Inspiration

Hardest place to race

Over two million spectators cheered on the second edition of the Tour de Yorkshire as the county was heralded as fast becoming the heartland of cycling by Tour de France boss Christian Prudhomme. Peter Cossins looks back to this rapidly growing race.

Recovering his breath outside Scarborough’s Corner Café just moments after the final stage of the Tour de Yorkshire had finished, Team Sky’s Luke Rowe offered his assessment of the event’s second edition. “If you race in France in the Alps, you’ve got the climbs. If you race in Holland, you’ve got the cross-winds. But here you’ve got everything. I think the UK is pretty much the hardest place in the world to race,” said the exuberant Rowe. As spectators streamed down from the embankments along the Marine Drive finishing straight and pressed in on all sides, the Welshman could also have added that the Tour de Yorkshire also has a fan base that is the envy of almost every other race on the international cycling calendar.

Building on the success of the inaugural edition, the second Tour de Yorkshire was bigger and better in almost every way. Although the weather could have been a little kinder, the line-up featured many more star names, including many of the sport’s top women, who were chasing the biggest prize in women’s cycling. The result was three days of racing that were among the most compelling of the season.

Enthusiasm for the event was evident right from the start in Beverley. Warmed up by the town’s choir, a huge crowd packed Market Place, where the arrival of the well-wrapped Sir Bradley Wiggins drew the biggest cheers. The peloton’s target that first day was another of the county’s beautiful market towns, Settle, with the Wolds and Dales providing plenty of spicy tests in between. Despite the chilly conditions, there was a similar throng in every town, village and categorized climb along the route. At the finish, they were five-deep, as Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen sprinted to victory.

Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Sir Gary Verity had promised a much higher profile for the Asda Tour de Yorkshire’s women’s race in 2016, and the buzz of excitement and crowds in Otley on Saturday morning highlighted that. Most were out to support their own World Road Race Champion, Lizzie Armitstead (now Deignan), who had tears in her eyes as she led the high-class field away from her home town towards Doncaster.

Very aggressive in the closing kilometres, Lizzie was denied by another in-form Dutch sprinter in the shape of Kirsten Wild. After Groenewegen and Wild, Sky’s Danny van Poppel maintained Holland’s run of success when he led the second stage of the men’s race into Doncaster. That left the overall result hanging on the final stage between Middlesbrough and Scarborough, which was unquestionably the toughest of the race.

The unique beauty of the North York Moors National Park provided the setting for a day of high-octane racing as Rowe and his Sky teammates went all out to blow the race apart and set up leader Nicolas Roche for victory. It seemed their aggressive tactics would pay off when Roche slipped clear of the leading group coming into Scarborough. But 2015 runner-up Thomas Voeckler had still to play his card. The veteran Frenchmen first bridged across to Roche, then led a high-speed descent onto the Marine Drive, before delivering a finishing kick that the Irishman couldn’t match, roared on by the massed ranks gathered at the spectacular finish, which is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the most impressive arenas in cycle sport. Voeckler, a hugely popular Frenchman who has taken Yorkshire to his heart, couldn’t have been more delighted and has pledged to return and defend his title.

When he does, his opposition is likely to be stronger than ever thanks to Yorkshire’s successful bid to host the 2019 UCI World Road Race Championships, which will boost the quality of the Tour de Yorkshire field in 2017, just as it cements the country’s status as one of the world’s centres for cycling.

This article was taken from This is Y 2017