Tour de France bosses have stated the great race “will return to Britain” after Yorkshire’s barnstorming send off was complimented by fanfare on stage three.
Heralded “the grandest of Grand Departs” by organisers, the glorious send-off that the county gave to the world’s greatest cycle race will live long in the memory, although spectators on the Cambridge to London leg did well to keep up the momentum yesterday.
Giant-Shimano leader Marcel Kittel once again powered to victory in a rain sodden finish to the 155 km stage in the vibrant French roadshow’s farewell race before the riders returned to French soil via four chartered jets from London City Airport last night.
The stage marked the conclusion of a Grand Depart labelled the best yet and witnessed by millions – Tour director Christian Prudhomme estimated 5 million had lined Yorkshire’s stages.
On a regular working day the roads of Cambridgeshire, Essex, by the Olympic Park in East London and in Westminster, were lined with an estimated 1 million cycling enthusiasts and the extraordinary crowds look as though they may have hastened the return of the race across the English Channel.
Asked whether Le Tour will return to the UK, Mr Prudhomme said: “Yes. The question is not if, but when, although I don’t have the answer for the second part.
“Thank you. It was unbelievable, I just want to say again: merci beaucoup.”
He had earlier described how the scenes in Yorkshire were a breath of fresh air, with five-time Tour victor Bernard Hinault stating it was the first time in four decades he had seen such crowds.
The race’s director added: “You have raised the bar for all future hosts of the Tour de France.”
Sir Rodney Walker, chief executive of UK Tour organisers TDFHUB2014, said: “It has been a really special three days that I will never forget.
“This success reinforces again that as a nation we can deliver the world’s biggest sporting events in style and I look forward to seeing more major sporting occasions like this being held in the UK in the years to come.”
Reigning Tour champion and home favourite Chris Froome, who it has emerged recently became the first man to cycle the Folkestone to Calais Eurotunnel, was 28th on stage three and is placed fifth in Le Tour overall.
His Welsh teammate Geraint Thomas tweeted: “Big thanks again to everyone who came out these last three days. Best atmosphere I’ve ever experienced.”
Le Tour reaches a global audience of 3 billion people in 188 countries. Its Yorkshire debut saw an average of 1 million viewers watch ITV’s main coverage of day one, while over 900,000 more tuned into ITV4. Sunday’s York to Sheffield stage averaged 1.2 million viewers on ITV and a further 516,000 on its sister channel. Eurosport in the UK saw a 60 per cent increase in viewing figures during the first two days compared to last year, which it attributes to the “Yorkshire effect”.
Welcome to Yorkshire, which led by Gary Verity has been credited with bringing the global event to God’s Own County, has also seen a spike in interest with 2.5 million page views of its www.letouryorkshire.com website during Grand Depart weekend from as far afield as Australia and the USA.
The plaudits continue to roll in for a Grand Depart that raised expectations, and surpassed them.