The first race of the WorldTour is part of a seemingly unlikely love triangle. Tour de France parent company ASO is a partner of the Tour Down Under, selling the TV rights to a worldwide audience, while the Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour Down Under have a reciprocal agreement to promote each other’s races. The Tour de France and the Tour de Yorkshire, meanwhile, are also partners.
So it was that Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme and Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive and Tour de Yorkshire supremo Sir Gary Verity arrived midway through the Tour Down Under for what has become a regular trip for the great friends.
“The Tour de Yorkshire is a joint venture between ASO and Welcome to Yorkshire,” Prudhomme proudly reiterates, and, as if to cast it in stone, they perform a theatrical hand-shakingand-smiling routine — a true entente cordiale that has resulted in the two of them often attending fact-finding missions like this one to Australia together.
“The only difficulty for me being here is that my English teacher hasn’t taught me some essential words and phrases,” smiles Prudhomme, “like ‘G’day’ and... What was the other one, Gary?” “Fair dinkum,” Verity reminds him. “Fair dinkum!” Prudhomme explodes. “That’s hard for me.” The Tour Down Under is owned by Events South Australia, part of the South Australian Tourism Commission; the Tour de Yorkshire is run by Welcome to Yorkshire, the agency formerly known as the Yorkshire Tourist Board. The Tour de France is a three-week-long advertisement for the delights of France.
“Cycling is greater when cycling is not only cycling, when it’s more than just cycling,” says Prudhomme, cryptically. “The best stadium in the world is still just a stadium: Wimbledon is the greatest tennis tournament in the world but you still only see tennis courts. You don’t see the country; you don’t see the region. And cycling is just perfect for that with the live coverage on TV.
“But I would love to have the same organisation [as TDU or TdY] in France, to have people who know tourism, and whose goal is to promote the regions in France. Gary is more important than 99.9 per cent of the people who work in the tourism industry in France, and his power for promoting Yorkshire…”
Verity takes his cue: “When the Tour de France Grand Départ came to Yorkshire people said, ‘I didn’t know Yorkshire was so beautiful, and I’ve lived here all my life’. And with the Tour de Yorkshire, we’ve seen that continue. And that’s what you also have with the Tour Down Under here in South Australia: you have great racing and also this stunning scenery.”
“You know what?” Prudhomme grins. “I say the words ‘Tour Down Under’ every day at the Tour de France. Why? Because Gilles Maignan is my driver and each day we have two guests in the car with us. When I introduce them, I say: ‘This is Gilles Maignan, a former pro who rode the Tour de France four times. He was twice French national TT champion and he is the only French winner of the Tour Down Under, the first WorldTour event of the season.’”