Everything you need to know about watching the Tour de France in Britain

Published by Alex Nelson

It seems every year the summer months come front-loaded with enough high profile sporting events to earn the affectionate moniker of the ‘Summer of Sport’, and recent years have seen everything from the Olympics on home soil to Andy Murray winning at Wimbledon.

This year, hot on the heels of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, however, comes perhaps the most exciting event of the lot: the world’s most famous bike race, the Tour De France, is coming to Britain.

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Chris Froome Team Sky by dry stone wall and bike
[Pictures: Welcome To Yorkshire]

‘Le Grand Depart’ kicks off in Leeds on Saturday, July 5, snaking its way through Yorkshire for a weekend before heading towards the capital on the Monday.

After Team GB’s heroic performances at the Olympics two years ago, and the back-to-back British triumphs in le Tour itself – Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome in 2013 – enthusiasm for British cycling is at an all-time high, and so the spectator turnout for this event promises to be something not to take lightly.

So don’t go anywhere without our guide to getting  the most out of the Grand Depart.

Where to watch

Bear in mind that with one of the largest sporting events in the world coming to town, road closures surrounding the Tour de France’s location will be in abundance, disrupting public transport services and making getting around just that little bit more difficult for a few days. You can check which closures will affect you by either heading to your local council’s website (a list of the local councils involved in the planning of road closures along the route can be found here).

Almost as a consolation to the disruption Le Tour may bring however, is the fact that it’s absolutely free to watch. And if you are lucky enough to be able to make your way to the roadside as the peloton rushes past, you’ll want to get yourself to the best possible vantage point.

Of course the hotspots along the route will draw the largest crowds. These include the sprint sections during which riders will attempt to rack up points to determine the wearer of the green jersey, and the leg-achingly enduring category climbs on which riders will attempt to ascend to the throne as ‘King of the Mountains’.
Team Sky riding in the Yorkshire Dales

All times given are the approximate times the race is expected to pass through those corresponding areas.

Stage One: Leeds to Harrogate – July 5, 2014

It all kicks off in Leeds on Saturday, July 5, with the Grand Depart. The following 180km (118 mile) route winds its way around the dales of North Yorkshire before ending up relatively close to where it all began with a sprint finish in nearby Harrogate.

• Start Line

The Headrow in Leeds is the location to get the ball rolling on this year’s Tour de France, and will no doubt be lined with thousands upon thousands of cheering fans by the time the event rolls around. Tour organisers are promising plenty of vantage points from which to see the race begin, but you’ll need to get down there at least a few hours early if you want to beat the crowds. Nearby Victoria Gardens will also play host to the teams signing in.

• Climbs

Cote de Cray (13:33 – 13:42)
Cote de Buttertubs (14:21 – 14:35)
Cote de Grinton Moor (14:56 – 15:14)

Three category climbs on this stage but unfortunately, all are out in the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales so may prove tricky to get to, unless you fancy yourself a bit of a cyclist yourself and want to take a stab at pedalling them a few hours before the race rides through.

Buttertubs - Stage 1

• Sprints

Newbiggin (13:45 – 13:55)

Just the one sprint section on this stage (aside from the sprint to the finish line in Harrogate of course) as the sprinters drop gears and power through the relatively remote Yorkshire Dales village of Newbiggin.

• Finish Line

Day one’s action will wrap up alongside West Park in Harrogate, with the park itself playing host to a dedicated ‘Fan Hub’ and promising “the biggest celebration of cycling the region has even seen.” Again, there are sure to be amazingly large crowds at the finish line too, so get down as early as you can to ensure the best viewing spots.

For more information on all of the above, and the full route, head here.

Stage Two: York to Sheffield – July 6, 2014

Stage two is the longest of the three being played out on this side of the English Channel, clocking in at an impressive 201 kilometres (125 miles) and taking the riders from York to Sheffield. Definitely one for the climbers, stage two combines iconic climbs like Holme Moss with innumerable shorter climbs that can be just as challenging as the route skirts along the edge of the Peak District.

• Start Line

York Racecourse is the venue for the start of the second day of racing for le Tour. With large screens, food stalls and camping all on offer, this is another part of the route that is sure to draw large crowds.

• Climbs

Cote de Blubberhouses (12:29 – 12:36)
Cote d’Oxenhope Moor (13:24 – 13:37)
Cote de Ripponden ( 14:04 – 14:22)
Cote de Greetland (14:15 – 14:34)
Cote de Holme Moss (14:49 – 15:12)
Cote de Midhopestones (15:24 – 15:50)
Cote de Bradfield (15:36 – 16:03)
Cote d’Oughtibridge (15:46 – 16:14)
Cote de Jenkin Road (16:06 – 16:37)

The organisers really weren’t lying when they said this stage would include “countless, short, sharp climbs”! Nine category class climbs feature and are sure to leave many an aching thigh muscle among the peloton. Perhaps the most iconic (and the one cycling fans are most eager to see their favourite riders attempt) is Holme Moss on the Yorkshire/Lancashire border. Expect fans to be lining the steep road all the way up to the summit, in the Tour’s first real showcase of leg strength for the experienced hill climbers.

Hinault on Holme Moss - Stage 2

• Sprints

Keighley (13:00 – 13:15)

Just the one sprint again on day two, this time as the riders speed down North Street in Keighley.

• Finish Line

The riders wind up day two – and their time in Yorkshire – at the Don Valley Bowl in Sheffield. All sorts of facilities are being advertised, such as “large screens, disabled access and concessions, as well as cycling activities in addition to the ice-rink and café already in existence.” There’ll be something to do even if you can’t fight your way to the barriers!

For more information on all of the above, and the full route, head here

Stage Three: Cambridge to London – July 7, 2014

Stage three heads further south for the final day of racing in the UK, starting in picturesque Cambridge before meandering through Essex and finishing on the iconic Mall in London. Though this may be the shortest stage of the three featured here, it will still rack up a fairly impressive 155 kilometres (96 miles) on the riders speedometers.

• Start Line

Cambridge’s pretty locales and quiet scenes of couples punting on the River Cam will no doubt be shattered by the roar of thousands of fans cheering on the riders during stage three. Parker’s Piece is the venue for the starting line party this time.

• Climbs

There are no category class climbs to speak of in stage 3. We are of course in the less rugged landscapes (i.e. flat) of Cambridgeshire and Essex by now, and the riders will probably need a bit of a rest after the gargantuan first two stages. No, this stage is the sprinter’s for the taking.

• Sprints

Epping High Street (14:43 – 14:56)

Before they reach the finish line the sprinters will be vying for green jersey points along the far less glamorous sounding Epping High Street sprint.

Finish Line

London’s Mall should provide a sprint finish as thrilling as it is iconic, as the riders speed along at full pace with the grandeur of Buckingham Palace as their backdrop. British sprinter Mark Cavendish will no doubt be hungry to take the stage win in his home country and in such a famous location. Nearby Hyde Park and St. James’ park will no doubt be in full swing with all sort of cycling related attractions on offer.

For more information on all of the above, and the full route, head here

Once le Tour leaves England and heads back over the channel to its native France, most of us will no longer be able to witness the spectacle of the world’s premier cycle race in person. But fear not, ITV Sport will have full coverage of the three-week long race, with full live coverage of each stage and a daily highlights package in the evenings.

For more information on the Tour de France and the Grand Depart, head over to the official website.

Stage 1 - 050

What to do

So you’ve battled your way through traffic jams, hopped on a delayed train and walked when you would normally have bussed through the chaos surrounding the Tour De France, only to find that you’re too late and a clear view of the race is something you can now only dream of. But never fear, there will be plenty of big screens set up along the routes of each stage – particularly near the start and finish lines – with a whole host of cycling related activities for young and old. Not only that, but many will remain open for the entirety of the weekend – even after the Tour has rolled through town.

There are so many ‘Spectator Hubs’ dotted around the routes it would almost be as demanding a task to list them all here as it would be to ride the Tour itself, so we’ve picked our favourite three for each stage. To find a full list of all the ‘Hubs’, go to the Grand Depart’s Tour Planner for detailed information on each one.

Here’s a stage by stage run through of what you could be getting up to.

Stage One: Leeds to Harrogate – July 5, 2014

National Park Centres, Yorkshire Dales

Over the course of stage one, three visitors centres tucked away in the Yorkshire Dales will be open to fans and spectators. Aysgarth National Park Visitor Centre boasts beautiful waterfalls that are easily accessible. Oh, and a big screen, viewing areas, food, toilets and parking for 1,500 visiting fans of course.

Grassington National Park Visitor Centre reckons its the place to go for walks and local attractions, and it too will be propping up its own big screen all weekend for you to catch the race on, as well as a whole host of other activities, and Hawes National Park Visitor Centre is located close to Buttertubs – one of the major climbs – and will allow fans the chance to take advantage of the adjacent Hawes Museum when not watching the race on the big screen.

In Harrogate, the Victoria Shopping Centre will be gearing up for the Tour de France with cycle-themed displays, including a knitted bike created by Lana Knitting and cycle-inspired artwork designed by contemporary artist Ian Cook. Or if you’re looking for a designer bargain during your stay, Morgan Clare in Harrogate (and now Ilkley too) has a summer sale on.

Huddersfield Railway Station

Stage Two: York to Sheffield – July 6, 2014

St. George’s Square, Huddersfield

St George’s Square in Huddersfield town centre is expecting thousands of spectators to flock to it over the Tour De France weekend. As the race passes close to the square, just outside the train station, this will no doubt be one of the more densely populated ‘Spectator Hubs’ along the route, with a raft of food stalls perfectly complimenting your big screen viewing.

Calder Holmes Park, Hebden Bridge

The market town of Hebden Bridge has played host to a multitude of literary figures, including writers and artists who visited in the ’70s and ’80s. This artistic influence can still be felt today, with reams of independent shops and a boutique feel about the place. You’ll be able to watch the race on big screens, and enjoy arts and crafts stalls and live music.

Knaresborough Castle, Knaresborough

This purpose-built viewing hub is situated only a few hundred metres from the race route itself and is an optimum location for viewing the riders as they hurtle past.

Stage Three: Cambridge to London 07/07/2014

Green Park, London

Of course, London comes into its own when offering places to view the Tour De France, and as a bustling metropolis, there are obviously countless places from which to do so from. One is Green Park, situated within a stone’s throw from The Mall finishing line, and hosting “the biggest free cycling festival the UK has ever seen” over three days and three evenings (July 5 – 7).

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London

Making sure the park that was built as the site for the 2012 Olympics gets as much mileage as it possibly can, the Tour De France weekend will see it being put to good use as it hosts a bewildering array of events.

Trafalgar Square Fan Park, London

Watching the Tour on a Big Screen under Nelson’s Column has to be one of the better inner-city viewing positions you can find yourself in, and we’re in no doubt more room will be free’d up by the spectators who choose to watch from the relative comfort of the fountains if it’s hot. Expect the usual cycling celebrations as the Tour rumbles through London, with the riders preparing for that last turn into the Mall’s sprint finish.

Tour De France facts

• 2014 marks the second time the Tour has started in the UK. The first stage of the 2007 race was a London time trial, with a London to Canterbury stage following that. Two million people lined the route over two days.
• The average distance travelled by a Tour De France spectator to see the race is 130 km (88 miles). They can expect to be at the roadside for an average of six hours.
• In its 100 years of existence, the Tour De France has covered a distance of 426,000 kilometres (264,704 miles). That’s enough to orbit the Earth over 10 times!
• The very first Tour De France was held in 1903 and consisted of only five stages. Stages would run throughout the night, finishing up the next afternoon with a rest day between each. Only 15 competitors entered.
• Over the course of every Tour De France race, each rider completes 403,200 turns of the pedals.
• The best average speed clocked by a rider in a time trial stage of over 20 kilometres was 54 km/h (34 mph), a record set by Greg LeMond in the 1989 edition of the Tour.

Where will you be going to watch the Tour de France?

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Alex is an aspiring music journalist studying at the University of Huddersfield

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