WHEN Welcome to Yorkshire announced it was vying for the right to host the opening stages of the Tour de France, some cyclists suggested the idea was more 'Oh là là' than 'Ee bah gum'.
Despite consternation in some quarters that the race organisers ASO would consider launching the race 300 miles from France, Gary Verity, the boss of the tourism body, revealed in May last year he was having “advanced talks” about staging the Grand Depart in 2016.
It is understood Welcome to Yorkshire grabbed the attention of bosses at the French sports event company by producing a promotional film showcasing the dramatic landscapes of Yorkshire’s dales, moors and coast.
The tourism body then hosted officials from the ASO on several visits to Yorkshire, during which they were flown by helicopter over North Yorkshire’s national parks to illustrate the beautiful panoramic camera shots that could be featured on television coverage of the race.
Its bid centred on attention to detail – even the widths of lanes in the Yorkshire Dales were measured in centimetres to ensure the peloton, the mass group of riders, would be safe.
On one tour, Mr Verity also included a stop-off at his sheep farm in Coverdale, near Leyburn, before taking his guests to Harewood House stately home where they were served Yorkshire lamb.
The tourism body’s senior officers maintained they were confident the package they were offering would overcome rival bids from Florence, Barcelona and Edinburgh, after it emerged the ASO had agreed to consider staging the prestigious event in Yorkshire in 2014, two years earlier than initially planned.
When a delegation from Yorkshire met ASO officials before this year’s Grand Depart in Belgium, British Cycling put pressure on the tourism body to consider uniting with the Scottish-based proposal so the “British bids do not come away empty-handed”.
From the outset, Welcome to Yorkshire bosses understood that public support for its bid would be vital and within months of announcing its intention to stage the race had won the backing of the Tour’s reigning sprint king Mark Cavendish.
He said: "I have family from Yorkshire, I spent a lot of my childhood there and I can tell you it is one of the most beautiful parts of not just England but the world.”
Welcome to Yorkshire also recruited Cavendish’s uncle, Russell Davidson, of Harrogate, North Yorkshire, who met the race’s director general, Christian Prudhomme, after watching his nephew cruise to victory on the Champs Elysées, in Paris.
Mr Davidson said: "Christian Prudhomme said to me: 'Oh we had bids from Scotland and from this region and that region, but then I see on the presentation video Mark Cavendish and how you got him to back Yorkshire.
"At that stage I realised Yorkshire was in with a very good chance."
Nevertheless, last month British Cycling continued to exert pressure on Welcome to Yorkshire to combine its bid with Edinburgh’s, which it said had the widest geographical reach and greatest potential impact for cycling.
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey told the House of Commons: "The best chance of success will be to submit a single bid, and we have reached out to Yorkshire to ask them to take part in a national bid."
But the tourism body refused to yield and when Yorkshire was announced as the 2014 Grand Depart venue yesterday, Mr Verity said it was “a proud day for everyone involved in the bid”.