THEY started gathering in the early dawn, slowly filling the best vantage points in their determination not to miss a minute of the spectacular cavalcade the Tour de France has become.

Their wait was a long one – it was 11am before the cyclists got underway – but the anticipation itself seemed to keep them happy, cheering that anything that appeared on the route.

And by the time the race actually began the city was bursting at the seams with a colourful multitude, creating a carnival atmosphere that would have done Rio proud.

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Some had travelled miles and camped out overnight. One Scottish visitor at the Knavesmire start explained: “I’m a cyclist myself – so I couldn’t miss the chance to see the biggest race of them all, whatever it took.”

But you didn’t have to be a cycling fan to get in the spirit of the occasion. Local woman Bridget Smith was by the barrier in nearby Campelshon Road before 9am and admitted: “I’m not really a cycling enthusiast – but you’ve got to want to be part of something like this.

“It doesn’t matter if the weather is a bit grey or if there are a few spots of rain - the atmosphere is unbelievable and this really is a little bit of history.”

In the build-up to the peloton passing York Minster, a huge sense of anticipation built up as spectators filled the plaza in front of the ancient cathedral.

Spectators clung to the stonework to try and get a better view, while others managed a bird eye view from the roof of the cathedral. Overhead, the Minster bells rang, while several helicopters circled and a Lancaster and Spitfire performed flypasts, commemorating what was also the 70th anniversary of the arrival of 2,300 French airmen in York in 1944, stationed at RAF Elvington.

Stood amongst the crowds on the steps of the Minster was Peter Lawrence, father of Claudia Lawrence, and family friend Martin Dales.

Mr Lawrence said: “It’s great to see so many people out here just enjoying the event. It’s great for York and Yorkshire. It was absolutely fabulous to see them all go past York Minster.”

Mr Dales said: “It’s just such a happy event; it’s great to see so many thousands of people enjoying the great atmosphere.”

Emily Yeatman had travelled up from London with her husband, James and three children, Esther, Celia and Seren

“It’s great to be part of the atmosphere, even walking around the town yesterday evening was really exciting; spotting all the yellow bikes,” she said.

Mr Yeatman said: “Everyone here has really taken it to their hearts. It’s such a great atmosphere.”

Phil Batt, who has lived in York for 25 years after moving from the south of England, also watched the Tour de France from the Minster steps with his wife.

He said: “I think the Tour de France will have a lot of benefits for Yorkshire. Millions of people have seen it. It will have a big impact. The fact that Yorkshire will host another big cycling race next year shows it’s already had a pay-off.”

William Yardley, a Leeds City Council worker, who lives not far from York, came to watch the event in the city centre with his wife Sonia and daughter Carmen.

“We weren’t decided if we were going to come and watch it,” he said.

“But we were watching on the television all Saturday and just thought, “wow”. It was just such a huge celebration. It’s had a massive, massive effect being held up here. It’s a real big plus for Yorkshire.”