IF proof was needed that Tour de France fever really had gripped East Lancashire, the ‘Welcome to Skipton’ sign on Colne’s North Valley Road was a dead giveaway.
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But one misinformed transport official aside, the cycling fraternity and day-trippers alike certainly made the arrival of the world-famous road race into a memorable weekend for whole of the north country.
Even before a pedal had been pushed in earnest, there were queues at the bottom of the M65 as cycling enthusiasts from across the UK crossed the Lancashire-Yorkshire border.
And the hundreds who battled, some unsuccessfully, to catch a train to Hebden Bridge or beyond from Blackburn, Accrington or Burnley Manchester Road, will need no reminding of how popular the calvacade turned out to be.
Hours before the main event one Burnley rider had already weighed up the first two stages, from Leeds to Harrogate and then York to Sheffield.
Captain Ryan Perry, 27, a member of the Army Cycling Union, was one of a select band from the military who were asked to complete a test run of the track.
“I think it was really cool to have cycled the same route as the top continental cyclists and the countryside was absolutely beautiful round there as well,” he said. His dad Stephen, a member of Pendle Forest cycling club, from whom Ryan picked up his taste for two wheels, had already nipped around the same course previously though.
Steve Gee, 57, from Barrowford, of the Blazing Saddles mountain bike club, headed to Cray, near Buckden, in the Yorkshire Dales on Saturday and decided to visit Cragg Vale Road in Mytholmroyd, yesterday, with wife Gillian and children Andrea, 12 and nine-year-old Finlay.
“We wanted to be able to see the riders for a little bit longer and that’s where they begin their first climb of the stage — otherwise they just fly by,” said Steve.
Andrew Hays, from Nelson, who went to both days of the tour with partner Isla Mansell and their springer spaniel Monkey, said: “I’m a massive fan of the Tour de France and we were in Skipton on Saturday. It was just brilliant, really great, but very, very busy. We started off on the high street but then went to watch them coming out of town up the hill, so we could see the riders for about 90 yards,” he said.
Attendance at either one of the stages, or preferably both, was an article of faith for cycle nuts, with East Lancashire’s more dedicated riders choosing between Grassington, Haworth, the tortuous climb up Cragg Vale or the remote but picturesque Butter Tubs Pass, in Richmondshire, which attracted phenomenal crowds of around 10,000.
Leanne Postlethwaite, from Darwen, encountered the same early-morning transport difficulties as most East Lancashire travellers to West Yorkshire on Sunday but was glad she persevered.
She said: “I felt sorry for those who couldn’t get on the trains because they usually put six or seven carriages on that train but today there were only three.
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“But it’s been such a great event to watch and everyone has got together. I’ll be staying around for a bit because there’s still going to be a lot going on.”
The Lancashire Telegraph’s vantage point on Sunday came courtesy of Brenda Astin, chief light of the Friends of Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice, which has already raised £18,800 for sick youngsters in Calderdale and Kirklees despite only being launched in May.
Her Birchcliffe Road home towered above the race route, affording an unique view of the giant Bic, Carrefour, Haribo and Vittel floats which made up the famed ‘caravan’, which winds its way through the course two hours before the riders.
This was Tyke country though so the McCains chips and Yorkshire Tea lorries which followed got louder cheers.
Saturday saw its fair share of drama and delight, from the Duchess of Cambridge cutting the opening tape at Leeds’ Roundhay Park to Mark Cavendish suffering a broken collarbone close to the Harrogate finish line. One hundred and ninety-eight riders from the 22 teams embarked on the initial outing, taking in the likes of Otley, Ikley, Addingham before thundering through Skipton just after 1.10pm.
Sean and Jayne Steele came from Preston with their four children, Grace, Frankie, Archie and Harvey, and the children's grandparents Margaret and Alan Steele to stay in a caravan at Paythorne, near Gisburn.
And after arriving at 6am to set up chairs on Skipton High Street, Alan said: “It's good for Yorkshire. Skipton has been terrific, and I can’t praise the people and the shops enough.”
Packed-out trains leave some fans in lurch
ANGRY cycling fans took to social networking site Twitter to vent their fury at Northern Rail as space ran out on trains heading to the Tour de France.
Thousands of people from East Lancashire are thought to have travelled to see the race, but witnesses described over-crowded trains pulling up to platforms, leaving frustrated passengers no room to board as stations in the area.
Sarah Hardman wrote in a message to Northern Rail: “Utter disgrace. No extra carriages. All trains full from Burnley for Tour de France.”
And Matty Harvey said: “Great organisation. Not. You’ve had four years to plan this; three carriages full at Preston. No chance for anyone in Burnley.”
Social media staff at Northern Rail were forced to put up with numerous tweets from disgruntled customers.
They replied on several occasions: “We have added as many services as we physically could. There is not an unlimited amount of trains unfortunately. Sorry.
“We have strengthened services and an enhanced timetable throughout the day focusing on what will be the busiest times.”
A spokeswoman for Northern Rail said passengers who were unable to travel will be offered a refund.
She said: “There was a phenomenal demand. We had almost double the capacity of our normal Sunday service, and we laid on special shuttles from Blackburn to Leeds.”