An 85-year-old is the unlikely star of Britain’s cycling revolution.
Pensioner Brian Musson is the central figure in the TV trailer for the annual Tour de Yorkshire, just one facet in the English county’s quest to become a leading European cycling destination.
It’s a cycling revolution that lends itself to a local sheep farmer shaving one morning when he had the idea to lure the world’s biggest cycling race, the Tour de France, to the county for its Grand Depart in 2014.
That farmer also happened to be Sir Gary Verity, the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, who prides himself on ensuring Tour boss Christian Prudhomme declared on his first visit to the northern English county that it was “sexy” enough to welcome the Tour.
Friday April 28 marks the start of the three-day Tour de Yorkshire, the third running of the event in the county which will also be home to the UCI Road World Championships in 2019.
Musson, the chairman of Scarborough Paragon Cycling Club is featured in the trailer going out on his three-time weekly bike ride in the trailer, and has embraced the growing numbers — 18,000 more regular cyclists in the last year according to Welcome to Yorkshire figures.
“I love it,” he told CNN. “It’s what I call ‘bums on saddles,’ and cycling’s taken off amazingly really. It’s tripled the amount of cyclists I see on the roads.
“It seems particularly attractive to the 30s, 40s, 50s group who’ve clearly spent a great deal of money on their kit,” he adds sardonically.
One of cycling’s romantics, Musson declares in the minute-long clip: “If you’re feeling fit and on a bike there’s no finer feeling in the world. When I’m riding a bike in the countryside I’m happy. It’s my escape.”
He can remember at the age of 10 being taken out on his parents’ tandem, and will lead a parade in Scarborough for the end of Friday’s first stage.
Stage one was won by Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen after a sprint finish following a crash involving a number of racers.
All the ingredients
For Verity, the cycling revolution is less of a surprise, part of a wider rise in popularity in the UK helped in part by British dominance on the continent from Chris Froome’s three Tour de France wins to Mark Cavendish’s 30 individual stage wins in that same race.
Although this revolution may have been conceived while Verity was shaving one morning — “all my best ideas come when I’m shaving” — it was part of a wider plan.
“I wanted a major event to put us on the world stage,” he said. “The Tour de France was the obvious one, and Yorkshire has all the ingredients. The hills, the scenery, it’s easy and accessible.
“But one of the things that Christian Prudhomme was worried about was whether Yorkshire was sexy enough to host the Grand Depart. At the end of his first visit, he said ‘Yorkshire is sexy.'”
This year’s route passes through such cultural landmarks as Haworth, the home to the Bronte sisters, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Fountains Abbey and Saltaire.
Two million people lined the streets for last year’s Tour de Yorkshire — an impressive figure compared to the 10-12 million estimated to have watched the entire Tour de France last year.
And with volunteer numbers having risen from 1,000 to 2,500 this year, Verity says “maybe there’s a clue” in how many more might line the streets this year.
And the wider impact on Yorkshire, a county that has spawned such cycling stars as Beryl Burton, Lizzie Deignan and Brian Hoban, has been seen in tourism and the economic boost.
Welcome to Yorkshire figures have seen a year-on-year rise in tourism numbers while, over Easter, businesses reported a 20% rise on the previous year, which Verity argued, “I’m sure a lot of that is down to the image projected around the world by cycling.”
Verity says he has more ventures planned, No.1 of which is to get Le Tour back once again.
“It’s not a case of if but when Le Tour returns,” he said. “Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later.”