“This is my most beautiful win. I did it on a race that is growing in stature all the time, has more history now, and an amazing crowd. It’s been like riding the Tour de France over the last four days.” – Stephane Rossetto, Cofidis, Stage 4 winner.
What do you get when you mix some of the world’s greatest cyclists with the most stunning scenery Britain has to offer? The Tour de Yorkshire. The creation of ASO and Welcome to Yorkshire stems from the popularity of the Tour de France’s ‘Grand Départ’ in 2014, in which the fight for the yellow jersey had drawn spectators from across the country, as Prudhomme praised the event as the “grandest Grand Départ ever.”
It’s no secret that the race has been going from strength to strength with every passing year since its induction. The inaugural edition in 2015 played host to thousands of spectators witnessing Team Sky’s Nordhaug clinch the overall win, while crowds increased further to over a million just a year later. By 2017, the race gained 9.7m viewers through TV alone, televised in a colossal 120 countries, according to The Huddersfield Daily Examiner. But unsurprisingly, it’s possible we just witnessed the strongest edition of the Tour de Yorkshire yet. Over 2 million spectators lined the streets to witness a newly-extended route, a 4-day and 2-day stage race for the men’s and women’s pelotons respectively.
The Tour de Yorkshire attracts a number of big WorldTour squads – Team Sunweb, Sky and BMC to name but a few – but I enjoy seeing the Continental and Great Britain teams getting to showcase their talents on home roads. Involving themselves in a combination of explosive breakaways, jersey fights and stage finishes, they help produce one of the most exciting races to watch in the cycling calendar. While writing a post for Yellow Jersey, I made sure to include that these teams would be a strong force in breakaways; Gardias and Tanfield had previously won the combativity prize and accompanying Dimension Data Digital Jerseys on back-to-back days for Canyon Eisberg in 2017.
As the men’s peloton took to the start line in Beverley, it appeared all eyes were on Dimension Data’s Cavendish to take first stage honours, despite having a crash-filled start to the season. A sprint finish in Doncaster with the Manxman prevailing seemed to be a likely outcome for some cycling fans, yet this script was to be thrown out of the window. With the peloton looking to be closing in on the breakaway at 10km to go, it felt that the five men up front would slowly be reeled back in. However, with 5km to go, even the commentators of Boulting and Millar started to believe. At 4km until the finish, with a steady lead of 35” over the peloton, it was to be a day for the breakaway – a surprise to many that they had not been caught yet. The same sentiments were echoed by numerous riders and directeur sportifs post-stage – that the Continental teams had been “underestimated”. This would ultimately be to the downfall of the WorldTour teams on the first day, as despite a momentary appearance of struggling from Canyon Eisberg’s Tanfield, a resurgence combined with a monumental sprint to the line meant the 23-year-old had bested the entire field, taking the stage win, sitting at the top of the sprints and overall classification, in addition to dominating an online vote and claiming the Dimension Data Digital Jersey. Wild’s sprinting prowess meant she had taken the honours on the first stage with ease in the ASDA Women’s Tour de Yorkshire just a few hours before. The Wiggle-High5 rider repeated her Tour de Yorkshire success in Doncaster, where she previously claimed victory in 2016.
Just as dramatic as the previous day, stage two held the first summit finish in the history of the Tour de Yorkshire. An 8.2% average with a nasty kick upwards towards the peak, the unforgiving Cow and Calf climb caused gaps throughout the peloton, resulting in Cort Nielsen (Astana) edging out BMC’S Van Avermaet in a hectic battle to the line. This differed to the women’s finish on the summit, as Boels-Dolman’s birthday girl Guarnier launched a successful solo attack with 200m to go, crossing the line with over 15 seconds on second placed Amialusik (Canyon-SRAM).
Not one to ever miss an edition of the Tour de Yorkshire, I made sure to visit in 2018, too. While university had caused me to miss the entirety of the women’s race, I could catch the final two days of the men’s Tour. Travelling to the picturesque finish on the penultimate stage in Scarborough might have taken a long time, but the views there more than made up for it. The stretch towards the finish ran alongside the coastline, with the approaching tide covering the beach in synchrony with an incoming peloton racing closer to the line. Scarborough was vibrant with activity, with the scorching weather helping drive people outside in their thousands, covering the hills beside the finishing straight with spectators. While a heroic solo attempt inside the last five kilometres wasn’t to be the winning move for Direct Énergie’s Chavanel, powerful sprinting from Walscheid of Team Sunweb saw the German rider edge out Cort Nielsen.
“I’ve ridden races like Paris-Roubaix before, but have never seen crowds like that.” – Max Walscheid.
While I was impressed by the number of spectators for the finish in Scarborough, I was in awe of the crowds at Halifax. Stage 4 departed from the Piece Hall in the centre of town, which saw long queues outside simply to get in; its stunning architecture was the perfect setting for a dramatic culmination of the Tour de Yorkshire. The cobbled streets had been decorated with bunting and lined with team cars, before riders signed on and took to the start line.
A short train journey later, complete with wasp-in-carriage saga, and we had arrived in Leeds for the finish; truly made unforgettable thanks to VIP wristbands from Andrew Turner of Halewood Wines and Spirits. Labelled the ‘Yorkshire Terrier’ stage, the peloton had 189.5km and 6 classified climbs to scale before reaching the finale of the 4-day race. An 18-man breakaway quickly whittled down to just 2 riders: Rossetto of Cofidis and Canyon Eisberg’s climber, Stedman. The latter gained maximum KOM points on the summits of the Barden Moor and Goose Eye climbs, before Rossetto eventually carried on alone. In fact, he would stay away and win the fourth and final stage, after spending 120km on the front and denying one last sprint finish. As Cort Nielsen had been dropped on the climbs, with no teammates around him, it was down to BMC to defend the virtual lead. Defend they did, and Van Avermaet crossed the line in second place, sprinting against Bibby of JLT-Condor.
The abundance of climbs on the fourth day had eventually proved too much for Cort Nielsen and the Astana team, who couldn’t compete against the manpower of BMC. Relinquishing the overall win to Van Avermaet, the Belgian stood on the final GC podium alongside second placed Prades of Euskadi Basque Country-Murias, and Dimension Data’s Pauwels, the defending champion of the Tour de Yorkshire.
Robyn’s Review: The Tour’s Top Moments:
It was a strong start for Continental teams, covering breakaway moves and lighting up the race from the very first flag drop. After writing some pieces for Canyon Eisberg since last year (so no bias here) – it was great to see Tanfield win the first stage, shining a brighter light on an already impressive team. It was also lovely to see how much it meant, not only to his fellow cyclist teammates, but to mechanic Lee Askew and DS Simon Holt on TV.
It was an all-Continental podium on the first day, with JLT Condor’s Slater finishing ahead of Madison Genesis rider Cuming for second place. Cuming would later wear the mountains jersey for three days in a row, before parting ways with it on the final stage, after Rossetto’s day in the breakaway. The highest placed Brit on the final GC was also a fellow Continental rider – JLT Condor’s Bibby. The Prestonian had strong finishes throughout the race, but particularly on stages 2 and 4 – with the 3rd place in Leeds helping cement his standing as 6th overall.
Côte de Cow and Calf Crowds
Back in 2015, the Cow and Calf had been featured on the climb-heavy final stage of the Tour de Yorkshire. À la the final stage in 2018, there were 6 classified climbs for riders to scale, with the most prevalent crowd presence centring around the 1.8km, 8.2% average climb. Spectators continued to increase in numbers throughout the previously 3-day event, and almost 750,000 turned up to watch the ultimate stage.
Fast forward to 2018, and the “record breaking” 4th edition of the Tour brought 2.6 million spectators to the winding roads of Yorkshire. The Cow and Calf climb produced an exciting solo breakaway in the form of Guarnier for the finale of the Women’s Tour de Yorkshire, and an explosive conclusion on the second stage for the men.
Cycling doesn’t have to be all serious, all the time. Aqua Blue’s Warbasse, appearing somewhat exhausted in Scarborough, instinctively passed his bottle to a waiting fan just after the finish line. High fives happened in Halifax as riders took to the stage for sign on. From Scarborough to Leeds, riders further down the standings – Direct Énergie and Aqua Blue included – encouraged the crowds to cheer them on to the finish. With smiles on their faces and to the delight of the waiting viewers, they waved their arms in the air, cupped their hands behind their ears and gained the most applause after the initial sprint finish.
No doubt about it, the Tour de Yorkshire has been yet another success. Only getting stronger with passing years, I’m already looking forward to the developments for 2019.
Next up: The Lincoln Grand Prix on Sunday the 13th of May.