Downing has inside track on what it takes across Broad Acres

HOME TURF: Rotherham professional Russell Downing will be heading the challenge of the Cult Energy team. Picture: James Williamson.
HOME TURF: Rotherham professional Russell Downing will be heading the challenge of the Cult Energy team. Picture: James Williamson.
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At the time of his name being mentioned as part of a team that will contest the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire yesterday morning, Russell Downing was on the roads of his home county, taking part in a training ride.

The 36-year-old professional from Rotherham was easing his body back into the saddle after a particularly challenging edition of the Amstel Gold Race in Holland 24 hours earlier.

Downing was on the road with regular training partner (Doncaster’s) Tom Stewart, who, in just 10 days, he will be lining up against in the three-day odyssey around Yorkshire.

“You’ve got an interesting dynamic of training partners riding alongside each other for different teams, competing against each other on the roads they know so well,” said Downing, who rides for Danish continental team Cult Energy, while Stewart is on the Madison Genesis team.

Downing is also a regular training partner of Ben Swift, the Team Sky sprinter and a fellow Rotherham native, who is one of the big names contesting next week’s Tour de Yorkshire.

For Downing, Swift, Ed Clancy and a host of other White Rose riders all at different levels in world cycling’s pecking order, next week’s race will be a surreal experience.

“It’s amazing that it’s going to be here on the roads I grew up on,” said Downing, whose elder brother Dean retired from pro cycling last year.

“Yorkshire is a great county for bike racing. I’ve already got family and friends planning where they’re going to go and watch and the routes they’re going to ride themselves.”

Not that Downing will be using the Tour de Yorkshire as a chance to socialise.

He is here to help Cult Energy continue establishing themselves in the ever-expanding landscape of road cycling.

The Danish outfit are one of a cluttered mid-section of pro-continental teams in the Tour de Yorkshire field hoping to make an impression against established world tour teams like Sky, BMC and Giant-Alpecin.

To that end, they need a strategy for the three days from Bridlington to Scarborough, Selby to York and Wakefield to Leeds, that underlines their potential and ensures they make the most out of Downing’s local knowledge.

“As it’s my home race, I’m going to be on the front with guys looking after me,” said the former British national road race champion, who can work race for wins himself or be the lead-out man to get a sprinter to the line.

“Our strategy will either be to get a guy in the breakaway, or if not, work to support the guy we want to get into the sprint of bunch finish.

“Stage two looks like the sprinters’ stage. It’s a tough little stage, but could end up as a small bunch.”

Downing will ‘reccy’ the stages in parts over the next few days, recovery time permitting. But already he has the inside track on how the race will unravel.

“It’s inbetween the climbs where you’ll see the race develop,” he said. “It’s not like on the continent where it’s a climb and then a descent; in the Tour de Yorkshire you’re going to get the peloton climbing and then staying on that plateau, and then climbing again.

“As a rider you’ve got to be on your mettle all day long, which makes the race hard.

“Another element that adds to the difficulty is the length of the race, because at around 170km they’re not long stages.

“That means you might get guys going flat out for the whole distance, so it’s going to be a real tactical battle in terms of breakaways and controlling the peloton.”

Yesterday’s line-up announcement brought new names into the Tour de Yorkshire mix, including the county’s track superstar Clancy and his fellow Olympic gold medallist, Samuel Sanchez, who rides for BMC. Sir Bradley Wiggins’s participation was also confirmed.