Tour de Yorkshire: Cavendish relishing his White Rose return

Mark Cavendish of Dimension Data speaks to the media.
Mark Cavendish of Dimension Data speaks to the media.
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Mark Cavendish was in confident, effusive mood on the eve of the fourth annual Tour de Yorkshire.

The greatest sprinter in the history of cycling was even making jokes about the last time he raced in the White Rose county and that collarbone-disclocating crash he suffered in Harrogate on stage one of the 2014 Tour de France.

A general view of the Tour de Yorkshire press conference inside the Leeds Civic Hall.

A general view of the Tour de Yorkshire press conference inside the Leeds Civic Hall.

And as four days of racing gets underway in Beverley on Thursday morning, the Manx Missile was at pains to stress he is fully recovered from another jarring tumble, one seven weeks ago that resulted in a broken rib and threatened his participation in this year’s Tour de Yorkshire.

But while he might not admit it, there is a sense of unfinished business for one of British cycling’s biggest names, one that possibly helped motivate him to get back into the saddle 10 days earlier than initially scheduled.

Four years ago his was the name on everyone’s lips as the Grand Depart of the Tour de France finished in the home town of his mother Adele.

Back then he was all business, eschewing the chance to wax lyrical about his romantic backstory before his bid to don the yellow jersey for the first time was shattered on the tarmac of Parliament Street in Harrogate.

Last night at the Civic Hall in Leeds prior to the team presentation in Millennium Square, Cavendish was at his charming best, saying all the right things about his fitness, his delight in being back in Yorkshire and the importance in the calendar of one of the sport’s fastest growing events.

“I’m so excited to be here. It’s my first time racing Tour de Yorkshire, I was sick last year so couldn’t ride it, but it’s made my life that I’m able to come and ride here,” said the 32-year-old former world champion.

“My mother was born here, I spent a lot of time here when I was a youngster. It was the most spectacular Grand Depart here and one of the highlights of my career starting here in 2014. Obviously it didn’t end well, but I know how great the atmosphere was.

“I watched the Tour de Yorkshire on television last year and it’s incredible what (race organiser) Sir Gary Verity and the team do, it’s exactly what cycling needs to move forward.

“The race is showcasing what a beautiful place Yorkshire is.

“Televising the women’s race and giving that equal prize money is exactly what cycling needs to move forward.

“I’m so proud to be racing in a place that I have heritage in.”

Whether Cavendish features at the sharp end of the race depends on his fitness. He has been lured here for his overdue debut by the expansion of the race to four days, with that extra stage being a second one for the sprinters.

Thursday’s 182km opener from Beverley to Doncaster concludes in a sprint along South Parade, while Saturday’s third stage returns to the seafront in Scarborough, a familar finishing straight of the Tour de Yorkshire.

“Day one into Doncaster is one of my targets straight away,” said Cavendish, who has won 30 stages at the Tour de France.

“With the lay-off, I’m hoping my form’s not too bad but it does take a bit of racing to get to your top end, but I’ll certainly be giving it 100 per cent.

“We might see a reduced sprint into Scarborough on Saturday, but I’d certainly like to be on the front of that. The finish at the Cow and Calf in Ilkley is going to determine the favourites for Sunday, that’s for sure.

“Other than that, I don’t know the roads like the back of my hand because I wasn’t riding a bike back when I was coming here.

“I do know one part of a road in Harrogate better than most people though... but fortunately we’re not in Harrogate this year.”

Joking aside, a Cavendish victory would go a long way to exorcising the demons of 2014, and would also delight the home crowds and the race organisers, who have been trying for the past three years to get one of cycling’s box office stars on their startline.

The fourth staging of this race will not be without its headline acts, despite it clashing with the first grand tour of the year, the Giro d’Italia, beginning in Jerusalem on Friday.

If Cavendish is the man to watch in the sprints, the overall picture could well focus on Belgium’s Greg van Avermaet.

The BMC Racing rider is the reigning Olympic road race champion and was second on stage two of the Tour de France into Sheffield four years ago.

On his only previous appearance at the Tour de Yorkshire he finished second on the final stage into Leeds in 2015. If he goes one better at the end of a stage known as the Yorkshire Terrier on Sunday he will slip his arms into the winner’s blue jersey.

“It’s a really good course for me and my style of racing,” said van Avermaet last night.

A strong home county contingent includes Rotherham’s Ben Swift who has unfinished business of his own having crashed out of the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire on day one.

“I’m a bit of an unknown as I’m coming back from injury but when I got the chance to ride Tour de Yorkshire I jumped at it.”

It all gets underway today at 8.40am in Market Square, Beverley, when 120 women begin stage one of their own expanded two-day race.

“It’s an amazing showcase for women’s cycling,” said Dani Rowe, one of a glut of British and international stars.