Tour de France 2014: The ten best places in England to watch the race
Cycling reporter Matt Westby helps plan your trip to the Tour
Last Updated: 02/07/14 12:08pm
Want to watch the Tour de France in England but haven't got a clue where from?
Worry not, because below are the best vantage points on each of the opening three stages.
Whether it is crowds and atmosphere you are looking for, or the steepest climbs and the place you are most likely to see attacks, there is an option for every requirement.
Here are our recommendations...
Stage 1: Saturday, July 5 - Leeds to Harrogate
Leeds city centre
The 2014 Tour will get under way in Leeds city centre and, after 18 long months of waiting and anticipation, the atmosphere at the start line will be electric. Thousands of people are expected to take to the city's streets to greet the world's largest free-to-watch sporting spectacle, and with the racing being complemented by a cycling festival and the Tour's publicity "caravan", the Grand Depart will be a carnival of sight and sound.
Buttertubs is one of the most revered climbs in northern England and its 4.4km length, steep ramps and scenic location make it an ideal place to watch the race. Thousands of people will opt to spectate here, potentially whipping up a pulsating atmosphere as the riders battle their way to the highest point of stage one. The road skirts up the western flank of Pike Hill and subsequently offers plenty of good vantage points on the right-hand side of the route from where to look down on the action. However, there are none better than just before the cattle grid, roughly half the way up. Here, the road cuts through a hillock, creating mounds on either side that will offer perfect aerial views while remaining close enough to pick out the riders. The climb also reaches its maximum 20 per cent gradient at this point, and although there are unlikely to be any attacks here, the riders will be strung out in a long line and will pass by relatively slowly.
After the riders crest the top of Buttertubs, they will drop down to the villages of Reeth and Grinton, and then start the long climb up to Grinton Moor. The whole ascent is 4.4km, but the steepest ramps, which reach a maximum of 17 per cent, are right at the start - and here is another good place to watch the action. OK, there are still another 50km to the finish, so there won't be attacks, but the road is steep enough to get the riders out of their saddles and generate some temporary splits in the peloton, which will become strung out and take a while to pass through. The road is tight and enclosed by walls and houses at the very bottom, and although this will bring you closer to the action, you will get more space by walking a little further up, past the cattle grid, where the roadsides open out but the gradient retains its steepness.
The spa town in North Yorkshire hosts the end of stage one and with a sprint finish set to decide who will wear the first yellow jersey of the 2014 race, it should be a thrilling finale to the day. Mark Cavendish will be among the favourites to win and take the first lead of the race, and he will be given extra incentive by riding in front of a partisan home crowd in a town where he has family ties. The buzz created by a sprint finish is almost unrivaled, and that will only be amplified when the racing in a setting as picturesque as Harrogate.
Stage 2: Sunday, July 6 - York to Sheffield
The start of stage two in York offers another chance to soak up the carnival atmosphere of the Tour and get a good look at the riders as they wait for the off and then roll slowly out of the city. Set against the backdrop of historic York's most famous sights, get a spot as close to the start line as possible from where to watch the publicity caravan pass through and then the race itself.
Holme Moss, near Holmfirth
This will be the place to watch the Tour de France in Yorkshire. It is one of the most iconic climbs in Britain and its steep ramps and natural galleries will provide the perfect location to take in the race. Be warned, it will be extremely busy here, but anyone who has ever been to Alpe d'Huez on race day will know the atmosphere that can be whipped up by thronging crowds and given that the Tour doesn't visit Britain every year, it would be a shame to miss out. The climb is 4.7km long and consistently difficult, so the peloton will have been slowed down significantly, and there are plenty of spots from which to watch. If you don't want other fans standing on your toes, climb up one of the roadside bankings for a little bit of space and aerial views. Otherwise, get down on to the road itself, where you will be in the thick of the action and within touching distance of the riders as they go past.
Oughtibridge Lane, Sheffield
A little-known climb a couple of miles outside of Sheffield city centre, Oughtibridge Lane, or "The Jawbone", as it is known locally, is a short, stinging ascent that comes 15.5km from the end of stage two and therefore could prove pivotal in the outcome of the day. It is only 1.5km long, but averages 9.1 per cent in gradient and consequently is a great place to watch the race. The steep ramps, which reach a maximum of 15 per cent, will slow the riders down sufficiently enough for fans to get a good look, and it could also be where those looking for a stage win launch their attacks. The steepest part is at the bottom of the hill, on the railway bridge just up from The Pheasant pub, but a better place to watch is close to the top, where a banking at the side of the road will allow you to climb up and look down on the riders as they struggle their way past.
Jenkin Road, Sheffield
The increasingly famous Jenkin Road may not have the glamour of the great climbs of the Tour de France, but what it lacks in aesthetics, it more than makes up for in brute difficulty. Indeed, the Tour will have seldom have encountered anything quite as steep as its 33 per cent maximum gradient. The climb comes just over 5km from the end of the stage and is only 800m long, but the ramp is so severe and arrives so late in the day that it will provide the perfect platform for last-gasp and potentially stage-winning attacks. The riders will also be moving at a near crawling pace here as they battle the ludicrous gradient, meaning you will get a good look at the best cyclists in the world as the peloton takes several minutes to pass through. For those reasons, this unlikely candidate could actually be one of the most rewarding places to watch the race. Seek out the steepest part, which is about 150m further up from the parish church on the left, beside the white hand rail. You can't miss it. Alternatively, there is a patch of grass on the outside of a tight left-hand turn about another 100m further up the road that will offer both space and good views.
Stage 3: Monday, July 7 - Cambridge to London
The race's final day in England will start in the idyllic university city and, with Cambridge folk known for their love of bikes, it is a fair presumption that tens of thousands of people will take to the streets to get a glimpse of the Tour de France. If you are looking for a festival atmosphere and don't fancy tackling a trip to see the stage finish in London, this is a more than ample alternative. You will once again get a chance to watch the publicity caravan make its way through the city, followed by the riders themselves.
The Mall, London
The Mall is quickly becoming synonymous with elite-level cycle racing following the overwhelming success of the Olympic Games in 2012 and the inaugural RideLondon Classic a year later. Both, however, could well be eclipsed when the biggest race of them all ends its third day in Britain in the shadow of Buckingham Palace. Another sprint finish is in the offing and, with that, another chance for Cavendish to win in front of home support awaits. There will be tens of thousands of fans in London to welcome the Tour and the atmosphere will consequently be spine-tingling. Get there as early as you can and as close to the final 200m as possible. Then, simply marvel at the sight of the fastest men on two wheels powering past.