Alternative guide to 'Le Tour'
The first three stages of this year's Tour de France will traverse some of the most breathtaking - and quirky - countryside in England.
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We take a closer look at what lies in store for the riders when the world's most famous cycle race sets out from Leeds on Saturday:
0KM: LEEDS TOWN HALL
Tour de France stars like Chris Froome and Alberto Contador are not the only big names to secure top billing at the 19th century venue this year. Other headline acts have included Clannad and 'Psychic Sally On The Road' - whose 'astounding accuracy keeps audiences on the edge of their seats' and will therefore presumably be able to offer a few valuable pointers as to the final destination of the yellow jersey.
The name of Skipton is anglo-Saxon for 'Sheep Town'. There is a Sheep Street and a pub called The Woolly Sheep Inn. Sheep Day is held each year on the last Sunday on July. Its website promises a 'Baa-rilliant Family Day Out', which includes the 'world-renowned' Sheep Show, and a Sheep Disco.
Home of the famous Wensleydale Creamery, whose eponymous offering was made famous by the plasticine preferences of Wallace and Gromit. Disappointingly, there is little sign as yet of the Creamery creating a witty, cycling-themed cheese especially for the occasion, unlike...
... where traditional brewing rivals Black Sheep and Theakstons will go head-to-head. Black Sheep's 4.2 per cent Velo is "a free-wheeling, fresh ale", while Theakstons Tour de Wot? - named after the reaction of an elderly local upon news of the imminent arrival of the Grand Depart - is "a delightful, tropical, fruit-flavoured ale with a clean, zesty, thirst-quenching finish".
Ripon is home to the longest unbroken ceremony in the world - every night at nine o'clock for the past 1,125 years, the Ripon hornblower has set the night watch on the market square, watched by a knot of curious tourists and a gaggle of under-age drinkers who just wish he'd leave them in peace.
If you hoped venerable Harrogate institution Betty's might get in the spirit with some yellow-jerseyed gingerbread men or King Of The Mountains macaroons, think again. "We're doing our utmost to ensure the Betty's experience is unaffected by the Tour de France, but should the necessity arise, these opening hours are subject to change," its website sniffily informs.
York revels in its status as the most haunted city in England, with over 500 separate reported sightings, including this intriguing rendition via Paranormaldatabase.com: "Two women walking in the area claimed to have seen a large battle taking place around them, between Roman troops and barbarians. As a van drove by, the scene vanished."
Keighley is home to the world-famous Timothy Taylor's brewery, which naturally means another specially commissioned brew to mark the occasion. The Timothy Taylor's offering is Le Champion - "a French style blonde beer brewed with Alsace Strisselspalt hops and continental malts to give a smooth body, a delicate hop fragrance and a touch of ooh la la".
91KM: HEBDEN BRIDGE
Hebden Bridge is not short of claims to fame. Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher's former press secretary, was born there. Sylvia Plath is buried there. Jah Wobble and the Bhundu Boys are among the bands who have played there. And most impressively of all, Walkley's Clog Mill, one of Britain's leading clog manufacturers, is based there.
93KM: MILES: CRAGG VALE
Never mind its ancient geological history. By far the most interesting fact about the small Calderdale village of Cragg Vale is its fiercely independent retail spirit. The village includes the Preserve Shop, a retailer of jam jars, and Atlantis Fancy Dress. The village sits at the foot of what is said to be the longest continual gradient in England, at 5.5 miles.
No reference to Holmfirth is ever complete without reference to Last Of The Summer Wine. This reference is no different, but it is also topical: fans of the programme will always remember the seminal episode entitled 'In Which Howard Remembers Where He Left His Bicycle Pump' in which.. you get the picture.
It is entirely fitting that Yorkshire's flirtation with the Tour should end up in Sheffield, whose famous Crucible theatre boasts its own array of sporting stars to more than match the lung-busting bikers: the chain-smoking Ray Reardon, for example, and Bill Werbeniuk, who once split his trousers leaning over for a shot.
Analysis of the scientifics of cycling will never feel more appropriate than when the peloton blurs past the appropriately-named Cavendish Laboratory shortly after starting the third stage of the Tour on Parker's Piece. The Laboratory has, according to its website, "an extraordinary history of discovery and innovation in Physics since its opening in 1874 under the direction of James Clerk Maxwell".
3.5KM: GREAT SHELFORD
Great Shelford became the unlikely subject of global media attention in 2009 when genealogists traced the family tree of US president Barack Obama back to the village. It is said that Thomas Blossom, Obama's great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather, moved to the village as a small boy. Council vice-chairman Charles Nightingale said: "It's great." (He didn't, actually. He said: "It's most interesting").
Finchingfield was the birthplace of Dodie Smith, author of the 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians. In a scene in the 1996 film remake there is a side-splitting moment where the character of Roger is dragged through the streets on his bike by his excited dog Pongo, causing car pile-ups and eventually causing him to crash his bike into a lake.
Electronic dance rockers The Prodigy hail from Braintree. Songs include Firestarter and Smack My You-know-what Up, while the lyrics to Hot Ride, the band's 15th single, include disappointingly few opportunities for cycling puns, other than the fade-out repetition: "You gotta push it, push it, you gotta push it, push it, you gotta push it, push it, you gotta push it", etc.
153KM: THE SAVOY HOTEL
Peloton stragglers hoping for a quick refuel as they whizz past the Savoy Grill will be left disappointed. The restaurant's strict dress code insists "no shorts or sportswear" is acceptable. Although turning away a ravenous-looking Chris Froome on account of the yellow jersey he is (hopefully) wearing may yet be deemed unduly harsh.
155KM: TRAFALGAR SQUARE
The Tour's 2014 English finale takes place in a space which has seen it all before. Yellow jerseys - and any other coloured jerseys for that matter - are notable by their absence during the World Naked Bike Ride, which rolls through London once a year and makes a point of slapping a few laps round Trafalgar Square.