The Grand Depart of the Tour De France has passed through the area for the first of two visits this weekend, with riders cheered on by tens of thousands of well wishers.

After starting in Leeds this morning, the tour went on to Otley before moving into the Bradford District and passing through Ilkley.

Both towns gave a great Yorkshire welcome to the cyclists, their teams and the thousands of people who came from across the country to be a part of the world's biggest annual sporting event.

The race was preceeded by a caravan of sponsor vehicles, and in Otley it arrived with great shouts of "It's today!" and "Allo Yorksheer!"

RSPCA shop managers Ann Holey and Margaret Kay were among the numbers swelling on Boroughgate in Otley eager to catch a glimpse, however fleeting, of the riders. "We spent the night here in sleeping bags - it's fantastic for the town and the county. Everyone around the world will see how lovely it is in Yorkshire," Ann said.

At 12.16 a shockwave of cheering ripped through the town as the Tour de France tore past the famous maypole. The shouts and whistles of delighted residents and visitors greeted and followed the elite riders on their way to Ilkley and the Dales.

Ilkley welcomed the race to loud chants of "Yorkshire" and cheers from the biggest crowds the town has ever seen.

Despite the threat of rain earlier in the morning, the sun was beaming on the town by the time the crowds along the route started to swell, and with hours still to go before the peloton arrived the town centre was buzzing.

Although the race was not starting in Leeds until after 11am, people were already finding their places in Ilkley in the early morning. Trains from Bradford to Ilkley were packed, and several were so busy they were unable to take anyone on by the time they reached Shipley.

After almost a year and a half of anticipation since the town was announced as part o f the route, people were eager to make the most of the day.

And while residents from Bradford District flocked to Ilkley in their thousands, there were also many people who had travelled from far and wide to enjoy the rare occasion that the world's biggest annual sporting event comes to the UK.

Michelle Baldwin and Dionne Palliser came to Ilkley from Portsmouth, over 250 miles away, with their cycle mad families to see the race, and are staying over for both days of the Yorkshire leg. Michelle said: "We drove up yesterday and are camping in Ilkley tonight. We've never been up here before and its lovely. We all love it here."


Another cycle enthusiast who travelled to Ilkley to see the race was Joe Brownhill, from Macclesfield Wheelers Cycle Club in Cheshire. Members of the group came to Yorkshire to see the route on Thursday, and he decided to watch the Grande Depart in Ilkley before cycling to Harrogate to catch the end of the day's events. He said: "This is the best place to view it and still be able to head off to see today's finish.

"I've been to see the Tour De France in Paris before. It's a marvellous experience and wonderful for everyone, not just cyclists."

Having to travel less of a distance was Ross McIntyre and his son Theo, 4, who live on Alexandra Crescent in Ilkley. Before the race they said: "We've been looking forward to it for a while. It has been a great atmosphere. There has been a really big build up and now today is the day!."

The crowd was so excitable that when a van bearing the logo of Team Sky - the UK team led by Chris Froome, passed by they let out a huge cheer.

But that was nothing compared to the cheer when the cyclists finally arrived. With a helicopter flying overhead and capturing the massive crowd, the peloton whizzed through the streets to a rapturous Yorkshire welcome.

Although they had passed by in seconds, the celebratory atmosphere looks set to continue, with numerous evens planned for throughout the day.