LEEDS England (Reuters) - “So Good It’s Coming Twice” boasts the sign on the road into Addingham, a village just a few kilometers of pedaling from Leeds.
This year’s Tour de France, which begins on Saturday morning before spending two days traversing the hills and valleys of the county of Yorkshire, will pass through Addingham, as the sign points out, not once, but twice.
Firstly on stage one from Leeds to York and then again on Sunday when the world’s best cyclists head through ‘Bronte Country’ down to Sheffield - a 201km stretch that includes nine categorized climbs, one of which has been rebranded ‘Cote de Blubberhouses’.
Say that in a French accent and you are guaranteed a few quizzical looks from the locals.
Such is the outbreak of cycle fever accompanying the Tour’s arrival that it is impossible to drive more than a kilometer without passing a homage to Le Velo.
Along the A65 road towards the market town of Skipton on the eve of the Grand Depart, the excitement was palpable.
Primary schools are covered in bunting, bikes sprayed yellow sprout from trees, balconies and roundabouts and even the one local cafe was advertising Le Chip Butty - a popular local dish involving French fries stuffed in a bun.
A local physiotherapist clinic has a skeleton outside seated on a yellow bike, wearing a racing jersey.
Hotels are crammed with thousands of international media and it seems half of Paris’ gendarmes, who will police the race, have been restationed in northern England.
In Addingham, the notice board outside the Mount Hermon Wesleyan Reform Chapel sports a yellow jersey emblazoned with the slogan ‘Win With Jesus’.
Cricket, almost a religion in Yorkshire, home of fast-bowling great Fred Trueman, has also been put on hold by the arrival of the multi-colored peleton.
Addingham Cricket Club, which would usually be preparing their pitch for the weekend game, has been turned into a pop-up campsite for some of the thousands of fans expected to descend on the area for a memorable weekend.
“Oh, you better talk to the chairman of the club,” Peter Etchells tells Reuters when asked who’s in charge.
Asked who the chairman is, Etchells replies “Me”, to laughter from his team of volunteers preparing for what he says will be a “manic” weekend.
“We could get 100 tents in here,” he said. “It’s going to be incredible. We are the only village in the 111-year history of the Tour that has had two stages through it in the same race.
“There’s a real buzz in the village. We’ve haven’t seen any foreigners turn up yet, apart from one German and some Lancastrians! There’s even a rumor that David Beckham and Rory McIlroy are staying at Bolton Abbey.”
Down the road a bicycle painted in red polka dots hangs outside The Fleece public house.
Cycle tourists and wannabe Mark Cavendishes pedal down the main street, over three huge ducks painted on the asphalt, one yellow, one green and one with red and white spots.
“They were out until three in the morning painting those,” says The Fleece manager Jay. “They are the emblems of the town and even they’ve got the Tour treatment.”
There is a method in all the madness, however.
Welcome to Yorkshire, the agency that bid for the right to host the Tour’s first two stages, say the benefits to the area’s tourism industry will be enormous.
“We are expecting at least two million people to watch the stages this weekend,” Alex Blackman told Reuters as the rain lashed down outside the Tour’s media marquee in Leeds city center.
“It will bring 100 million pounds to the local economy. The profile of cycling in Britain is so high off the back of Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins winning the last two Tours that it’s perfect timing for us.”
Despite predictions of poor weather, hardy local teenagers were busy setting up tents, making sure they get a good spot to watch the cyclists whiz by.
Cavendish, who has 25 Tour de France stage wins and is favorite to be presented with the maillot jeune by the Duchess of Cambridge in Harrogate, his mother’s home town, said the Grand Depart “would blow the minds” of his team mates.
More than 10,000 turned out to watch Thursday’s parade of the teams and Cavendish said the “vibe is phenomenal”. He expects interest to outstrip the 2007 start in London.
Partly through the success of British cyclists at the Olympics and at The Tour, as well as improving infrastructure, the sport is booming in a country once considered a backwater.
Team Sky mastermind Dave Brailsford, who will be plotting to have Froome standing with the yellow jersey in Paris later this month, calls Britain the “best cycling nation in the world”.
“It made me stop and think. It’s an amazing experience to come up the M1 (motorway) to the start of the Tour de France,” he told reporters.
“The last 10 or 15 years, the journey that British cycling has been on to get to this moment, it has been an exceptional journey and this is the pinnacle of that journey.
“The greatest cycling event is starting here in Yorkshire - and it’s a great privilege to be taking part in it. I am sure the crowds in Briton will do the race proud.”
The locals will raise a frothy pint of Yorkshire’s finest ale to that sentiment in Le Lion Rouge.
Editing by Tony Jimenez