I doubt that many of the Yorkshire folk who pitched up at road side would know that mountains classification winner Pieter Weening took a fantastic Tour de France stage win in 2004 millimetres ahead of Andres Kloden – but I’m not sure how much that matters. The Tour de Yorkshire was far more than a 2.1 UCI road race; it was a showcase for ‘God’s own country’ and an example of how to host a fully-fledged sporting event just three years after inauguration.
Whilst a lot of credit should go to Sir Gary Verity and his team, the rolling hills of Yorkshire were primed for a cycling race long before 2015. It wouldn’t have been much of a struggle to craft an interesting and challenging route through Yorkshire with wonderfully named climbs such as Buttertubs Pass, Rosedale Chimney and Fleet Moss, plus lands such as the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Niddersdale, and the coastlines of Whitby and Scarborough. Yorkshire has long been a home for many British riders and it’s no surprise the race already comfortably rivals the longer, older, Tour of Britain.
There are plenty of famous climbs that Verity has so far kept up his sleeve. In order to maximise support, recent routes have endeavoured to visit as many villages and towns as possible.
If UCI ratings were classified on crowd support, there can be no doubting the Tour de Yorkshire would be top tier. If the UCI ratings were based on the amount of bunting tied across village rooftops, the Tour de Yorkshire would be in a class of its own. The bunting – typically blue and yellow – was a common sight as the race weaved through Tadcaster, Haworth and Harrogate. It seems to be a simple and very British touch; a craze that hasn’t quite caught on in Flanders, Limburg, Milan or Paris.
The opening day saw riders head from Bridlington to Scarborough crossing the Wolds of north Yorkshire. Dipping down for a flat finish on the coast, the stage was always likely to end in a bunch sprint. Team Sky had plans for Danny Van Poppel but a tired peloton proved hard to control. Reigning champion Thomas Voeckler jumped off the front but he was soon swamped by the Orica-Scott leadout train. With 2km to go we hit the beach front and the peloton lost all shape. Dylan Groenewegen emerged from the right side of our screens and accelerated through an opening for his second Yorkshire stage in as many years. Caleb Ewan drew close on the line, losing out by a matter of inches.
Behind, a drifting Kristian Sbaragli caught Magnus Cort Nielsen’s wheel and triggered a nasty pile-up; the low point of the race by some distance.
The second stage ended in Harrogate on the roads of Mark Cavendish’s horrible crash at the 2014 Tour. The only categorised climb was the impressive Côte de Lofthouse and a large peloton arrived ahead of another sprint. Massive crowds animated the town centre as Jonathon Hivert moved off the front with an early sprint. Cofidis had brought Nacer Bouhanni into a clear position and the Frenchman set off in pursuit. He caught and moved clear of his compatriot to take an easy victory.
Ewan floated into second place and took to the podium as new race leader. Admitting it wasn’t the result he had come for, Ewan would still have enjoyed pulling on the blue jersey in front of a packed crowd.
The race was always going to be decided on the final stage which stretched from Bradford, to Skipton, and then all the way to Sheffield. Rolling hills ensured the peloton would eventually split with four hard climbs in Stocksbridge acting as the playground for the final GC battle.
The Côte de Shibden Wall (formerly just… The Shibden Wall) was arguably the most impressive climb of the race with an upper section made up of the finest Yorkshire cobbles. In some ways it looked neater and more manageable than the Bergs of Flanders but perhaps the cameras couldn’t quite capture the ludicrous 20% gradients. Riders exploded on the top section and began to resemble brave club cyclists who’d received more than they had bargained for on a Sunday afternoon ride.
As the race moved into its final 20km, Dimension Data and BMC were vying for control of a worn down front group. Shortly after the Broomshead Resovoir, Serge Pauwels edged away into a small lead. A stunted response by BMC allowed him to become a clear race favourite and he continued at a steady pace. Brent Bookwalter eventually made a move in the final 5km but was marked by Dimension Data’s chief nuisance Omar Fraile. Pauwels’ gap had begun to tumble but nobody looked capable of bridging over.
Nobody except for Fraile. Pauwels’ lively Spanish teammate launched himself off the chasing pack in what was an eyebrow-raising attack. It briefly looked as though he was set to spoil Pauwels’ day but as he pulled up alongside the race leader it became clear the Dimension Data had masterminded a 1-2. He ushered Pauwels to take the victory and the two celebrated with four arms raised.
Yorkshire has put a lot of work into this race but the returns have been vast. The race already feels distinct, draws in thousands of fans and has been lucky enough to attract a host of big names. A fourth day seems a likely addition with this fine county having plenty more to offer against the great races of mainland Europe.
About the Author: Mike Franchetti owns the site www.justprocycling.com, producing race previews, top five lists and rider profiles, as well as tweeting predictions and other nonsense off @justprocycling.