What a what way to warm up for Le Grand Depart as Tour de France fever took hold at the 29th Otley Cycle Races.
An astonishing number of cycling fans lined the streets for Stage One of the Tour de France on Saturday – but the tone was set three days earlier.
The annual event proved a huge success once again as a record crowd estimated at 25,000 flooded the streets of the market town for another feast of cycling last Wednesday.
It is an event that just gets better and better.
A quick glance along Bondgate confirmed as much as cycling enthusiasts, young and old, came from near and far to watch the action.
All of Otley’s pubs had ‘gone French’ to get in the mood for the arrival of the Tour de France.
The 19 inns each put up large banners displaying the French translation of their names ahead of the world’s most famous cycling race.
Le Cygne Blanc, Le Taureau Noir, or Le Vieux Coq – more usually known as The White Swan, The Black Bull and The Old Cock – and the town’s bakeries and eateries did a roaring trade. But if the Tour de France was the main course over the weekend, then the Otley Cycle Races was the Hors d’oeuvre.
Among the massed throng which greeted the cyclists, including hometown girl Lizzie Armitstead – who won the Pinsent Mason Women’s Grand Prix – were dignitaries from the sporting and political world.
Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity headed an official Tour de France entourage which included Bernard Hinault, the five-time Tour de France winner, and Tour director Christian Prudhomme.
Verity was all smiles and handshakes in the VIP hospitality area and was clearly impressed by what he saw.
Otley’s MP Greg Mulholland (Lib Dem, Leeds North West) was also present along with Burley-in-Wharfedale cyclist Scott Thwaites, his girlfriend and elder brother Mark.
The atmosphere was electric and it was perhaps fitting that Armitstead should take centre stage in her hometown by winning the Pinsent Mason Women’s Grand Prix.
She attacked her main rival Dame Sarah Storey (Pearl Izumi) on the final lap to win by 16 seconds.
British Cycling Women’s Road Series leader Nicola Juniper (Echelon-Rotor) was third to strengthen her position.
However, the night belonged to World Cup leader Armitstead, who attacked on the fourth lap before building her lead.
Armitstead was joined by paralympian Storey on the next lap.
The two riders were over a minute clear at the start of lap eight and when the bell sounded for the final circuit, Armitstead attacked again and Storey could not respond.
Afterwards a delighted Armitstead said: “It was really special and much easier when you keep hearing your name around the circuit.
“It was a massive community atmosphere and they have really got behind the Tour de France. I am, really proud of my community.”
Asked about how she rated her win against her other triumphs, she said: “It is different, not as challenging as racing in Europe but I don’t have so many people there cheering for me so its really special.”
Sheffield’s Adam Blythe won the Men’s Grand Prix in a thrilling photo finish with Ed Clancy. Chris Opie was third.
Team Raleigh’s Mathieu Boulo, Tom Scully (Madison Genesis), Kristian House (Rapha) made breaks but could not stay clear. Opie, Scully again, Dean Downing (NFTO) and then his brother Russell Downing (NFTO), at the bell, hit the front and they couldn’t make it count either.
The finish was a perfect climax to a great night’s racing which endorsed Otley’s reputation.
Women’s Grand Prix: 1 Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans Cycling Team) , 2 Dame Sarah Storey (Pearl Izumi Sports Tours), 3 Nicola Juniper (Team Echelon – Rotor), 4 Gabriella Shaw (Pearl Izumi Sports Tours), 5 Abby-Mae Parkinson (RST Racing Team), 6 Hannah Walker (Epic Cycles - Scott WRT), 7 Melissa Lowther (Matrix Fitness – Vulpine), 8 Elizabeth Holden (RST Racing Team), 9 Jessie Walker (Matrix Fitness – Vulpine), 10 Delia Beddis (Les Filles Racing Team), 11 Penny Rowson (Matrix Fitness – Vulpine), 12 Rebecca Womersley (WyndyMilla - Reynolds), 13 Helen Ralston (Les Filles Racing Team), 14 Hannah Payton (WyndyMilla – Reynolds), 15 Amy Gornall (RST Racing Team).
The Chevin Cycles Classic Race: 1 Nathan Draper (RST Racing Team), 2 Joey Walker (RST Racing Team), 3 Peter Cocker (Pedal Pushers), 4 Philip West (VC St Raphael), 5 Alex Bottomley (Wheelbase Altura MGD), 6 Charlie Tanfield (Adept Precision RT/NE Healthcare), 7 Lee Brown (Holmfirth Cycling Club), 8 Steve Calland (Southdowns Bikes), 9 Alex Orrell-Turner (Wheelbase Altura MGD), 10 Sam Humpheson (Look Mum No Hands).
Under-16 Prestige Youth Race: 1 Robert Gray (Clifton CC), 2 Tom Pidcock (Chevin Cycle.com Trek), 3 Jamie Ridehalgh (Kirklees Cycling Academy).
The Property Development Otley GP: 1 Adam Blythe (NFTO), 2 Edward Clancy MBE (Rapha Condor JLT), 3 Chris Opie Rapha (Condor JLT), 4 Adam Yates (ORICA GreenEDGE), 5 Alexandre Blain (Team Raleigh), 6 Thomas Stewart (Madison Genesis), 7 Dean Downing (NFTO), 8 Mike Northey (Madison Genesis), 9 Andrew Hawdon (KTM road-and-trail.com), 10 Tobyn Horton (Madison Genesis), 11 Matt Boulo, 12 David McGowan Metaltek (KUOTA RT), 13 Harry Tanfield (KTM road-and-trail.com), 14 George Atkins (Team Raleigh), 15 Thomas Scully (Madison Genesis), 16 Oliver Wood (100% ME), 17 Peter Williams (HARIBO Beacon), 18 Jacob Scott (HARIBO Beacon).