Climbers and fast finishers fly flag for Yorkshire

Ben Swift
Ben Swift
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With the 2014 Tour de France route to be revealed, we look at a quartet of Yorkshiremen to keep an eye on

Prior to Bradley Wiggins’s victory in last year’s Tour de France, British success stories in the world’s greatest endurance race were restricted to brief outbursts of isolated excellence – often achieved by the good folk of Yorkshire.

Tommy Simpson of Doncaster is arguably the most famous, due to the heady mix of triumph and disaster. Simpson wore the yellow jersey for a day in 1962, but met his death on the slopes of Mont Ventoux chasing overall victory five years later.

Operating in the same era was Huddersfield’s Brian Robinson, who was the first Briton to finish the great race and the first to win a stage.

Until Mark Cavendish came along and blew his record out of the water, the total of eight stage wins accumulated between 1967 and 1975 by Wakefield’s Barry Hoban stood for more than a quarter of a century as the best haul by a British rider.

Malcolm Elliott was not as successful as the three before him, but the Sheffield cyclist rode in the 1987 and 1988 Tours.

Rotherham’s Ben Swift completed the Tour de France at the first attempt in 2011, as part of Wiggins’s Team Sky.

And as the 2014 Tour hones into view, Swift is one of four young riders from the host county of the Grand Depart who could cycle where no Yorkshireman has gone before – riding the Tour de France in the Broad Acres he grew up in.

So here is that Yorkshire quartet you could be cheering to glory on the roads around your home county next summer.

Adam Blythe

The 23-year-old from Sheffield may not be the highest-profile of British riders but he is well regarded in the peloton and has the added carrot of competing for a high-powered team.

Cadel Evans won the 2011 Tour de France with the US-based team which is also home to world road champion Philippe Gilbert.

Blythe rode the Giro d’Italia twice with former team Omega Pharma-Lotto before joining BMC last year, so has some experience of a three-week grand tour.

On joining BMC last year, the young prospect who began cycling with the Sheffield Phoenix club, won a couple of classics in Europe and a stage of the Paris to Correze.

A thigh injury curtailed much of his summer last season, meaning that now fully fit, he hopes to hit the ground running this year to establish his credentials in a competitive team.

“I’ve got Qatar, Oman, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, and then see how we go from there really,” he said. “I’ve just got to prove myself, and show that I’m going well, and that if I want to win some races I can win some races. I’ve done my (training) programme to try and show that I’m up for it, so hopefully I’ll be on good form, and we’ll see for the classics.”

A fast finisher, Blythe’s strengths lie in his sprinting.

Josh Edmondson

The up-and-coming member of the Yorkshire quartet, Edmondson signed for British squad Team Sky last year and is widely regarded as a genuine prospect.

The Leeds-born 20-year-old is a climbing specialist, which suits Sky who are establishing themselves as a climbing team.

Edmondson moved to Italy two years ago to learn his trade and he returned home last September to lay down a significant marker in the Tour of Britain, with a number of sustained attacks.

He also finished on the podium at the national Under-23 road championships last year, and was fourth at the junior world equivalent in 2010. His first year as a neo-pro with Sky is about further developing his skill-set.

“I think the first year is a lot about settling in and learning to be part of the team,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone and further appreciating how to race at this level.”

On signing Edmondson, Sky’s team principal Dave Brailsford said: “With the coaching and support staff on Team Sky, Josh is in the best possible place to continue his development and we look forward to watching him grow as a rider.”

Ben Swift

The most experienced of Yorkshire’s riders in the professional peloton, Swift has rode in all three of the sport’s grand tours and is the most likely to ride at home next summer.

He rode the Giro d’Italia as a novice with Katusha in 2009 and then finished the Tour de France on his debut two years later, finishing sixth on the 15th stage and later attacking in front of the cameras on the Champs Elysees.

Swift won five races around the world in 2011. Last year, he was the team’s designated sprinter at the Vuelta Espana and missed out on a win on the 18th stage when he was pipped on the line.

Having flip-flopped between track and road last year – he won a world title on the track – Swift not only missed out on a place in the Olympics but also put pressure on his own shoulders to do well this year to maintain his place on one of the best-equipped teams.S

Scott Thwaites

Arguably the longest shot of the White Rose riders, Thwaites is nonetheless a man not be discounted.

Along with Rotherham’s Russell Downing – who will be nearly 36 by the time of the 2014 Tour – he has joined NetApp Endura, a recently-merged team who are trying to force their way into the elite.

Thwaites, 22, from Burley-in-Wharfedale, is a two-time winner of the Otley Grand Prix and will mainly concentrate on the classic races this year with the prospect of a grand tour coming further down the line.

Thwaites is a fast finisher, but also very capable of competing on the hills, something all Yorkshire’s professional cyclists are adept at.