The Grand Depart should be about cycling, not marketing stunts

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A FEW weeks ago I read an article on the Daily Telegraph website about how Yorkshire was gearing up for the Grand Depart, and a comment left by one of the readers pretty much summed up what I’d been thinking.

“It has got so little to do with the sport and more to do with the local economy and general money grabbing that it is bordering on the distasteful.”

Before you put me down as a curmudgeon or as anti-cycling or as someone who will very soon write that the Grand Depart is a waste of money, please read on.

I’ve been cycling since 1982, and I trained and raced my heart out for four seasons; my hero was Laurent Fignon and I was there when Channel 4 began showing Tour highlights in 1986, and when haulage firm ANC sponsored a team that had eyes on riding the Tour; which it did in 1987.

And I was there when the Tour visited Surrey in 1994. I was on Ditchling Beacon, a mere molehill compared with the mountain of Buttertubs Pass.

Back in ‘94, the summer of Wet Wet Wet’s Love Is All Around, the Tour came over for stages four and five for two days before hopping back across the English Channel to Cherbourg, and for Miguel Indurain to eventually take the yellow jersey.

I don’t recall Sussex being turning into an enormous market place and trying to milk every last penny out of the visiting tourists, or of the word “legacy” being bandied about whenever someone spoke of how much it was all costing.

The Tour came, everyone had a great time, it was a carnival atmosphere, and then it left.

Twenty years on, and almost on a daily basis the Yorkshire regional business media carries stories about how firms are set to benefit from the “legacy” or of PR and marketing stunts; some of which are pretty decent, others just plain desperate. (C’mon business editors, publish your top 10 most ridiculous Tour-related press releases.)

An hour after the Grand Depart in Leeds the riders will pass my front door, but I have plans to be watching it somewhere at the top end of Wharfedale.

I intend to wild camping with a few friends, and when I was putting my ideas together I had a look at what was on offer from the temporary campsites. My eyeballs rotated in shock.

Not naming names, but the stock price seems to be £30 plus per night for a small pitch (5m x 4m), and in some cases you have pay for a minimum four nights.

And let’s not bother talking about the events or campsites that are not even on the route just lying in wait for the unsuspecting visitor.

The Grand Depart will be a success; major sporting events don’t fail. Its legacy will be that more people will take up cycling, which has to be a good thing; but will there be anything in terms of new or improved facilities? Starter for 10, no conferring: name a single 2012 Olympic Games legacy project.

To paraphrase someone who was once a hero to many: “It’s not about the bike.”

By Richard Hamer.

This article first appeared on the Bdaily website.

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