We take a spin with the Tour de France teams as they loosen up their legs on the roads of Yorkshire.
“We’re lost,” laughed Jeremy Roy. “We were with the team car but they got stuck in traffic.”
Roy was stood, like the rest of his FDJ.fr team mates, on the edge of the Stray in Harrogate. Well, all except Thibaut Pinot, who was seated on the grass of the vast, open lawn that wraps itself around the centre of the North Yorkshire spa town.
Moments earlier Pinot had led the French team out of a junction, mounted the kerb and theatrically rolled himself onto the ground in mock exhaustion.
“We’ve done about 90km,” Roy explained of the team’s group spin two days before the Tour starts. “The first part we went at quite a tempo. Now we’re going easy. Do you know the way to Otley?”
FDJ were far from the only Tour de France team out on the roads of Yorkshire today. In fact, across the region, every one of the squads in this year’s race was getting a flavour of what Yorkshire’s roads have to offer.
We’d arrived in Harrogate with a short ride from the Rudding Park hotel where Team Sky, Omega Pharma-Quickstep and IAM were staying.
In the leafy, well presented car park surrounded by golf course, Sky DS Servais Knaven explained that the team of the reigning champion were heading out on a 75km recce including the final run-in of stage one.
Behind him, Chris Froome signed autographs for the committed fans who’d come to pay him a visit while Bernhard Eisel sat at the wheel of one of the team’s Jaguar support vehicles, revving the engine like an 18 year boy racer in a Morrisons car park.
“We’ve had Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu and George Bush senior stay here,” the manager of the hotel replied when I asked if they’re used to their guests creating such attention. “Robin Van Persie was staying here before going to the World Cup. John Cleese was here recently too.”
His eyes then followed Mark Cavendish strutting towards the Omega bus like a peacock.
Back in town, Cofidis, Orica-GreenEdge and Katusha were all temporarily out but their buses and mechanics marked their stay at the Best Western. It seemed the latter have had one of the more eventful outings in Yorkshire, after a member of hotel staff told me they’d already lost one rider to a broken bone and were having to fly in a substitute.
Who was it? I asked. Not their leader? Rodriguez?
“Oh no,” she confided. “They treat him like royalty.”
Thankfully, the FDJ car emerged out of a corner just in time to save us from taking on responsibility for safely guiding their boys back to Otley. Instead we hooked on the back of the group as they headed down the A61 and continued conversation with Roy, the serial breakaway man of the 2011 Tour.
“That was my best year,” he explained with a smile. There won’t be a chance to do that this year though. The team is focussed on working for sprinter Arnaud Démare and GC hopeful Pinot.
The team’s riders arrived together yesterday, flying from Paris to Amsterdam then on to Leeds before the team bus transfer to their Otley hotel.
They reckon 20,000 people were out watching the domestic-level criterium in the town yesterday evening which prompted Roy to ask me a question about the Tour Series.
The Tour Series? I ask. How do you know about that?
“I read it in L’Equipe” he said.
The cycling boom that Britain is enjoying is clearly not lost on the French, despite the pastime being part of their collective soul for over a century. What’s more, their riders are seeing the benefits of it too.
When I ask Roy how he’s found being in Yorkshire so far, he was unequivocally enthusiastic.
“It’s nice to start the Tour somewhere different and come somewhere I’ve never been before. Last time I came to England was with school. The hotel’s great and everywhere you go, the towns are decorated. Everyone seems really excited.
“It’s going to be brilliant.”