When Gareth Copley learned the Tour de France would be starting in his home county of Yorkshire, he was determined to capture all the action.
There was one sporting event this year I was determined not to miss. Two years ago it was announced that in 2014, Le Tour de France was starting in my home county of Yorkshire. I’m a proud Yorkshireman and I really do believe that Yorkshire is the centre of the universe. To us Yorkshire folk it was like hosting our own Olympic Games. In years to come our grandkids are going ask you where you were when le Tour came to Yorkshire.
I spent months agonising on where to be, where was the best spot of the route to showcase my beautiful county. The chances are that Le Tour will never visit Yorkshire again in my lifetime and the riders fly past in seconds, I needed to be in the right place. I spent days driving up and down the route looking for the perfect spot to capture ‘le tour’ from. The organisers were closing the roads around the route in the early hours of the morning. Getting near the route on the day of the race would be a nightmare; my only option was to spend two nights sleeping in my car. After having done all this planning, thinking and agonising, I wasn’t going to miss the picture.
The Getty Tour de France team Doug Pensinger and Bryn Lennon are veterans of the race and a very well oiled machine with one photographer following the Peloton on a motorbike and another stationed at the start before dashing off to capture finish. They do every stage up and down the Alps, across the vineyards, all the way to the Champs-Elysees. I just wanted to see Yorkshire, the place of my birth hosting the biggest annual sporting event.
On Saturday, the first stage of le Tour, the riders went from Leeds to Harrogate via the magnificent Yorkshire Dales. I wanted to be in the Dales. The picture I had in my head was of the mass peloton of riders going past a dry stone wall with the backdrop of the Yorkshire Dales. A traditional Yorkshire scene, a bit of cliché I know. I made my way up one of the three climbs in the Dales, the newly named Cote de Grinton Moor at 6am to get in position from the riders coming past 3pm. It felt like a pilgrimage for the people of Yorkshire, thousands heading up on to the top of this moor to see these super athletes climb to the peak of Grinton.
The people came in their thousands, 30,000 Yorkshiremen and other amateur cyclists from across the UK stood on a hillside waiting to cheer on their heroes. The moor buzzed for hours in a build up. Then 3 o’clock arrived, one after another police motorbikes passed clearing the route, then in the distance you could see the peloton snaking through the Yorkshire Dales.
It was a surreal sight, le Tour de France in Yorkshire. The riders flew down into the Moor, across a little stone bridge, up Grinton Moor and then disappeared out of sight. This all happened in seconds rather than minutes. Amazing I’d seen le Tour de France in Yorkshire.
The following day le Tour travelled from York to Sheffield via Calder Valley. The stand out place of the route for me was the home of the Bronte Sisters, Haworth. The Peloton would have to ride up the narrow cobbled Main Street, it was picture postcard material. Alongside the street there was only about two or three positions where you could see clearly down the street. Wasn’t going to miss out on this picture. When I arrived at Haworth at 3.30am it was still dark, there already one photographer on Main Street, his tripod was in position and he was fast asleep on a fishing stool. There was wall a bit further down the street which if you stood on you could see all the way down the cobbled street, I put my cameras in my spot and didn’t move for 10 hours.
I just waited and waited but it really didn’t seem like 10 hours. The crowds on the route were amazing, when you’re stood on a stone wall in a Yorkshire village from 3.30am you get plenty of time to watch the atmosphere build. You also had lots of time to argue with folk coming along and trying to pinch your spot! Including my Getty colleague Doug, an American photographer who never met before. Five minutes before the riders were due into Haworth, a photographer’s motorbike pulled up next to my position and the photographer must have overheard my name. “Hey are you Gareth? Pleased to meet you. I’m Doug Pensinger” My reply was “Please to meet you too Doug, but can you please move on I’ve been waiting 10 hours for this picture. Now please sod off up the road!” Doug seemed a lovely bloke for ten seconds that we spent chatting.
Le Tour de France coming to Yorkshire was amazing, more special to me than any other sporting event I’ve ever covered. Everyone in the county wanted to be there to see this once in a lifetime event. An estimated 2.5 million people watched on the route during the two days that le Tour visited. I was just proud to be there, tell the grandkids I was there when le Tour came to Yorkshire.
If you enjoyed this story, read about how Bryn Lennon photographed the Paris-Roubaix 2014.