WHEN eventual winner Greg van Avermaet confirmed his attendance at the Tour de Yorkshire it was easy to think the Belgian was coming to the county with one eye on next year.
Van Avermaet is, after all, the Olympic road race champion, a winner of Monument Classics and two stages of the Tour de France.
Next September’s UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire, therefore, would show up large on the radar of one of the finest one-day cyclists on the planet.
But any thoughts he was coming to the fourth annual Tour de Yorkshire purely to get a feel for next year were misplaced.
Van Avermaet’s overall victory, after three top-10 finishes and a commanding ride on the punishing final stage from Halifax to Leeds, highlighted his huge respect for a race that is growing in stature, among the peloton and cycling insiders, with every edition.
“My main motivation was the spectators because I know how many people come here,” said the 32-year-old BMC rider, who has finished second on four occasions in races in Yorkshire.
“I was here for the Tour de France, the first Tour de Yorkshire and what I remember is a great atmosphere and fun riding. It’s an open race, maybe not the strongest field, but we have a lot of fun and we try to race as hard as possible.”
Van Avermaet certainly did just that over the course of the four days as he started to build a body of stage work ahead of his primary goal for the season, July’s Tour de France.
He was second on the Tour de Yorkshire’s first summit finish up the Cow and Calf in Ilkley last Friday, eighth into Scarborough the following afternoon and runner-up to lone winner Stephane Rossetto on the Headrow two days ago.
Active throughout the entire four days, he says it is the variety of challenge the Tour de Yorkshire presents its cyclists that lured back the Classics specialist.
This year’s men’s race, expanded to four days for the first time, offered two sprint stages and two more suited to the strong men and climbers.
“It was pretty similar to three years ago, there was just an even bigger crowd,” said Van Avermaet of this year’s spectacle, which was watched by an estimated 2.6m fans at the roadside, including 900,000 on the final day.
“I really like the parcours (route) now that it’s four days, it opens up the race and makes it more interesting to watch.
“It’s a better standard of parcours than some races you get on the continent.
“This race has a lot of potential because of the crowds.
“Cycling is a sport of the people and it’s great to see so many people supporting the race.”
The Broad Acres will host two major events on the cycling calendar next year with the Tour de Yorkshire acting as a rehearsal for the World Championships.
Nobody has yet won back-to-back Tours de Yorkshire and Van Avermaet is not ruling out an attempt to retain his winner’s blue jersey.
He said: “I will see. We still have to see how the programme pans out, but I think if I have a chance then maybe I will come back to defend this title.”
Read Peter Smith’s interview with Ben Swift: Page 19