The man who put God’s own country firmly on the map as a world-class tourist destination has weathered well these last six years, as his thoroughly deserved knighthood in the Queen’s birthday honours list last June testifies.
Sunshine was certainly evident in 2014 when Yorkshire hosted the most successful Grand Depart in the history of the Tour de France: the broad acres were presented at their dazzling best as the planet’s best cyclists laboured up hill and sped down dale beneath azure blue skies.
The climate may have been less kind a year later for the inaugural edition of the Tour de Yorkshire, another cycling event born from the vision of the Coverdale sheep farmer, but the cold and wet could not put the dampers on another hugely successful cycling event.
The Tours de France and Yorkshire have collectively, and directly generated economic benefits in excess of £150 million for the county and left a legacy which is set to endure for decades.
Yet as preparations continue for the second edition of the Tour de Yorkshire, which begins in Beverley in 100 days’ time, Welcome To Yorkshire has seen visitor numbers tumble in the opening weeks of 2016.
The biblical floods that wrought havoc in the Calder valley and Vale of York last Boxing Day are deterring tourists from experiencing the joys of a county where business has largely been unaffected.
Sir Gary has found it difficult to mask his frustrations at the impact of the UK’s latest extreme weather event, and in particular the response to the flooding from beyond the county’s boundaries.
“The floods have had a huge impact on five or six areas of the county and after the media nationally labelled it the ‘Yorkshire floods’ we now have a ‘Floods Envoy for Yorkshire’,” he said.
“The view of people around the country is that large parts of Yorkshire are underwater and that’s clearly not the case.
“Footfall has dropped dramatically all over Yorkshire, not just in the towns and regions hit by the floods, and that’s something we are keen to address.
“One of our big priorities right now is making sure we can help raise awareness that Yorkshire is open for business: the floods were a tragedy for all those people whose homes and businesses were affected, but the worst thing that could happen is that we lose all the headway Yorkshire has made in recent years.
“We are working with Welcome To Yorkshire members in the flood-affected areas to offer what help we can.
“We have to work hard and are busy lobbying in Westminster to ensure we get the required funds to run marketing campaigns that will raise the county’s profile. That includes getting journalists from behind their desks in London and up here so they can see with their own eyes that Yorkshire remains immensely beautiful and is very much open for business.”
For the team at Welcome To Yorkshire responsible for delivering this year’s tour it remains business as usual and Sir Gary is delighted with the progress achieved 100 days out.
“It’s hard to quantify but fair to say that the Tour takes up a large proportion of my time and I know that some of the team at Welcome to Yorkshire are very busy working hard on all aspects of the bike race,” he said.
“We are around three months ahead of where we were last year. We don’t want to be complacent, there is still a lot of work to do but a lot of activities we were busy doing at this point last year have already been completed.
“We’re always learning, we learned from the Tour de France, learned from last year’s edition of the Tour de Yorkshire and are constantly plagiarising good ideas and best practice from other bike races and cycling events.”
One new addition for this year’s tour is a ‘Line the route’ land art competition that encourages businesses, landowners, schools, youth and community groups and individuals to celebrate the event with roadside installations.
Images of polka dot sheep, dance groups and giant sculptures on the rolling countryside along the routes of the Tour de France in 2014 and last year’s Tour de Yorkshire added to the spectacle of both races and were beamed into homes of TV viewers around the world.
Welcome To Yorkshire want to see more art on display and have commissioned a new trophy that will be awarded to the most popular land art installation as determined by a public vote following the race, which concludes in Scarborough on Sunday May 1.
“Yorkshire’s land art has attracted a lot of attention in the past, with people creating everything from multi-coloured sheep and spotty houses, to huge murals and striking street art,” said Sir Gary.
“With coverage of this year’s Tour de Yorkshire set to be broadcast to countries around the globe, this is the perfect opportunity to celebrate your community and shout to the world about what Yorkshire has to offer.”
Welcome To Yorkshire will supply details of art installations to the helicopter-based TV camera crews before the start of each stage: anyone interested in seeing their work showcased to the 168 countries where the race will be broadcast should contact [email protected]
Sir Gary added: “Those images of Yorkshire will send a clear message that this is the place that hosted a spectacularly Grand Depart in the 2014 Tour de France, a hugely successful first edition of the Tour de Yorkshire and, in its second edition, a great bike race that people will want to be here to see.
“I think this year’s Tour will be very special: the route of the three days of the men’s tour will test the riders in lots of ways and the women’s race on the Saturday will be even more successful than last year.
“We have made a few changes to the men’s race and after taking extensive feedback with the riders we have introduced an exciting new race for the women, who will now compete over the same course between Otley and Doncaster as the men. The women’s race will undoubtedly be one of the weekend’s highlights.
“There will be a few other changes this year that we hope will enrich the experience for spectators. People won’t be waiting hours and hours standing by empty roads to see the cyclists: we can’t put together a 100-vehicle strong publicity caravan like they have in the Tour de France but there will be more Tour de Yorkshire vehicles activating the route.”
As a vehicle for promoting the county and its visitor attractions, the Tour de Yorkshire has exceeded even Sir Gary’s expectations and he is working closely with cycling’s governing bodies to add a fourth stage to the three-day race.
“The independent research on the Tour de France concluded that the race benefited the Yorkshire economy by well over £100m, and the Tour de Yorkshire put a further £50m into the county’s economy,” he said.
“A more significant number is the ongoing economic impact across Yorkshire that the races we have staged so far is having.
“Last year, record visitor numbers across the county allowed many of Yorkshire’s big attractions, hotels and bed and breakfast establishments to enjoy unprecedented business performances.
“I am sure much of that was down to the additional profile that cycling has brought to the county.
“There is so much more cycling to come in Yorkshire: we are spoiled for choice.
“I am very keen that the Tour de Yorkshire becomes a four-day race because that will allow us to have two days on the flat and two hilly days, which provides more balance. It also means that we would get to visit more places in the county and give more local authorities the ability to showcase their towns and villages to the watching world.
“We have considerable interest from places wanting to host the start and finish of individual days of the race in future editions because the Tour de Yorkshire provides a big return on investment.
“This is Yorkshire’s time now, our profile has never been higher and it’s incumbent on us to continue the hard work so that more people across the world can enjoy the delights of this fantastic county.”
Sir Gary Verity’s Quick Guide to the 2016 Tour de Yorkshire
Day 1 - Friday April 29, Beverley to Settle (185-km)
“For me the highlight of Day 1 is that we get to see some of Yorkshire’s great market towns and take a cycling race to parts of the Dales that we haven’t been to before. It’s going to be a special day in place like Beverley, Wetherby, Pateley Bridge, Grassington and Settle, where the double loop of the market square will be stunning.”
Day 2 - Saturday April 30, Otley to Doncaster (135.5-km)
“The stage starts in Otley, a town with a rich cycling heritage, including being the home to our latest world champion Lizzie Armitstead before heading towards Doncaster through some wonderful cycling territory. People who have never heard of it are going to be amazed when they see how beautiful Hooton Pagnell is. The route also passes through Harworth, the birthplace of Yorkshire’s first cycling world champion Tom Simpson, and finishes in Doncaster at the same place where the injured soldier Ben Parkinson carried the Olympic torch.”
Day 3 - Sunday May 1, Middlesbrough to Scarborough (198-km)
“This is the ‘daddy’ of the three stages: at almost 200-km long and with 2,500 metres of climbing that riders will know they’ve been in a race. We start in Middlesbrough, the birthplace of Captain Cook, go through Great Ayton where he was taught, climb up Sutton Bank and take in Helmsley, Kirkbymoorside, Hutton-le-Hole, Grosmont and Whitby before making our way to Scarborough for a grandstand finish at Oliver’s Mount.”
For full details of the Tour de Yorkshire route click here