Tour de France hits the north of England

The Tour de France race pictured passing through West Tanfield in North Yorkshire. Picture by Tom Collins.
The Tour de France race pictured passing through West Tanfield in North Yorkshire. Picture by Tom Collins.

Until the village green’s big screen flickered shots of Mark Cavendish’s painful exit, Wynnie La Freak was shaping up to be the only disappointed person in West Tanfield.

The lavishly coiffured drag queen, draped in more baubles than a King of the Mountains jersey, had perched in front of her ‘Camp Cooks’ fast food van with a tray of chips and a creaking curtsy for Prince Harry.

Sadly, a last minute royal detour left Wynnie’s ambitions crisp and dry.

Not so the thousands of others who poured into the tiny North Yorkshire village – around about the closest point the Tour de France came to the Hartlepool area – to witness sporting superstars and heirs to the throne in equal measure.

It seemed the whole world had converged on a region best known for its annual sheep fairs.

William and Kate went walkabout past woolly bunting jerseys, while Harry stomped the fast food field keeping lingering transvestites at arm’s length.

“LE TOUR YORKSHER!” proclaimed one scribbled jersey-shaped sign, and this was one of those sun-baked days where bare-faced enthusiasm is bound to trump syntactical correctness every time.

With the royals safely choppered away, West Tanfield settled down for some serious cycling.

The big screen shots of 10,000 spectators clinging to the roadside up Buttertubs Pass only served to increase the enthusiasm for what was in store.

Cavendish and Chris Froome provided the most popular chalk marks but vocal Dutch and Belgian contingents had also made the most of the village’s sprawling camp-sites and two Frenchmen steered a rickety tandem bedecked in both a giant French tricolor and an equally resplendent Yorkshire Rose.

Yorkshire’s Tour mastermind Gary Verity has made much of the county’s intended Tour legacy and there was surely no greater testament to its enthusiasm for the sport than the sight of a virtually deserted funfair field as fans chose instead to cling to valuable roadside vantage points.

Endless gendarmerie out-riders drew cheers as loud as those afforded floats advertising everything from French butcher’s shops to local solicitors.

The enthusiasm did not wane through the hours many had spent sitting on verges beyond the village limits signs.

Despite heavy rain through much of the previous evening threatening a wash-out, the sun beamed on West Tanfield’s big day.

Settled in the heart of what they know as God’s own county, it was tempting to put such a dramatic shift in the weather down to Divine intervention.

Only once the caravan had dispensed its share of free stuff from polka dot hats to moo-cow key-rings was it time for the main attraction: a split-second blur of the world’s best boys in lycra, swept by amid a honking cavalcade of out-riders.

Save two stragglers, who had they left it much later would have had to pick their way through ale-tottering locals who wasted no time in flooding back upon the now-sacred tarmac, it was all over in an instant.

For West Tanfield, it was a day when the world came and went, leaving in its wake a permanent record of selfies-with-princes and kids in polka-dot caps just aching to get home and pull out their push-bikes.

As she dished up fresh-cooked jambalayah to the sated hordes, even Wynnie La Freak wore a rueful smile.

After all, it was one of those days you could dress up how you wished: Cavendish apart, the naked truth was it had all been blooming marvellous.