A RAPTUROUS welcome greeted Tour de France riders as they pedalled into the Yorkshire Dales.

In every town and village huge crowds lined the route to cheer and applaud as the cyclist went past at speeds that drew gasps.

On the Buttertubs Pass the number of spectators lining the narrow route meant those riders at the back of the peloton were forced to stop at times as there were no space to continue.

There was a carnival atmosphere on the hillside with the sun shining on picnicking fans in fancy dress for the occasion, including one man who ran ahead of the riders in just his underpants.

It was a similar story on Grinton Moor. Organisers predicted that 20,000 people would head for the scenic vantage point, but there looked to be many more spread across the hills.

The atmosphere as fans waited patiently for the riders was celebratory. Every race vehicle was greeting with cheering and the ringing of cow bells, while amateur cyclists attempting the climb were applauded as if they were wearing the yellow jersey.

A female jogger carrying a banana being chased by a man in a gorilla suit was one of many sights which greeted spectators making their way up from the valley bottom.

Children offering face painting for 20p and spectators watching the race over a drystone wall while sat in a digger bucket added to the carnival atmosphere.

The sponsors' caravan prompted much excitement but it was nothing compared to the noise which greeted the sight of the first rider, Jens Voigt, straining up the hill.

From nowhere, members of a brass band picked up their instruments and began playing, while delirious spectators cheered and a helicopter film crew hovered low overhead.

Spectators came to the Dales from far and wide to watch the race.

Alistair Whitfield and Keith Morrison travelled from Elgin in Scotland for the weekend.

"The scenery is breathtaking and I can't believe how many people are here - it's like Glastonbury only with less mud," said Alistair.

Keith added: "As a cycling fan it was a privilege to witness the Grand Depart on home turf - thank you Yorkshire for amazing hospitality."