Organisers of the Tour de Yorkshire have launched ambitious plans to accelerate the growth of the event next year with a further stage for the men and the biggest prize fund in women’s cycling.
Gary Verity MBE – the man who brought the Tour de France to the White Rose in 2014 – wants to run the county’s legacy race over four days next year after the success of the inaugural three-day event over the Bank Holiday weekend in May.
Eight teams currently contesting the Tour de France raced from Scarborough to Leeds and Verity is confident they can attract up to three more teams in 2016, with the proposed extra day being one for the sprinters, like home favourite Mark Cavendish – whose Etixx-QuickStep team were not involved earlier this year.
Verity is also keen to exploit a gap in the market by promoting women’s cycling beyond anything currently on offer, with a lucrative prize pot that will narrow the gender gap on the men.
Verity says he has the backing of all eight borough councils that will host start and finishes at the 2016 Tour de Yorkshire and hopes to announce those sites in September.
Those still to be convinced are British Cycling, who want to ensure the race has a sustainable future and delivers a participation legacy. In their view, improving the three-day model is a better strategy for the immediate future than ploughing ahead into a fourth day.
But Verity has operated outside the governing body’s remit before, most notably bringing the Grand Depart of the Tour de France to Yorkshire last summer with an independent bid that defeated the British Cycling-backed Edinburgh campaign.
Verity is also keen to allay any fears that Yorkshire’s race would compete with the British Cycling-backed Tour of Britain in September, stressing that there is room in the calendar for two races at opposite ends of the summer.
While he appreciates the need to work with the sport’s power brokers to help grow cycling, Verity has urged British Cycling to give his proposal the green light.
“It’s a no-brainer. The public in Yorkshire wants it to be four days and the riders want it to be four days,” said Verity.
“UK participation levels in cycling have dropped, except for in Yorkshire. This region is a success for British Cycling and we will do all we can to support (British Cycling president) Bob Howden by getting the numbers to grow further in Yorkshire, and do our best to transform women’s cycling.
“The Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of Britain are not in direct competition. You can have two great races on opposite sides of the calendar. The races should be able to complement each other.
“I’ve spoken to (UCI president) Brian Cookson and he is very supportive. Dave Brailsford thinks it’s a brilliant idea.
“I’ve spoken to some of the riders and teams and the backing we have received for the expansion is fantastic.
“We have got the support of the UCI (world governing body) and ASO (co-organisers of the Tour de Yorkshire), so if we have got their support, and that of the teams, it would be absolutely inconceivable for it to be blocked.”
Verity hopes an expansion to the race will result in a greater cast list.
The inaugural Tour de Yorkshire was graced by five world tour teams including Team Sky, BMC Racing and Giant Shimano, with pro-continental and British teams fleshing out the peloton.
“We want two flat stages and two hilly stages,” said Verity. “We want two days for the sprinters to entice people like Mark Cavendish. Eight teams at this year’s Tour de France rode our race and we want at least that number again.
“The ones that came this year will come again and I’ve already had word from three other teams that they are keen.”
Delivering a women’s race that will attract the best in the world is key to the growth of the event.
Verity hopes that with sponsors’ money, the Tour de Yorkshire can have an elite field including the likes of Otley heroine Lizzie Armitstead and Olympic champion Marianne Vos.
“We are very ambitious about the women’s race,” said Verity, who confirmed the women would race on the same course as one of the men’s stages.
“I was shocked at the level of prize money women’s cyclists receive in comparison to the men.We want to change that. Our aim is to make it the most lucrative women’s cycle race in the world.”
British Cycling are said to be ‘delighted’ by the prospect of a women’s race with greater status but offered caution with regards the men’s expansion.
A spokesman said: “Our major events strategy is built on two principles – that events are sustainable in the long-term and that there is a solid and funded plan to deliver a participation legacy.
“While we welcome the ambition for the Tour de Yorkshire, we believe efforts are better focussed on, firstly, ensuring the race is as good as it can be in its current format and, secondly, delivering real benefits for Yorkshire by getting more people on their bikes.”