JUST over the Lancashire-Yorkshire border, separating Cliviger from Todmorden, there’s tantalising clues of the worldwide sporting epic which will soon be in our midst.
The landlord at the Roebuck Inn proclaims that ‘cyclists are welcome’ and there’s a clutch of French flags fluttering over the newsagents in Cornholme.
Promoters of the Tour de France will tell you that it’s the largest global sporting spectacle in the calendar and a whistle-stop tour of Hebden Bridge, one of the crucibles of the 2014 event, lends strength to that assertion.
For a town of just 4,500, Hebden Bridge is expected to swell in size as the second stage of the ‘Grand Depart’ dashes through Calderdale this Sunday lunchtime.
Sue Nixon, who runs adventure sports shop Mountain Wild in Crown Street, said she, along with fellow traders, had been preparing for the tour’s arrival for 12 months or more.
She said: “It’s been really exciting to be involved and the whole town has embraced the tour. People have been decorating their homes, shops, parks and putting out window boxes.
“I’m not a road cyclist myself, I’m a mountain bike rider, but I’ve been up Cragg Vale and seen the route they’ll take and I can’t wait until Sunday.”
Family butcher David Greenwood can appreciate both the economic impact and the sporting gravitas of the occasion, as an avid cyclist.
He said: “It’s been great for the town as people have already been cycling the route and taking a look around the course in the build-up to the weekend.
“And I’ve got burger orders coming out of my ears from customers planning barbecues and parties this weekend.
“I’ve ridden both of the stages myself already, Leeds to Harrogate and York to Sheffield, and I’ve been to France two or three times previously, to see the tour.
“I think I’ll be going up to Oxenhope to see the race and then we’ll be coming back for a party to which the whole town seems to have been invited.”
Yards away from his St George’s Square shop, two travellers deep in conversation added an international dimension to the proceedings.
Frenchman Olivier Ciaravino, global eyewear division president of Bollé sunglasses, and his Italian marketing manager Andrea Cappelletti, were in town to meet representatives of tour teams Orica Greenedge and Ag2r-La Mondiale, which their firm sponsors.
Olivier said: “We have guests coming from all over the UK who wil be at the stage.”
And just to prove the butcher’s point, barely five minutes passed before another pair of amateur riders rolled past, testing the roads for themselves.
Rick Clough, from Rochdale, and Dave Grogan, of Milnrow, share a longstanding passion for the sport and are overjoyed the tour is back on this side of the Channel.
“We have been doing this now for about 20 years. Once almost no-one took an interest in cycling,” said Rick.
“But we have been quite successful on the track, over the past few years, and this has translated to the roads.”
Signature ‘yellow bikes’, publicising the tour, have lined the streets of Calderdale, hanging from shopfronts, lamp-posts and hedges from Todmorden to Hebden Bridge.
But lifelong Burnley FC fan Russell Greenwood, of Cragg Road, needed to go one better with his neighbours lining the tour route at nearby Mytholmroyd.
The 52-year-old builder has installed a claret and blue cycle outside his home - and erected a viewing platform especially for grandsons Daniel, 10, and two-year-old Oliver.
He said: “There was a bit of a tale to it because I put the bike up on its bracket, in claret and blue, and we got some grief off our neighbours, who are all Leeds United fans.
“So I painted it yellow, like the rest, so my daughter Kirstie got on the case, calling me soft and threatening to paint my van or the house claret and blue.
“I’ve now repainted it claret and blue and my wife says there’s more coats of paint on that than on her skirting boards! But it’s all been worth it.”
Like most, given the opportunity to be up-close-and-personal at the tour’s business end, he will have to move his van elsewhere the night before the world’s cycling kings whizz by.
And even though their view of the action, similar to most of the throng, will only be fleeting, you suspect it will be a day that lives long in the memory.
A WORLDWIDE ATTRACTION
The last time the Tour de France came to the UK was in 2007, with a leg from London to Kent.
Around 3.5 billion people worldwide in 188 countries are expected to watch the road race on TV before it ends.
An estimated £100million is expected to be generated for the Yorkshire economy as a result of the tour’s presence – surpassing the £88million for the south-east seven years ago.
Spectators are estimated to travel an average of 130km to attend a stage of the tour and spend around six hours at a time at the roadside.
Hotel rooms for the teams, staff, press and tour personnel alone will total 1,200, according to organisers.
The oldest rider to win the Tour de France was Belgium’s Firmin Lambot, in 1922 – and 20-year-old Henri Cornet, of France, was the youngest, in 1904.
Five cyclists have scooped four overall tour victories – Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. Lance Armstrong’s seven tour wins were expunged from the records after he was found guilty of doping.