“WE ARE on the map now, like we never dreamed we would be five years ago.”

Sir Gary Verity lives and breathes Yorkshire. Born and raised in the county, the chief executive of the region’s tourism body Welcome to Yorkshire led the successful campaign for the Grand Départ of the 2014 Tour de France, the forerunner of the annual Tour de Yorkshire.

Beamed into living rooms across the country, the thrilling event has raised the profile of the region in an unprecedented way.

It has brought visitors in vast numbers to Yorkshire, captivated by the images of its picturesque countryside, breathtaking coastline and pretty villages, its bustling market towns and lively cities.

For Sir Gary, it has opened people’s eyes - not only those from other parts of the UK, but from within the region itself - to the wonders on their doorstep.

“The first race, the Grand Depart in 2014, and the three Tour de Yorkshires following that, have changed the profile of the county and people’s perceptions of it,” he says, as preparations are finalised for this year’s tour, starting tomorrow.

“We have people from Yorkshire who have seen the races on TV and said: ‘I have lived here all my life yet I did not know that Yorkshire was so beautiful. Those from elsewhere can also see how lovely it is.”

He adds: “If you think globally there would have been a lot of people who had never heard of Yorkshire, and certainly could not point to it on a map, who have now not only heard of it but seen it.”

The value of tourism in the region has rocketed to £8billion, according to independent research by Sheffield Hallam University. The figure - revealed earlier this year at Welcome to Yorkshire's Y18 conference at Bradford's Alhambra Theatre - is 14 per cent, or one billion, higher than in 2011.

Hotels, guests houses and B&Bs share a pot of £1.6billion, with day trippers spend £4.3billion and overseas tourists £516million. Visitors from abroad stay in the region 11 per cent longer than previously, the researchers found.

There is no doubting the impact of the annual cycle races, and announcements were made at the event of a £5million ten-year programme to promote the North York Moors to cyclists, as well as £1million to promote Yorkshire throughout Europe as a cycling holiday destination.

Research by Leeds Beckett University showed that in 2016 the Tour boosted the economy by almost £60 million. It found that the majority of spectators were from Yorkshire (79 per cent), while 21 per cent were from elsewhere in the UK and abroad.

The races take in a cross-section of the county, leaving no corner unexplored. Says Gary: “We show urban, rural, places in the middle of nowhere where the only inhabitants are sheep. We show villages, town and cities - we showcase all of Yorkshire in its splendour.”

Off-the-beaten track areas have been exposed by the Tour as hidden gems. Sir Gary cites the example of the village of Hooton Pagnell near Doncaster. “That has to be one of the most beautiful villages in the country yet the number of people who know about it will be miniscule.

“This year the race is going through it twice and people will see it and think ‘Gosh, I did not know about that place.’ We are trying to change people’s perceptions.”

Bradford, he says, benefits from the Tour in a number of ways. Last year the race started at City Park, bringing people into the city. This year, on Friday May 4, Stage 2 finishes in Ilkley at the iconic Cow and Calf rocks outside The Cow and Calf Hotel - this will be the first ever summit finish for both the women's and men's race which Bradford Council is excited to be hosting.

“People in Bradford have a great sense of pride in their area, and can see images of their city for positive reasons,” says Gary. “Bradford has a strong connection to cycling - Walter Greaves, who set the world record for distance ridden in a year came from Bradford.”

Greaves set the record in 1936, cycling 45,383 miles (73,037km) despite having only one arm and falling off numerous times.

This year, the Tour de Yorkshire has expanded from three days to four. Throughout, events will be taking place to celebrate it, and residents will, always, be embracing it.

“People of all ages spend hours and hours decorating their streets, villages, businesses, schools and homes with yellow and blue bikes,” says Sir Gary.

He compares the fierce pride shown by local people to that demonstrated by the residents of Belgium and Brittany in France, where locals go all-out to welcome riders in professional cycling events.

The friendliness and warmth of Yorkshire people shines through, for the world to see, he says.

“You can see that Yorkshire is a place where people are tremendously proud to live, and look at the number of businesses that now include ‘Yorkshire’ in their name.”

*The Tour de Yorkshire runs from May 3 to 6 Visit: letour.yorkshire.com