Opening to the public early on Friday morning, fans began arriving to enjoy the Festival activities and set up camp for the weekend. Braving the showers on Saturday morning, spectators in their thousands rose early to line the Harewood drive before the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry arrived by helicopter to join the Earl of Harewood and his family on the steps of Harewood House.
Their arrival was well timed, as glorious sunshine broke out across the Festival just as the peloton – led by British riders Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish, Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates – rolled up the Harewood drive. After a brief chat with the riders, the Royals officially started the Tour de France just as the RAF Red Arrows flew overhead leaving a magnificent stream of red, white and blue smoke to the delight of the cheering crowd.
From there on out, the weather and the atmosphere never dipped as the 40,000 Festival-goers spread across the grounds to enjoy the three giant screens, family activities, musical entertainment, sporting participation events, exhibitions and a cycling cinema.
Celebrations continued right through to Sunday evening, with a high point being the truly memorable RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight featuring the rare sight of WWII Spitfire, Hurricane, and Lancaster planes in flight.
Event organiser Christopher Newton said: “I’ve been delighted with the fruits of our labour over the past year since the Festival was announced at Harewood House.
“We worked incredibly hard to bring a celebration of cycling to the public on this Grand Depart weekend and I really feel the organisation team has delivered something special.”
His delight at the success of the event was mirrored by ambassador Lizzie Armitstead, who camped overnight with her family on Friday and spent Saturday enjoying the Festival with the crowds. She commented: “I come from Otley, a very proud Yorkshire town, and I couldn’t believe the scenes all over the county. The sun came out just in time for the Grand Depart and the crowds came out in force too.
“The support I’ve seen this weekend, especially here at the Festival of Cycling, shows just how much enthusiasm there is for world class cycling and world class events like this in Yorkshire – it will be great to see the Festival return next year.”
David Lascelles, Earl of Harewood commented: “I don’t think there can be any doubt that Yorkshire’s Grand Depart has been a huge success, with the presence of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry the icing on the cake.”
He continued: “I’m also delighted to have welcomed so many people to Harewood for the Dare 2b Yorkshire Festival of Cycling. With the ever-growing interest in cycling and the Yorkshire Tour having its first outing next May, I hope this an event we can stage many times in the future.”
Event Marketing Manager Oli Broom added: “Just walking around the site during the Festival was enough to give any cyclist a smile. It’s great that we could put on a show for the public – all 40,000 of them – and they braved the rain on the Friday and early Saturday like true Brits!”
Over the course of the weekend, Harewood House saw many dignitaries and special guests arrive and sample the atmosphere, including the Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Ireland’s Tour de France winner Stephen Roche and 2006 Tour de France champion Oscar Pereiro.
The whole event marked a watershed moment for cycling in Yorkshire and Britain, with an estimated 2.5 million spectators lining the roads to watch the best professional cyclists in the world race from Leeds to Harrogate on Stage One and York to Sheffield on Stage Two, before they headed to London and, ultimately, back to France.
For more information on the Dare 2b Yorkshire Festival of Cycling, please visit: www.festivalofcycling.org