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Jul 06

Le Grand Departy

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The hype started building a few weeks ago. Yellow bicycles appeared all over town. A new beer with a yellow label was brewed specifically for it in one of the local breweries. Shop windows were transformed with yellow posters. Yellow everywhere.

Finally today came. Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France stage 2 was beginning, with the contestants cycling from York to Harrogate. I’m not particularly a fan of cycling but given the proximity I decided to head out the flat to see what the big fuss was.

There was a definite buzz in the air around the city. In the distance the noise of crowds could be heard but nearby was near silence; the roads were closed to traffic completely. Streams of people were heading over Lendal Bridge, directed toward the race route by volunteer stewards with large foam fingers normally reserved for sports fans in a stadium. Along the way, shopkeepers were hanging outside their doors, eager either for a glimpse of the race, or cashing in on the crowds by offering refreshments for a very reasonable price.

At 11am the bells of the Minster began to ring, this time not for announcing the top of the hour or the start of a service, but for the beginning of the race. I came to the corner of Museum Street and St Leonard’s Place moments before the cyclists. People were running from down the street to get close to the barriers that were already four or more people deep. The more enterprising of the crowd climbed as high as they could manage on the railings, walls and pillars of the surrounding buildings. Some had even brought stepladders.

A loud cheer went up as the cyclists came into view. Through the mass of people in front of me I could just about catch the merest of glimpses of a bike, a helmet, a flash of metal.

And then, it was over. The weeks of planning, the weeks of hype, finished in 30 seconds. Yet I had no higher expectations, so there was no anticlimactic feeling, at least personally. The city is left with a festive vibe. At least I can say, I was there.

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