As news emerged that Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome may be among the top cycling names set for Harrogate this year, the man who brought the Tour de France to the town is urging local businesses to “seize the massive opportunities” offered by two global cycling events in 2019.
Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire which is deeply involved in both the Tour de Yorkshire and the UCI Road World Championships which come to Harrogate this year, said this year was a far bigger deal than 2014 and it was about more than attracting millions of TV viewers.
He said: “Harrogate will never have had a higher profile before than in 2019.
“A lot of people will be coming from around the world for the UCI championships, in particular, and staying in the town.
“It’s not just for a day or two. They will be here for the week.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for independent traders to seize this and own this.
“Visitors will be exploring the town, looking to eat and drink. We want them to fall in love with Harrogate and then come back again.”
The Tour de Yorkshire, which includes races in Harrogate, Ripon, Bedale and Pateley Bridge, will take place for four days in May while the UCI championships, which have been described as the ‘Olympics of cycling’, will be based in Harrogate for nine whole days in September. Despite tough times for the high street, some local traders have previously voiced fears about the possible side-effect of road closures on business during both events.
Though organisers are stressing the UCI championships will not involve the same level of road closures as the Tour de France in Harrogate in 2014, some town centre traders told the Harrogate Advertiser the Grand Depart weekend that year simply pulled potential customers towards the finishing line on Parliament Street and the Fan Park zone on West Park.
But Sir Gary, the Leeds-born businessman who has been instrumental in turning Yorkshire into the UK capital of cycling in less than a decade, said not only would this year be much bigger and better but he also denied Le Tour had had negative effects.
He said: “I was in Harrogate that weekend. Let me tell you Harrogate was rocking, in particular on the Saturday evening.
“You couldn’t get a seat in a restaurant and the bars were full. It wasn’t just round the Fan Park area.
“This year is going to be massive for Harrogate. It will be the focus of the entire cycling world.”
Four times Tour de France winner Chris Froome has hinted that the Tour de Yorkshire is in his sights for 2019.
Meanwhile, last year's British winner of the Tour de France, Geraint Thomas, has said he plans to compete in the UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire in September.
Sir Gary’s remarkable efforts in transforming Yorkshire, in general, and Harrogate, in particular, into major players in world cycling has been built partly on creating events which are inclusive and diverse.
Both of this year’s events will give even greater priority to para-cycling, women’s races and mixed teams.
The challenging and spectacular choice of routes is also expected to provide a ‘wow’ factor, especially in Harrogate.
Sir Gary said: “The women’s race on the Friday in the Tour de Yorkshire will be using the same Harrogate town centre circuit as the UCI Road World Championships, as will the men’s race the following day.
“The circuit will then be used most days in the UCI and will come into its own the final weekend when both the women and men’s race will use it.”
Figures show last year’s Tour de Yorkshire boosted the Yorkshire economy by £98m.
A record 2.6 million spectators lined the route over the four days of racing with overall spending up by 54 per cent.