Tour de Yorkshire: Geared up to take on cycling’s elite in Yorkshire

NFTO Pro Cycling Team on a recce of Stage 2 of the 2016 Tour de Yorkshire from Otley to Doncaster in January. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
NFTO Pro Cycling Team on a recce of Stage 2 of the 2016 Tour de Yorkshire from Otley to Doncaster in January. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
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Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan may be otherwise engaged this weekend, but the Tour de Yorkshire still boasts a cast list certain to thrill the crowds and strike fear into their opponents this weekend.

Take national champion Pete Kennaugh of Team Sky, or Steve Cummings riding for Dimension Data, two of the biggest British names on show when the first wheels are turned in anger in Beverley this morning.

Take Bernie Eisel and Matt Renshaw, also of Dimension Data, Warren Barguil at Giant-Alpecin, the Australian duo of Paris-Roubaix winner Matthew Hayman and sprint prospect Caleb Ewan at OricaGreenEdge, and what you have is a who’s who of the world’s peloton.

Eighteen teams will ride out of Beverley today on a 185km journey that takes in Spalding Moor, Tadcaster, Wetherby, Greenhow Hill and Gargrave before a sprint finish into Settle.

Seven of those are battle-hardened grand tour teams – BMC, Katusha and Lotto-NL Jumbo joining the aformenetioned outfits – for whom the three-week epics of France, Italy and Spain are their traditional stomping ground.

A Tour de Yorkshire is a chance for these big guns to express their squad depth and flex their muscles, as was demonstrated last year when the world’s elite produced all three stage winners on the inaugural jaunt around the White Rose county.

The formidable challenge for the remaining 11 teams – largely made up of British pro-continental squads – is to live with these guys, to get their sponsored jerseys on the television coverage, and if luck would have it, to make the most of the recent wintry storms and pinch a podium or two.

That is certainly the objective of NFTO ProCycling, a Yorkshire-based outfit for whom the tour of their home county represents the biggest race of the year.

Yesterday, as Sir Bradley Wiggins and other star names fulfilled media obligations in the final prompotional push, the riders and staff of NFTO were locked away in a hotel in York, plotting how to go about rising out of the pack and surprising the world tour elite.

“Obviously it’s very challenging to win a stage given the strength of the world tour teams,” began Tom Barrass, NFTO’s first-year sporting director who knows full well the conversations he was having with his eight riders was being echoed across team meetings throughout the Tour de Yorkshire peloton.

“I won’t let you in on the exact game plan but from a team manager’s perspective, I want someone on the podium this weekend; either in a stage, or for the points jersey or the King of the Mountains.

“There’s no bigger stage than this for us and we want to make sure we’re in the hunt.

“We’ve certainly got the quality, with local lad Josh Edmondson who was previously with Team Sky, and the likes of Ian Bibby, who won the jersey last year for most aggressive rider.

“The good thing about our team is we don’t have a weak link.

“So we are very optimistic, and the beauty of cycling is that anything can happen.

“Can we surprise the big teams? We might get someone in a break and that break might last the duration of a stage and it could then turn into a sprint between those few riders.

“There’s no reason why we can’t beat a world tour team.

“And to be honest, it’s a strong list of British teams, all of whom have race winners among their number.

“These world tour teams might be coming here with largely domestiques and climbers. They’re not used to winning races as individuals – that might play into our hands.”

Days one and two of this year’s Tour de Yorkshire are built for the sprinters, with stage three into Scarborough on Sunday – which begins in Middlesbrough, the home town of Tom’s father and fellow NFTO team manager Sid – asking questions of the riders with a number of punchy climbs.

One not-so secret objective of NFTO will be to get a rider in the break, not just for exposure , but also to stretch the race. “Maybe by doing that we can open it up a little, give our guys in the bunch a chance when it comes to the end,” added Barrass.

“There won’t be a team on the startline more honoured than us. But there also won’t be a team on the startline more driven.”

It is a statement that will resonate among the entire field of more than 140 riders, for whom the Tour de Yorkshire and the race for the blue jersey represents a glorious opportunity.