The Tour de Yorkshire faces a “pivotal” year with the new chief executive of Welcome To Yorkshire warning it must prove its worth if it is to continue.
After helping to unveil a route for 2020 which might be the toughest yet, James Mason warned nothing is guaranteed as the event enters the final year of its contract between the troubled tourism body and the Amaury Sports Organisation.
Mason took up his new role on Monday, succeeding Sir Gary Verity who resigned in March last year citing health problems amid investigations into his expenses and allegations of bullying.
Verity was credited with bringing the Tour de France to Yorkshire in 2014 and in pushing forward its legacy event, but his departure led to a thorough reevaluation of operations at Welcome To Yorkshire, and the Tour – arguably its highest-profile asset – is no exception.
“There’s got to a business case for it, a goodwill case, and a platform for other projects,” Mason said. “It’s got to return across the board. We’ve got to listen to all our stakeholders and it’s got to work for them.”
In its first five years, the Tour has rapidly built a global reputation for huge crowds and brutal racing.
Mason talked up the event’s capacity to promote Yorkshire nationally and globally but, given the scrutiny now surrounding Welcome To Yorkshire’s finances, every project must prove its worth.
“This is a huge, pivotal moment for the Tour de Yorkshire,” he said. “We’re conscious that a lot of people aren’t for cycling necessarily, so this is an opportunity for us to prove that cycling has a future in Yorkshire.”
Despite his warnings Mason, who previously worked as chief operating officer for Bradford City, said he recognised the potential of the asset Welcome To Yorkshire has developed.
“When I speak to other tourism agencies they’re describing it as a golden egg, something that you would die for in other parts of the world so we’ve got to use that platform,” he said.
Mason added that “early conversations” have begun with ASO over a new contract, and Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme certainly sounded keen to secure an extension, saying he he had not even considered the possibility that 2020 would be the last edition.
“There was nothing in my mind like this until you asked the question,” said Prudhomme, who met Mason for the first time on Thursday. “We have to work together.”
Asked how big a loss the race would be to the calendar, Prudhomme added: “I can’t imagine that. It will be so strange, there’s so many loving cycling, not just for cycling but the pride of people from Yorkshire for their race.”
Whatever the long-term future of the race, organisers have not held back in designing a brutal route for 2020, both for the four-day men’s race and the two-day women’s event which take place from April 30 to May 3.
The men’s race starts with a stage from Beverley to Redcar before Buttertubs and Grinton Moor – climbs made famous by the 2014 Tour de France but cut from last year’s World Championships at the last minute due to flooding – will be tackled by both the men’s and women’s race a day later as part of a stage from Skipton to Leyburn.
The next day, the famous cobbled climb of Shibden Wall lies in wait for both races between Barnsley and Huddersfield, and the men’s race concludes with a stage from Halifax to Leeds which includes seven categorised climbs and no less than 3,300 metres of total ascent.
“It just looks savage,” said Leeds-born Gabriella Shaw, who riders for CAMS-Tifosi. “I know how tough Buttertubs and Grinton Moor are on training rides, so tackling them in a race is going to be epic.”
Chris Lawless, who won the men’s race last year to give Team Ineos their first victory in their new guise, said he intended to defend his title.
“I remember riding Shibden Wall in 2017 and that was amazing,” he said. “It’s good to see it back.”