Why Tour de France fans are asking themselves, 'Parlez-vous Yorkshire?'


Credit: REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

A bust of a cyclist in a yellow wheelbarrow decorates a house on the Tour de France route in Swaledale, northern England, June 18, 2014.

The Tour de France, the greatest cycling race in the world, starts this weekend. But not in France. It's heading to the county of Yorkshire in England.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

For cycling fans, this isn't a surprise. It's the 20th time race organizers have started the tour in a location outside France. And for a cycling crazed place like Britain, home to Olympic champions and the last two champions who are part of an intriguing storyline this year, it couldn't be a better spot. Yorkshire is going all out for it.

The World spoke with Maria Walsh who works at Sid's Cafe about the race. The cafe painted its exterior in bright red polka dots. It's a nod to the race jersey worn by the best climber in the race. And aside from the bright yellow race jersey, the easiest jersey to pick out of the pack. "So yeah, everyone's kind of gone all out for it," she says.

It seems like everyone in the county is getting in on the craze. Schools have been creating art, painted yellow bikes are popping up in gardens and on churches, and roads are even being painted for the tour. There's a plethora of stories to report and the race hasn't even started. All this makes life for Matthew Slater pretty easy. He's the BBC's Tour de France correspondent. Basically, he has the dream gig of any cycling fan.

We reached him in a parking lot in Leeds. He gushed about Yorkshire's response to the tour. He says replicas of the Eiffel Tower are popping up in backyard garden and squares have turned into French markets.

What we found fascinating is that Yorkshire is often referred to as the Texas of England. The people there think it's the best place in the world. Slater says they have a reputation of being blowhards.

They call themselves, "God's own county." But they have plenty to be proud of. Yorkshire is full of natural beauty. "There's an enormous regional pride," he says. "So it's a really, really good partner for something like the Tour de France."

The locals also have countrymen to cheer for. But it's not one of the most popular sportsmen in the country, Sir Bradley Wiggins. Despite winning the 2012 Tour de France and the 2014 Tour of California, Wiggins will not be racing in the biggest race of the year.

Slater says that has to do with how cycling works. It's a team sport. And the entire squad of riders works so one rider can be the best. The problem for Wiggins, despite being one of the greatest riders in the world, is that he's not the best rider on his team.

That title goes to another Brit, Chris Froome. He's the 2013 champion. And he didn't want to alpha males on the squad. The team leaders backed him up on it. So he will be going for his second Tour de France victory while Wiggins will be at home, maybe riding around on a Brompton.

Froome isn't as popular as Wiggins. But Slater thinks he'll still get some hometown love.

"I think the public will still get behind Froome. We love a Brit. We love a winner."

But the real victor in all of this is, of course, Yorkshire.

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    Credit: REUTERS/Phil Noble

    Walkers arrive at a cafe painted with the polka dots of the King of the Mountains jersey on the route of the Tour de France in Langsett, northern England June 17, 2014.

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    Credit: REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

    A bicycle hangs from a church on the Tour De France route in Leyburn, northern England, June 18, 2014.

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    Credit: REUTERS/Phil Noble

    A scarecrow wearing breton stripes and a string of garlic sits next to a yellow bicycle outside a house on the route of the Tour de France in the village of Barkisland, northern England June 17, 2014.

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    Credit: REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

    Malcolm Lee's house that he decorated ahead of the Tour De France is pictured in North Stainley, northern England, June 18, 2014.

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    Credit: REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

    A yellow bicycle hangs from road signs on the Tour De France route near North Stainley, northern England, June 18, 2014.

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    Credit: REUTERS/Phil Noble

    A yellow bicycle is pictured on the route of the Tour de France in the village of Barkisland, northern England June 17, 2014.