Tour de Yorkshire: Downing brothers in tandem on road back home

Cyclists Tom Moses (left), Russell Downing and Dean Downing.
Cyclists Tom Moses (left), Russell Downing and Dean Downing.
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As younger boys, where Dean Downing went, Russ would often follow.

The elder Downing brother by three years and seven months loved cycling, and so it happened that his young sibling was soon hauling himself onto a saddle and assuming the crouched position over a pair of handlebars.

Training rides would take them from their home in Rotherham around the pit villages of South Yorkshire, places like Hatfield in Doncaster, a small community that is home to a shrine for tragic late Tour de France hero Tommy Simpson.

On Saturday, April 30, a parish synonymous with cycling’s past will be catapulted into its present as the Tour de Yorkshire peloton breezes past en route to the finish line of stage two, some 10 miles down the road on South Parade in Doncaster town centre.

If all goes to plan, 37-year-old Russ, a former Team Sky rider and national road race champion, will be in the hunt for a stage victory against some of the strongest sprinters in world cycling. Barking instructions at him from the support vehicle a little further down the road will be Dean, 41, a former winner of the British elite circuit series who has turned his attentions to coaching.

“I’ve managed to land myself a director-sportiff (manager) role with JLT Condor,” said Downing, of a team whose signature signing over the winter was his younger brother.

“It’s a dream job for me, working for the team I rode with for six years.”

The elder Downing enjoyed some of his finest moments with British team JLT, who, in turn, helped prolong a career that took him across Europe.

That journey ended close to home at the Sheffield Grand Prix in 2014, just a few weeks after the Tour de France had enraptured the county.

Downing bowed out at a time when cycling was bigger in this country than it has arguably ever been, but nearly two years on he has been heartened by how the good people of Yorkshire have sustained that momentum.

“The Tour de Yorkshire is a fantastic legacy to the Tour de France and a massive race for a team like ours,” said Downing, whose first foray into the role of a director- sportiff came last year with the now defunct Polypipe team.

“You saw with the riders who came over for it last year – Marcel Kittel, etcetera – that it’s well thought of on the continent.

“They’re still blown away by the reception they get from the fans here.

“For the British teams, it’s a great shop window for their younger riders who have the chance to impress over the three days and elevate their careers to where they want them to be.”

JLT Condor hope to be one of a half-dozen British teams lining up on the startline in Beverley on Friday, April 29, against the likes of Team Sky and BMC Racing from the elite tier of the peloton, who have already confirmed their return for the second Tour de Yorkshire.

Getting a man in the top 10 of the general classification is one of the main aims of JLT, and to facilitate that goal, Downing expects to lean heavily on a reliable source.

“Russ is the most experienced rider in our team,” he said of his brother.

“The younger riders will look to him for advice and support and I’ll look to him to be our race captain.

“He can sense the cross-winds before any of the younger riders, his anticipation will be sharp and he can get the younger riders to rally around him.

“As teenagers, Russ and I were at each other’s throats, but racing brought us closer together.

“What’s great now is that when we race together we know what the other one is thinking.

“Hopefully, that intuition rubs off on JLT.”

In preparation for the Tour de Yorkshire, the Downing brothers and their JLT team-mate Tom Moses, of Keighley, reconnoitred the 135.5km second stage from Otley to Doncaster.

“On paper it looks quite an easy stage but it’s a bit bumpy and it could throw up a few surprises,” said the team chief.

“There’s a lot of areas where the cross-winds could cause havoc.

“From South Elmsall onwards that last 40k is quite lumpy.

“It’s going to be an interesting second day. It’s not the toughest stage, that looks to be stage three from Middlesbrough to Scarborough – it’s the longest and has most climbs.

“But stage two might throw up a surprise or two – and, hopefully, we’re ready.”