North Northumberland residents are being urged to get behind Britain’s biggest road-cycling race in the same way that Yorkshire embraced the Tour de France.
The Friends Life Tour of Britain will pass through towns including Coldstream, Wooler and Alnwick on Wednesday, September 9. It is being seen as a fantastic way to promote Northumberland to a national and international TV audience - and residents are being encouraged to play their part.
Gareth Davies of Northumberland County Council, speaking at a north area committee meeting on Holy Island, said: “There has been a lot of talk about the impact of Robson Green’s TV programme on tourism in Northumberland.
“This is the biggest cycle race in Britain on the roads this year. We’re working to maximise the opportunity to promote our county in 166 countries around the world and live on the ITV network, three hours live and a highlights programme.
“People always refer to the Tour de France coming through Yorkshire. The key thing to remember is that the engagement of the people in those communities transformed it into a genuine event that made the county come alive.
“Working with our partners and local communities, we want to make Northumberland exactly the same when the Tour of Britain comes. We want people in Northumberland and also the rest of the country to enjoy it. It’s going to be a spectacular event. Enthusiasm can take this event and make it a success for us.
“Powys County Council had a portion of one stage going through their county last year. They reckoned it was worth £1million to their economy. now we have two days, major parts of two stages, so I think it can have at least that impact and much more.”
The event, which has attracted cyclists including Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish in the past, begins on Sunday, September 6.
Stage 3, which starts in Cumbria on Tuesday, September 8, passes through Newcastleton, Hawick, Selkirk, Tweedbank, Melrose and St Boswells before the final kilometres through Kelso and the finish in the grounds of Floors Castle.
The race resumes a day later from Edinburgh. Stage 4 will pass through the city centre before the world’s top riders head to East Lothian, through Duns and Coldstream to Northumberland. The stage will then head along a route from Wooler to Alnwick, and down the Northumberland coastline to finish in Blyth.
The race will re-start the following morning from Prudhoe and will follow Hadrian’s Wall, heading across the Pennines into Cumbria before stage 5 ends in a summit finish on Hartside Fell – one of the key stages of the race.
Further details of both stages, including stage maps, will be announced in the summer, along with details of the 20 competing teams.
However, logistical preparations are already well underway so that a hundred racers and their support vehicles make it safely along the route and the tens of thousands of fans who come along to watch it have a great day. One of the tasks is to ensure Northumberland looks its best to the millions watching at home.
Zoe Cotterill, of Culture Creative, said: “We very much hope we will get a significant amount of live coverage, especially on the first day when the stage finishes in Blyth.
“There are an awful lot of logistical operations to put in place. Once those bikes start there is no stopping them until they get to Blyth
“We will be holding a series of operational meetings with town and parish councils, stakeholders, cycling hubs, visitor attractions and others because it’s essential they are fully conversant with issues surrounding the race. It is on public roads so there are significant traffic management issues to address.”
Roads and verges to be tidied for race
A welcome side effect of the Tour of Britain’s visit for communities along the route is likely to be a major clean-up of roadside verges.
Concerns about the rubbish-strewn state of many roadside verges were raised by Coun Trevor Thorne. He said: “This is a very exciting opportunity and I hope all our shops, restaurants and businesses are going to embrace it. However, everyone knows our road surfaces aren’t the best at the moment and our verges and roadsides have never been as untidy as they are today.
“I wonder if the county council will invest some cash on clearing them before the race. This event is going to be seen countrywide and indeed all over the world so we have to make sure that when those pictures go out we have something to show off.”
Zoe Cotterill of Culture Creative, carrying out preparation work, said this work was planned.
“There will be two main camera shots, one from a helicopter providing lovely overhead shots and the other from a motorbike at the head of the race so certainly we’ll be discussing verges, edges and all the bits of infrastructure that might be picked up on camera with the highways department.
“We’ve also been given a methodology from the Tour organisers to say what is an acceptable form of road so we’ll be making sure those standards are met.”