumphant spectacle can leave a lasting legacy if we let it. There are a number of things that will be more tangible, such as a legacy three-day Tour of Yorkshire to be held annually and to start next May. And there are the more long-term attitudinal gearshifts, as we create a more defined culture of cycling in the UK.
In Yorkshire, the enthusiasm could be seen everywhere, from the yellow bikes found on almost every street, to the banners and bunting that decorated countless homes. I was staying with friends who have three young children. For weeks, the oldest had been working on projects at primary school around the Tour, and the night before the Tour finally arrived the three-year-old said she couldn’t sleep because she was ‘too excited about the Tour de France coming’. For them, it was like Christmas and as they wrote the names of cycling heroes with chalk in the road, I noticed a group of young lads walk by with Team Sky shirts on, like my generation would have done with footie shirts.
Team Sky, the Tour’s British team, was formed in 2009 when 1 million people rode a bike at least once a week. That number is now over 2 million and the man behind the team’s success is also talking legacies. Sir Dave Brailsford’s sporting approach of ‘marginal gains’ helped lead to victories on the track for inspiring British Olympians Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, just as it has done on the road for the team, with consecutive British Tour victories for Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in the past two years. Now, he wants us all to take marginal gains to get us cycling more, and he believes small changes such as trying cycling to work when possible will also help reduce the nations’ threat from obesity and diabetes.
Chris Boardman also feels the Tour should be the impetus for greater access to cycling – he wants a significant increase in investment from central government, saying that until now the next generation of cyclists has been “let down” by a lack of safe roads. He is calling on the Government to commit £10 per head per year from existing transport funds to every local authority in Britain.
This is actually the fourth time that Britain has hosted the Tour, with the last time being in 2007. Then, as this week, I watched the London stage in St James’ Park, near the finish. It is fair to say that the giant screen in the park was even bigger this week and the crowds were considerably so. And I haven’t needed to explain to any of my friends what a yellow jersey is! By far the longest queue I spotted in the park was not for burgers or beers, but was for the official merchandise. I like to think it isn’t because, as a nation, we love tat but because so many people have wanted to remember this historic occasion and celebrate the direction we are taking. People are buying into cycling in their droves, and now we just need to see the representative Government investment to ensure this passion has a deep and lasting impact.