TENS of thousands of cycling enthusiasts will descend on a small Dales town as the Tour de France gets into gear this weekend.
Visitors from Tasmania, America, Belgium and across the UK have already flocked to Hawes to witness cycling’s most famous event.
Some 30,000 people are expected to come to the town and the surrounding area to watch the Tour’s first stage on Saturday.
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To mark the fact, 3,000 metres of bunting now decorate every street, shop window, lamppost and even the local buses.
Plastic sheeting has also been used to create a large bike image on High Abbotside overlooking Hawes.
The Tour has boosted the local economy more than any other event in the town’s history.
When it was announced Le Grand Depart would pass through the town every bed and breakfast in the area was booked up within hours.
Janie McLoughlin, owner of the Ebor House bed and breakfast, was so inundated with guests she is using her six acre field as a camping site.
“It’s going to be mayhem,” she said. “You can actually feel the buzz.”
Pubs are anticipating a bumper weekend, especially as local breweries have capitalised on the Tour’s popularity.
The White Hart Country Inn is stocking the Black Sheep brewery’s ‘Velo’, Theakstons ‘Tour de Wot?’ and Wensleydale brewery’s ‘Top Cog’.
Landlord Matthew Kirkbride said: “I have never seen anything like this in Hawes, and I’m born and bred here. It’s massive. I hope it happens again because people have pulled together so well.”
A shop owner even has a personalised life-sized cardboard cut out of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish outside his door.
Ian Halliwell, of Karians Gifts, said: “The town is looking lovely. I am a bit apprehensive though because we don’t know what’s going to hit us but it’s great publicity for the area.”
Nobody is more excited than the leader of Rinchmondshire District Council, John Blackie, who said: “The aim is to celebrate the Tour de France with great style and panache.
“What it has done more than anything is boost the self esteem of local people.
“They feel so proud of living in the town and knowing what a wonderful greeting we will give the Tour. We are dressed to kill here!”
RIDERS TO WATCH
Chris Froome, 29, British, Team Sky.
He is the defending champion but has been ill and injured for a while after a crash.
Alberto Contador, 31, Spanish, Tinkoff-Saxo.
Winner in 2007 and 2009, he is tipped by many as the favourite. Despite failing a doping test in 2010 he has been at his very best so far this season.
Mark Cavendish, 29, British, Omega Pharma-Quick Step.
He is the overwhelming favourite to win Stage 1 because his powerful sprinting style should suit the terrain. The stage also finishes in Harrogate, where his mother was born.
Vincenzo Nibali, 29, Italian, Astana.
He is an outside bet, something of a wildcard. He finished third in 2012 and is hugely talented but is stuggling to find form this year.