Cycling, Bread and Circuses? When Le Tour Came to Yorkshire and What It Left Behind – Professor Karl Spracklen



Abstract

In the summer of 2014, there was no way of getting away from it: Le Tour de France, the most famous and prestigious professional men’s cycling events, was coming to Yorkshire (UK), and Skipton, where I live, was in the middle of it. The message from people in tourism was that this was great for Yorkshire because businesses would be making money; politicians were also telling local people to feel happy that they had won the right to host Le Tour. Research shows how leisure activities bring out the good in us, but also how so much of our leisure lives today is managed. Leisure activities have value if they are freely chosen, if they generate a sense of belonging, and if they are not part of some trick to take our money. Juvenal was the first person to point out how leisure activities are used by the people with power to keep their power, and stop people from complaining about the lack of freedom. At that moment in 2014, Le Tour coming to Yorkshire felt more like a trick to take people’s money and keep them in chains than something that would bring communities and families closer together. In this paper, I will reflect on what happened when Le Tour came to Yorkshire through an analysis of newspaper reports, photographs taken by myself two years on from the two days Le Tour arrived in Yorkshire, and, more significantly, an auto-ethnographic account of what it was like to be there. I will argue that Le Tour allowed local communities to embrace a cosmopolitan European identity alongside their existing northern English or Yorkshire identities, and that the race itself allowed spectators to be proud about the northern English landscape through which the cyclists battled.