Tour de France Grand Depart diary

Harrogate Stray Image copyright PA
Image caption Harrogate's famous Stray is the site of the first stage finish on 5 July

With the world's biggest bike race starting in Leeds on 5 July, BBC Yorkshire's Tour de France correspondent Matt Slater rounds up the best of the gossip, opinion and stories, on and off the bike, and also tries to explain some of cycling's unique lingo.


No question what Tuesday's biggest Grand Depart-related story was: let the train take the strain, but don't bring your bike. The announcement of extra carriages, staff and trains - not to mention the temporary abolition of the two most feared words in the English language, "engineering works" - for the duration of the Tour's stay in Yorkshire was all very welcome and sensible. But the failure to provide more space for bikes does seem a bit, well, odd, for an event that is all about bikes. The train companies say they have done their best and point out that bikes would normally be banned for an event of this size: so you should consider yourselves lucky there is still room for two bikes per train. One thing not mentioned, though, is the humble folding bike. Not ideal for Jenkin Road's 33% gradient, perhaps, but perfect for flatter sections.

Full story: Yorkshire Evening Post

If transport is one of the more obvious stories associated with the Grand Depart, the controversy surrounding Harrogate's land laws is one of the most peculiar. The spa town's famous public common, The Stray, is the site of the first stage's finish line on 5 July. Of course, there is more to a Tour finish than just a line in the road. There are TV trucks, VIP seats, temporary loos, food stalls, 22 team buses, 100s of race vehicles, thousands of media, tens of thousands of fans and 198 riders to accommodate. This will take up a lot more than the 8.5 acres of land that is allowed for events under the Harrogate Stray Act 1985, a law that enshrines the public's right of access to the 200 acres of grassland. So, with 48 acres needed for Le Tour's big top, some fancy legal footwork was required, with the result being the Harrogate Stray Act 1985 (Tour de France) Order 2014. The legal scholars among you will no doubt realise this is the first order granted anywhere under the provision of the Localism Act 2011. Another Tour de Yorkshire first.

Full story: The Lawyer

With the Grand Depart hurtling towards us like the proverbial runaway train, with or without adequate space for bikes, local newspapers are starting to publish guides on the best places to watch the race. Sheffield's Star does the business today, with a detailed look at the various big screens, campsites and Fan Fests dotted along the route in South Yorkshire. I predict big crowds at those famous twin peaks, the Cote d'Oughtibridge and Cote de Wincobank.

Full story: The Star


"#Giro - Big crash"

Short and to-the-point from Belkin Pro Cycling's official twitter account during the final moments of Tuesday's 10th stage at the Giro d'Italia. To be honest, I could have picked similar tweets from half a dozen teams, on half a dozen different stages so far. It would be fair to say this has been race has been a bit "crashy". One worries for the riders on those narrow Yorkshire Dales roads.


The Giro d'Italia resumed on Tuesday after its second rest day but the action looked very familiar. There was a huge crash with about 1km to go, leaving fewer than a dozen out in front to contest the sprint. France's Nacer Bouhanni was the main beneficiary as he claimed his third win at the race and now looks a very good bet to win the red jersey given to the winner of the points competition. The overall leader Cadel Evans and his main rivals were all able to avoid the collision, meaning there were no changes to the general classification.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Australia"s Cadel Evans the overall Giro leader celebrates with sparkling wine

The crash did take Evans' teammate Yannick Eijssen out of the race, and overnight it was confirmed that the early leader of the race, Australia's Michael Matthews, was also going home. He actually avoided this pile-up and managed to come third on the day, but he had a bad fall on Sunday and it seems he might now be told to rest up for a crack at Le Tour.


L is for…

Lanterne rouge - An easy translation, perhaps, but a more complicated idea than it might initially seem. Literally, this refers to "the red lantern" that is hung on the last carriage, or caboose, of a train so the driver can see if they still have all their carriages. In cycling, the lanterne rouge is the rider in last place on general classification. But this does not necessarily mean they are the worst rider in the race. Cycling's team dynamic means that the guy in last might only be at the back of the field because of some particularly selfless riding. In fact, being last can actually be a lot better than coming anywhere else in the last 50 or so places because people remember the lantern rouge, and there have been examples of riders competing to come last in order to pick up invites to the lucrative post-Tour exhibition races that take place in Belgium, Holland and France. Two Brits have earned this distinction - Tony Hoar in 1955 and John Clarey in 1968 - while Canadian veteran Svein Tuft came last in 2013.

Lead-out - A term you will hear again and again during the flatter stages of big bike races, particularly in the last few minutes of action. The teammates of the race's fastest finishers - men like Britain's Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel of Germany - surge to the front of the pack and form tight, aerodynamic lines to crank up the overall speed and prevent any other rider from breaking away for a solo victory. The specialist sprinters ride at the back of these lines, or trains, waiting for each teammate to expend all of his energy and peel off. Eventually, it comes down to the last teammate, the lead-out, who guides his sprinter to last 200 metres or so and gets out of the way. Get this right and you have created a slipstream for your star to sprint through. Get it wrong and your guy will get swamped.


As mentioned above, coming last at Le Tour can be a good career move, although perhaps just in the short-term. The most famous case of this is the Austrian rider Gerhard Schonbacher. At the 1979 Tour, Schonbacher had a miserable time in the mountains and came to the penultimate stage in the penultimate position, with only Frenchman Philippe Tesniere behind him. Tesniere was the previous Tour's Lanterne Rouge, so he knew that it was worth a few quid in terms of race invites and publicity. The stage was a time trial, with the great Bernard Hinault winning the day. Schonbacher and Tesniere were locked in their own battle, though: a race to the bottom. Tesniere "won" that race only to be disqualified for finishing missing the time cut. He was almost 15 minutes, or 20%, slower than Hinault. This left Schonbacher able to enjoy the last stage to Paris, where he again finished seven minutes behind Hinault.

The pair's antics, however, had annoyed the race organisers, who were upset to see so much attention go to the last-placed rider. This prompted them to remove the lanterne rouge from the race after certain stages, but still Schonbacher managed to come last again in 1980. This triumph was not so lucrative. A sponsor had promised him a bonus for finishing last before the race, but his team leader was not having it and fired him after a row in Paris. That team leader, as it happens, is now Mark Cavendish's boss at Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Patrick Lefevre. He is all about winning.

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