A Yorkshire united under one mayor could save it from becoming a suburb of Manchester, Sir Gary Verity said.
The Tour de France hero urged the audience at the City Region Business Awards to take the team spirit shown during last summer’s race and use it to fight Yorkshire’s corner in the Northern Powerhouse project.
Alone, its counties could end up as “poodles” to Manchester, he said.
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He added: “We are a very tribal place, we’ve got it down to a fine art. But I have never known anything unite Yorkshire like the Tour de France - it triggered an outpouring of Yorkshire pride.
“The Northern Powerhouse is at a crossroads. We could have four small elected mayors in Yorkshire who would be four bridesmaids to a successful Manchester for the next generation. Are we happy to be a poodle to Manchester?
“Or we could take the unity and teamwork we had with the Tour and enjoy that every day with a mayor for Yorkshire.
“A united Yorkshire is a big step for our civic leaders. But if we don’t do that we will have to answer our grandchildren when they ask, ‘Why are we are suburb of Manchester?’”
Sir Gary is chief executive of tourism body Welcome to Yorkshire. His knighthood earlier this year capped a fistful of honours including being named Yorkshire’s Man of the Year, Director of the Year and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2014 Yorkshire and Humber Institute of Directors Awards.
Other legacies of the Tour included more people cycling more often, bike banks created from donated cycles, a boost to business and the Tour de Yorkshire bicycle race, which debuted this year with a three-day race for men and a one-day race for women, he added.
He said: “We are serious about making it one of the best cycling races in the world. It would be great to have a finish in Sheffield.”
He concluded by insisting local newspapers were vital to communities and issued a plea to bosses to listen to enthusiastic staff.
“We need successful vibrant newspapers, they play a really important part at the heart of the community. The Tour de France was started by a newspaper after a reporter suggested a race around France as a way to sell more copies.
“How many ideas have been brought to us by people who work with us but we have been too busy to listen to?
“There must be ten thousand great ideas that never get off the drawing board because no one is prepared to run with them.
“So the next time someone comes and says, ‘I have a great idea’ rather than chopping them off at the knees, give them five minutes.”
The City Region Business Awards pits the winners from the area’s four Chambers - Sheffield, Barnsley and Rotherham, Doncaster and East Midlands - and the Derbyshire Times against each other to reveal the ‘first among winners’.
Customer Service: Westfield Health
Business Person: Jackie Neal, Abbey Forged Products
Young Business Person: Alistair Myers and Tom Lawson, Rafters Restaurant
CSR/Environment: Barnsley College
Skills/Apprentice/Training: Tom Matthews, Tata Steel
Manufacturing: Pryor Marking Technology
Start-Up: nuWorld Energy
Business of the Year: Yorkshire Wildlife Park
Retail/Leisure/Tourism: Patchwork Pig
Professional Services: Azzure IT
Design & Innovation: Osborne Technologies
Small Business: Purpose Media
Overall Outstanding: Westfield Health