The most star-studded field ever assembled for a Tour de Yorkshire heads to the startlines in Doncaster and Barnsley over the next two days for the fifth edition of the annual celebration of cycling.
Four-times Tour de France winner Chris Froome and the most successful sprinter in the history of that race, Mark Cavendish, headline a men’s event that beats a path from Doncaster to Leeds from Thursday until Sunday.
And Yorkshire’s own Lizzie Deignan, the former road race world champion, is the box office draw in the women’s race that gets underway in Barnsley on FridaY morning and culminates on the Scarborough seafront on Saturday afternoon.
The passionate Yorkshire crowds, the challenging terrain, the elevation of the men’s race to HC status in the calendar – one rung below the World Tour – and equal prize money for both men and women are chief among the reasons the big names have come back to the Broad Acres.
Throw in the chance to ride the finishing circuit for the UCI Road World Championship races in Harrogate later this year – with tomorrow’s stage representing the last opportunity to reconnoitre that route in race conditions – and the Tour de Yorkshire has proven a big draw for some of the world’s best cyclists.
“I would have come anyway,” said Cavendish at the Eve of Tour press conference last night, when asked by The Yorkshire Post how much of an influence the world championships had on his decision to contest the Tour de Yorkshire for a second successive year.
“I spent a lot of time here as a child and you always get an incredible welcome.
“Yorkshire people are the friendliest in the world and you feel that when you’re out competing on the road, even when you’re suffering.”
Cavendish accepts he may do a fair bit of that over 617.5km across the next four days, especially as he manages his comeback from a long spell out with a virus. Froome might be better equipped to tackle the notably punchy climbs of a Yorkshire race as he makes his competitive return to the county for the first time since the 2014 Tour de France.
His absence over the first four years of the race has owed more to the Tour’s proximity to the Giro d’Italia and Tour of Romandie, which are his traditional appointments at this time of year, but there were two contributing factors to his decision to come back.
“Typically this time of year I’d be doing Tour of Romandie but that has become less of a general classification kind of race,” said Froome. “It’s become a lot more punchy which you get in Yorkshire as well, so I figured if it doesn’t really change much in terms of my prep, I’d prefer to come to Yorkshire this year.
“And, realistically, while there’s very little chance of me winning (the road race world title) in September, I’d love to be part of that British team helping one of my team-mates put on that rainbow jersey.
“So it’s good to be here now and get a feel of the roads just in terms of my preparation for doing that job in September.
“But generally I’m very happy to be here in Yorkshire, it’s such a strong cycling venue and such a big draw for fans.”
Froome will be sporting the colours of Team Ineos this week, the controversial multinational chemicals company accused of using sport to “greenwash” its name given its interests in fracking and its status as a large-scale producer of plastic.
Anti-fracking protests are expected along the route over the next few days but Froome – for so long the standard-bearer for the dominant Team Sky before they were taken over by Ineos – is concentrating on the cycling.
“There are going to be tens of thousands of people out on the roads, and I’m going to be focused on that positive energy,” said Froome.
“The fact that people are going to be coming out to celebrate sport, to bring their families out for a great day out, those are the things I’m going to be focused on.”
One rider sure to attract the biggest groundswell of support from the general public is Otley’s Deignan, nee Armitstead, the 2015 world champion and 2017 Asda Tour de Yorkshire Women’s Race winner who is a month into her competitive comeback after giving birth to daughter Orla last September.
“I’m optimistic about this week,” said Deignan, whose biggest challenge now and later this year is likely to come from Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen of the Netherlands.
“I’m not as strong as I was in 2017 but as we all know, anything can happen on Yorkshire’s roads.”
Connor Swift: Page 23
Fracking protests: Page 3