Tour de Yorkshire

Hinault’s Rocket Man Delivery

In a tightly wrapped brown coat and small holdall bag he looked like every other passenger who was disembarking from the 8.03 service from London to Leeds. A regular visitor who paused on the platform to check he had his ticket. For the city and the county though, it was a man on the moon moment.

A year after Yorkshire welcomed Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France, to present the county as a possible location for the Grand Départ he was back in Leeds with his ambassador par excellence. The man who helped take cycling to another planet. Bernard Hinault had landed in Leeds and if the world was unsure about where Yorkshire was on the map, Hinault had just placed a huge flag in the floor. Forget Lance, this was worthy of original Armstrong comparisons. From one small step 12 months ago, here was the giant leap we'd been working towards.


Hinault - the man who won five Tours de France and came second twice, without even going into his other unrivalled Grand Tour achievements - was accompanying Prudhomme to Leeds to meet council leaders, cross party political supporters and most importantly of all, the city's schoolchildren.

For them, the day The Badger came to Leeds will be one they will not forget. The primary school children worked in terms of simple maths. If Bradley Wiggins had won one Tour de France and was made a Sir, imagine how important Hinault must be? For those who didn't know much about cycling, Hinault morphed into Maradona, into Pele and into Messi.

When he arrived they gave him a welcome fit for all four.

Kippax North Primary school cheered and waved their flags and banners like they were the welcome party to the podiums on the Champs-Élysées. Prudhomme and Hinault beamed with boyish pride and were moved to take photos themselves, capturing the spirit of the Tour on their private phones.

Prudhomme said: "We have never had a welcome like this anywhere, not in France, not anywhere we have been in the world."

At the second school Brigshaw High and Language College the students brought a touch of je ne sais quoi to proceedings by talking French to their esteemed visitors. Asking about Froome and Wiggins, about Team Sky and team radios, about who would win Le Tour and what it's like to win just one. About how Hinault started cycling - he rode 10k a day from the age of seven racing his friends to school - and how they should start - join a club and cycle everywhere. When the questions stopped the autographs and photos began. He signed and posed for them all.

Hinault said: "The passion for the Tour is fantastic. The enthusiasm here is fabulous. You can sense that people really want Le Tour to come to Yorkshire and are determined to show the whole world what Yorkshire stands for."

At Carr Manor Community school Hinault gave the crowds what they are been waiting for but had been too afraid to dream was possible. Standing in his suit observing a time trial around the playground, he obeyed the instinctive competitiveness that still burns in him, swung a leg over a bike and tore around the track to post the day's leading time. For just under 20 seconds he was the most comfortable he had looked all day - back on a bike, being the best.

With time running out and a plane to catch Prudhomme and Hinault made a final call to meet representatives of cycle clubs, business leaders and county dignitaries. The photos and autographs continued making households across the county that evening collectively plumped with pride talking about the day they met The Badger.

Then it was time to go. In just over a year, he will return, dressed in chinos, a blue shirt and shades, the uniform of the ASO on Tour ready to present the winner of day one with the first Maillot Jaune of the 2014 Grand Départ.

It will be an historic, era defining moment for the whole county with the eyes of the sporting world watching. In a few rushed hours in May 2013 Hinault got a taste of what to expect in Yorkshire, when that day in July finally comes. Passion, noise, pride and people - millions of people. Hinault knows that Yorkshire will deliver and in return the county will never forget the day a pocket rocket of a man took the time to come and visit. Sprinkling some cycling stardust on everyone he met.