Yesterday in parliament it was revealed a new All Party Parliamentary Group would be set up to coordinate support for Le Tour’s outing to Yorkshire, and London, in 2014. However, it was the spectacle of Yorkshire’s Tory MPs tussling to see who had the most bicycle-friendly constituencies that was the most gripping aspect of the one and a half hour debate.
MPs know that a visit from Le Tour would be of huge financial benefit to their constituencies and were falling over themselves to be as bike-friendly as possible, and talked about everyday cycling not just cycle sport.
The debate had been secured by Julian Smith, the Tory MP for Skipton and Ripon. He said Yorkshire was "God’s own county" and will "wow the world" in July 2014. He predicted that the first three stages of Le Tour in 2014 "will be the best ever."
In 2007, the Tour stages in the south-east of England were worth £88 million to the region. It’s estimated that the Grand Départ in Yorkshire will be worth more than £300 million.
"For an area of Britain that has weathered the global economic storm but is finding things tough, the event will make a real difference," said Smith.
It will also make a difference for Yorkshire’s existing and would-be cyclists, promised the MP. He said: "Legacy plans are already being discussed and formalised. They include a bike bank, so all children in Yorkshire have access to a bike. There will be more investment in cycle lanes and cycle infrastructure across the county. There will be a cultural festival, too, celebrating both cycling and Yorkshire art and culture. Yorkshire has so much to offer the world, and we now have the chance to showcase that on an unbelievable scale. From literary buffs to entrepreneurs and from couch potatoes to exercise fanatics, Le Tour has the potential to change lives."
A number of other Yorkshire MPs praised the organisers of the Yorkshire bid and made plain their desires for Le Tour to visit their constituencies. When Nigel Adams, the Tory MP for Selby and Ainsty, puffed up his constituency credentials he was halted by the deputy speaker, James Gray, who said "It might be courteous if Members could keep their remarks as short as they reasonably can."
Adams replied "Mais oui, Mr Gray." The deputy speaker misheard this reply: "No, not maybe — definitely." MPs, who must have thought they were watching a Westminister episode of ‘Allo, ‘Allo’, shouted, “No, ‘Mais oui!’”
"Ah, mais oui," muttered the deputy speaker, sheepishly.
Other MPs then took up the chase. Urging the Tour organisers to favour Harrogate and Knaresborough the local MP – Conservative, of course – stressed that "the landscape of Yorkshire will provide a spectacular backdrop for the racing: great climbs and sprints, and the great TV that the tour always makes."
Andrew Jones MP also made sure to talk up everyday cycling: "We also have a great sporting opportunity — to encourage people to start cycling, to highlight our area for cyclists, to create more cycle routes and to show that cycling is both good for you and fun."
And especially good and fun in Harrogate and Knaresborough. "The question now is the route that the tour will take," asked Jones, who had a prepared solution: "The correct answer is, of course, through Harrogate before heading off to Knaresborough, and then Boroughbridge and various other villages."
The local MP then demonstrated his knowledge of Yorkshire’s cycling history, bigging up its links to the CTC:
"We have a great claim to be part of the route because Harrogate and Knaresborough is one of the spiritual homes of cycling in the UK. You may not realise, Mr Gray, that the Cyclists Touring Club was founded in Harrogate, and a plaque in the town centre commemorates that event. It was founded as the Bicycle Touring Club on 5 August 1878, before being renamed the Cyclists Touring Club a few years later, to accommodate tricycles. Beryl Burton, who I am sure hon. Members will know was five times world champion for individual pursuit, used to race for Knaresborough."
One of Yorkshire’s many other Tory MPs suggested the route idea previously mentioned wasn’t quite as worthy as it seemed, reminding his fellows that "if the riders went in that direction they would miss the opportunity to come to the Pudsey constituency," and they would "miss the opportunity of seeing the home of real Yorkshire fish and chips, which was, of course, Harry Ramsden’s based in Guiseley."
Pitching in for his Colne Valley constituency Jason McCartney (Conservative, natch) spoke for all when he said that "cycling is the new rock n roll." He ended his speech with a flourish: "Vive le Tour, and vive le Yorkshire!"
Labour and LibDem MPs hardly got a look in during the debate but Clive Efford, Labour MP for Eltham, managed to elbow aside the Tory MPs champing at the bit: "Over the past decade, cycling has shown the way for other sports, as regards not only how to succeed at the élite end, thereby inspiring participation at all levels, but how to create a base of participation at grass-roots level."
Hugh Robertson, the Under Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport said the debate had been "quite a lot of fun" and congratulated Yorkshire on a "stunning triumph," which the Government had not backed with lottery cash.
"I may not have helped Yorkshire very much," said the minister. "I think my sole contribution was nearly standing on a Yorkshire terrier on the Champs-Elysées in July – but it was clear then, and in the way the bid was conducted, that Yorkshire was on to something that others possibly had not picked up."
He added that "there are a number of good years for cycling in front of us" and "it is worth paying tribute to the work of British Cycling. No other sport in this country combines excellence at the top end with participation. More than two million people cycle regularly. [British Cycling’s] Dave Brailsford told me that he thinks more than 500,000 people have taken up the sport since our success in Beijing."
The minister ended this contribution to the debate by stressing that Britain’s growing success at cycle sport might influence Government thinking about road safety measures for all cyclists:
"I suspect that, looking forward a couple of years from now at the extraordinary success of cycling and at the regrettably large number of people still being killed in collisions, we are getting close to a crossover point where there is such demand for cycling…that something pretty dramatic will have to happen. We will have to have a fairly major change of policy. If events such as this help to bring that about, that can only be a good thing."