ALISTAIR Brownlee summed up in a succinct sentence why Yorkshire is the ideal choice to host the 2014 Tour de France Grand Depart.
“Well, it’s the best place in the world isn’t it?”
The Olympic gold medallist is a proud Yorkshireman. Born and bred in ‘God’s own county’, he and brother Jonny are keen to extol the virtues of their native land whenever they get the chance.
Who can forget that much-quoted statistic from the London 2012 Olympics, that if Yorkshire was a country, it would have finished level in the medals table with Australia?
After winning gold and bronze in the triathlon in that ‘golden summer’ of sport, Alistair and Jonny enjoyed trotting out this little gem to the media, reminding people that Yorkshire finished with seven golds, which would have placed them 12th in the final table.
Well, the chance to promote the White Rose county has presented itself to the Bramhope-based Brownlees once again, as the eyes of the world prepare to focus on Yorkshire and the opening two stages of this year’s Tour de France.
Alistair reckons Tour supremos will, in due course, be applauding themselves for their wisdom in opting for Yorkshire over Edinburgh for this year’s Grand Depart.
Embellishing on what makes Yorkshire such a fabulous venue, Alistair said: “Where do you start about what’s great about Yorkshire? Obviously the scenery is fantastic. Then there’s the great hospitality. Yorkshire people are great at welcoming people.
“The riders will be blown away by the support they are going to get during their stay here. It’s going to be a really special few days.”
It is a view shared, unsurprisingly, by Jonny, who has his own pithy justification of what makes Yorkshire great: “It’s the Yorkshire puddings!
“No, Alistair is right when he says fantastic countryside. And the people are very honest, straight-talking and friendly.”
Fitting, then, that the brothers have been chosen as ambassadors for the three-day Dare 2b Yorkshire Festival of Cycling, which the historic Harewood House Estate will host from July 4-6.
The Tour de France forms the centrepiece of the festival, with the opening day of the race from Leeds to Harrogate passing into the 1,000-acre estate, through its grounds and up the driveway to the grand entrance of Harewood House itself, offering spectators a unique up-close view of the Tour.
Mass participation events are planned, with big screens on hand and several high-profile guests.
Alistair added: “The festival will mean people can really feel part of the Tour de France.
“That’s one of the great things about a festival like this it. It first of all gets them into the grounds of Harewood House and shows them what a wonderful place it is to watch sport and then it gives them the chance to meet similar-minded people. And then there’s all the participation events to have a go at as well. That might then inspire them to go out and train or take up the sport.”
And there you have the Brownlees’ enduring hope for this year’s Tour, that it can inspire in the same way as the Olympics and create a legacy that stands the test of time.
“It will be a celebration of cycling and, we hope, will encourage a legacy where people can get outside and enjoy cycling,” said Jonny.
“Yes, that’s it, it’s the legacy which is so important,” said Alistair, taking over the baton. “It’s great having the Tour visit but it’s what comes after the 5th and 6th of July after the Tour has passed through and gone back to France. Hopefully people will be inspired.”
The siblings have grown up riding the same roads the Tour will race over, and when the peloton snakes its way through Pool-in-Wharfedale it will be less than a mile from their houses in Bramhope.
“We ride on these roads pretty much every day and have done for most of our lives,” said Jonny. “We know them very well, both around Leeds and right up into the Dales. We cover about 300 to 350 miles a week on the bike in total as part of our weekly training regime (a regime which also includes between 60 and 80 miles running and 15 miles swimming).”
Alistair is excited by the prospect of the world’s elite riders visiting his neighbourhood: “It’s going to be fantastic. Round where we live in Bramhope is a very special place. We’re at the bottom of the Wharfe Valley, which is one of the major valleys in the Dales. We’ve got a network of quiet roads which are absolutely ideal for cycling. Just a few miles out of the city centre and you’re already in the middle of the countryside.
“There is a real heritage for endurance sport around here. There is a welcoming culture, lots of people to train with and cafes all over the place (anyone who has read the Brownlees’ book Swim, Bike, Run will know all about the their penchant for cafes).”
However, the brothers still don’t know where they will be watching the race on July 5 and 6.
“It’s right in the middle of our racing season so we’re not sure yet what we will be doing on the two days in Yorkshire,” said Alistair.
“It’s a very busy season this year, what with the world triathlon series and the Commonwealth Games at the end of July, so we’ll have to see what we can fit in.”