THOUSANDS of people converged on the Keighley district today as the world's greatest cycle race came to the area.

The Tour de France route was lined with cheering, flag-waving crowds as top international riders shot through.

They were preceded by a caravan of sponsors' vehicles and police motorcycles.

First to witness the spectacle locally was Silsden, which had been decorated with bikes and yellow jerseys.

Silsden mayor Coun Chris Atkinson said the event was awesome.

“Everyone has pulled together and done the town proud. Everything has gone really well,” he said.

He also paid tribute to the local churches which had organised a series of bike-themed events.

Local Methodist minister the Rev Ruth Crompton said: “The atmosphere is superb. Everyone has pulled together to decorate the town.”

In Keighley, people lined Halifax Road, South Street, High Street, North Street and Skipton Road.

The leading group of about seven cyclists entered the town shortly after 1pm, with the main group about a minute behind.

However, the crowds had started to gather along the route at least two hours before the riders appeared, with people taking advantage of the dozens of businesses and public buildings which opened to provide food, drink and music.

Keighley town mayor, Coun Graham Mitchell, said: "I've been impressed by the very large numbers of volunteers who've turned out to host the public and offer food and drink.

"I think Keighley has provided a tremendous welcome for residents and visitors.

"There were bus staff on duty as early as 4.30am to 5am to get the buses out of the garage and into position around the area. They put in a lot of hard work.

"The Keighley & Worth Valley Railway had 97 volunteers on duty, which is a fantastic achievement."

Keighley Central ward councillor Khadim Hussain, who watched the race from Skipton Road, said: "It's been brilliant, very well received by the people of Keighley.

"It's good promotion for the town and many organisations have worked together to make it a success. "

Local resident and cycling enthusiast Frank O'Dwyer, who campaigned tirelessly for months to drum up support for the event, said: "I was expecting a bigger crush of people, but the crowd were happy, enjoying themselves and waiting patiently for the race to come through.

"On the whole I think it's been an excellent weekend and a superbly handled event."

People wanting to escape from the town centre were invited to sample more entertainment at the Tour de France spectator hub in Victoria Park.

In the Worth Valley, where people of all ages had embraced the event and prepared for months for the big day, spectators also turned out in their droves.

Haworth's Central Park hosted an official spectator hub, where there was an array of entertainment, and the famous Main Street was packed for the ascent by the competitors.

Liz Barker, a leading light in the Worth the Tour group which coordinated the local response to the Grand Depart, said the year of hard work by those involved had definitely been worth it.

She added: “The best thing has been getting people together in the community who wouldn’t normally meet. We were really crossing barriers.

“I’m delighted with the weather today, and the turnout has been spectacular. The Haworth hub in the park was heaving.”

*For full reports and a photo special, see Thursday's Keighley News