An Alternative British Bid for the Tour de France – Northumberland/Newcastle upon Tyne

Yorkshire. Yorkshire. Have ASO been to Yorkshire?! They’re certainly looking increasingly likely to give the Tour the the region. Horrifyingly, the bid would start in Leeds. Yes, Leeds, the city with the world’s most moronic ring-road. And it’s Leeds, it doesn’t even sound right compared with other recent Grand Depart names – Monaco, Rotterdam, Liege, Corsica…all exude a certain exotic Euro appeal that tells you that yes, this will be a romantic jaunt through the historic sites and sounds of a European city, something Leeds doesn’t exactly have.

But before I get angry letters (hah, any letter would be nice!) from the good citizens of Leeds, upset that I have belittled their no doubt lovely city, I should make a point. Cities in the UK aren’t exactly known for their architecture and history as European cities are. It may just be me, but when someone lists French cities: Paris, Nice, Montpellier, Toulouse, Marseille, Strasbourg et al, they give off a wonderful sense of romanticism. Of course, I haven’t been to all these places, and I’m sure that some are god-awful (Roubaix, for instance, that mythical end to the great cobbled race, is a bit of dump, and holds the exhalted record for car crime in France), but all sound preferable to Leeds and Sheffield. I just can’t figure why they didn’t want to start in York, which is by the far the prettier.

Anyway, seeing as Leeds can now apparently get their name alongside London, Canterbury and, er, Plymouth as having hosted the Tour, then there seems no reason why my home town (but not where I was born) should be excluded from the list. Far from what people seem to think, Newcastle upon Tyne is no longer a smog covered, miner heavy dump full of large, cheery people speaking an indecipherable language whilst going home to weep over their useless football team (which is even doing well these days to), but a smarter, sleeker and altogether more glamorous place. Even better, just 10 minutes on a bike from one of the innumerably famous bridges and you’re in peaceful Northumberland, a huge chunk of the country separating England from those pesky Scots, and oft confused as belonging to them for some reason. So I thought if Yorkshire can host the Tour, so can the Toon.

Not the only thing Newcastle is famous for.

Of course, the standard rules apply – you’re allowed three days before having to make the journey back to mainland France, and obviously thus have to find a way to get back. With that in mind, here’s my glorious bid for the Tour de Toon – coming your way in, ooh, 2020 by the rate everyone’s bidding for the start.

Prologue

I do love a nice little prologue. They’re pleasant to watch as you get to see all the riders individually rather  then everyone sweeping past in 5 seconds, and thus guarentee a good day out for fans, especially when you put the course in the City Centre and thus ensure they all go and have a meal in it afterwards.

My course starts under the gaze of Grey’s Monument, a tribute to Charles Grey for passing the 1832 Great Reform Act, which made some larger changes to the electoral system. From there, the riders will charge down the lovely old buildings on Grainger Street before turning past the legendary Bigg Market (not always for the right reasons) and passing the Cathedral of St Nicholas before cutting through some back streets with some technical corners to cross the Swing Bridge. They then sweep under the Tyne Bridge and sneak a glimpse at the Sage music centre, before swinging around to cross over the famous green girders of the Tyne Bridge. From here, it’s not the prettiest course – they use the motorway to round past 55 degrees North before cutting along Melbourne Street and taking a Zig-Zag back to the Quay side to charge along the river. They then swing onto the Millenium bridge, charging across towards the open Square next to the BALTIC centre for contemporary art and with the Sage, Quayside and Tyne Bridge framing a very pretty backdrop to the finish of the 3.42mile, 5.5km prologue. Preferably, it would be run in the evening, so that the Quayside could be lit up, as could Grainger Street etc, which would add a great ambience.

The sites of the ‘Toon’ prologue – (Clockwise from Top left), Grey’s Mounument, St Nicholas’ Cathedral, The Swing Bridge, The Quayside and the Sage, The Millenium Bridge, The Tyne Bridge.

Stage One

With a short prologue showing off Newcastle, the riders need a bit of a challenge to get the legs turning over. Luckily, there is plenty of challenge avaliable in Northumberland and the Tyne Valley, and so the riders will be taking that in before returning to Newcastle to finish on the uphill slopes of the often voted most beautiful street in Britain – Grey Street. Before they get to that through, the riders are off on a 94mile (151km) ride around Northumberland, taking in Hexham, Corbridge, Stanfordham and Belsay as well as a few nasty little climbs to start off the King of the Mountains competition.

Getting out of Newcastle, the riders start just along from where they finished yestersay – next to the Sage centre. They chug past the BALTIC properly this time, following the river before turning in to loop around over the Tyne Bridge once more. They then take a trip along and through some university buildings before going up Northumberland Street, which won’t be pedestrianised today of course. They then turn along the Town Moor and head out of the city adjacent to the main road to Scotland.

The riders head quickly up past the airport which they’ll be using by the end of the next day, and head through Ponteland and leafy Darras Hall before taking a straight, open descent to Wylam. From here, the road surfaces will be iffy, as will the tight corners at the bottom of the hill as they twist down to the river. They then follow the river on a rolling road west towards Stocksfield, skirting past the town and heading up a stiff little climb to Riding Mill before suddenly winging left up the feared Prospect Hill – one mile at 10% gradient. The switchbacks should offer a sense of what will come later on in the three week race, whilst the views back over the valley should be pleasant enough. They rapidly descend before heading up two short hills into Hexham. From here, they turn back East, heading toward ancient Corbridge, famed for being a Roman as well as border town, as well as having a baker most skilled in producing huge raspberry and white chocolate scones. Another long grind of climb up to a reservoir follows, before the riders turn West for the last time and charge along the Roman Military road before turning back East to climb the Ryals, two 20-25% brutes that are cruel on the legs after this distance. From here, the riders can charge down into Standfordham before heading North yet again…

The final 30 miles of the stage are essentially flat and downhill, as the riders head up to Belsay before charging back through Darras Hall and plummeting towards the river Tyne. The then turn onto Scotswood Road and follow the sinuous Tyne down until the centre of Newcastle, before turning up finally one last time for a sprint up the actually quite tricky climb of Dean and Grey Street, finishing under the gaze of the Mounment’s open square. it should be stage that encourages attacking, as well as a tight finish, as well as showcasing the towns of the North-East.

Sights of Stage One. Top Row: Northumberland Street, Town Moor, Ponteland, Prospect Hill. Second Row: Hexham, Corbridge, The Ryals, Stanfordham. Bottom Row: Belsay Hall, Grey Street

Stage Two

It’s the final leg of our Northumberland adventure, and it wouldn’t feel right without showing off the coastline. So that’s what this easier stage will be doing, before the riders are shipped home to sunny France. Well, I say easier – it doesnt have the same volume of climbs, but it sure has the same amount…

Stage two does however have some truly beautiful scenery. The start has to timed correctly, as the riders will begin on Holy Island, otherwise known as Lindisfarne, which is cut off by the tides most of the day. The riders will have to be careful on the wet, slippery road across to the mainland, from where they will turn North to skirt the Scottish border in historic Berwick upon Tweed. Then, the race moves inland to Wooler, before heading back to the sea for a coastal run starting past the gorgeous red brick of Bamburgh Castle. The route then take the riders through the fish and chips saturated Seahouses and Beadnell, heading past Warkworth, but not Amble. Because Amble is awful. The route then cuts back into the interior, heading through Cramlinglton before heading up the hills above Rothbury, having taken in Cragside and its Halls, for two steep little climbs to make it interesting before one final downhill charge into Alnwick, to explore its gardens, castle and the like. Should be plenty to keep the eye entertained as well as the riders.

Stage Two Sights – Top row: Lindisfarne, Holy Island Arches, Berwick, Wooler Middle Row: Bamburgh Castle, Seahouses, Rothbury, Cragside. Bottom Row: Alnwick Castle

After this finish of course, the riders would pop down the nearby A1 to the airport and hop on a plane home, after seeing a showcase of the North-East – we’d have shown the hills, the buildings, the history, the rivers and most importantly, not gone anywhere the hell near Sunderland and Middlesborough. What could possibly be better?

Prologue – Newcastle/Gateshead-Newcastle/Gateshead – 5.5km

Stage One – Gateshead – Newcastle – 151km

Stage two – Lindisfarne – Alnwick – 161km

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