Without a Yorkshireman winning the men’s race, a lad from Wigan is about as close as it gets as Chris Lawless – traditionally a sprinter – bested everything the White Rose county could throw at him over two gruelling days to win the fifth edition of the race.
He did not win a stage, but he finished second on a rain-lashed race into Scarborough on Saturday and then 24 hours later defended the leader’s blue jersey right up to the line, beaten only by the defending champion Greg van Avermaet, who clinched the stage win onto the Headrow.
Lawless’s win was the perfect response to anti-fracking protesters who had peacefully made their point at the start and finishes of all four stages across the Broad Acres.
In Doncaster on the opening day the squad formerly known as environmentally-friendly Team Sky were booed when they were introduced pre-race as Team Ineos after the buyout by the multinational chemical company responsible for fracking for shale gas in parts of Yorkshire.
If it was a greeting that broke from the tradition of how they are usually welcomed in a home race, out on the road where they prefer to do their talking Sky/Ineos were unflappable as they have been for much of the past decade in the world’s biggest races.
Unflustered in the opening stages as Jesper Asselman won into Selby and Rick Zabel outpaced the bunch into Bedale, Ineos began asserting themselves on the windswept coastal roads into Scarborough on Saturday.
Lawless was visibly livid with himself that he lost a sprint to Alexander Kamp as the waves crashed on the seafront on Saturday night, the 23-year-old Briton lifting his front tyre and smashing it into the tarmac.
But it was a phone call from the Ineos headmaster that kept the young pupil’s emotions in check.
“I had a chat on the phone with Dave Brailsford last night,” said Lawless.
“He said, ‘there’s two ways this can go, you can either concentrate on the negatives or you can look at the situation we are in’.
“He said I could do it and I just had to believe in myself.”
For 170km yesterday of a stage known as ‘The Yorkshire Terrier’ Lawlless still did not believe the overall win was possible.
But after watching a much-vaunted team-mate like Chris Froome work for him by upping the ante on Otley Chevin, and then an even younger team-mate in Irishman Eddie Dunbar set the pace at the front of the breakaway, Lawless finally realised this was his chance.
“I only started believing about 5km to go, it was that late,” he said.
By then he and Dunbar had sandwiched van Avermaet and the race was on.
“I really needed Greg to race as well. Sitting on his wheel was proving hard. Once me and Greg got across to Eddie I just told him to keep going. He’d already put in 20k on his own.”
Van Avermaet won the sprint along the Headrow, the Belgian cementing his status as one of this county’s favourite international riders with a stage win to back up last year’s overall victory.
But just a bike length behind the Olympic champion, Lawless also punched the air in salute of a victory that four days ago he never thought possible.
“To have my first GC win at a home race is unbelievable,” said Lawless.
“I’ve started every Tour de Yorkshire and finished all but one, last year, when I went over a roadside barrier and sliced my arm open.
“So to win it, I’m almost speechless. I’ve always had good memories of this race, the fans are always really supportive.
“I thought people were shouting for Froomey when they were shouting Chris, but I heard a few Lawless’s in there.”
The few anti-fracking protestors apart, Froome was cheered from Baggaby Hill to Robin Hood’s Bay on his Tour de Yorkshire debut.
“I don’t get the opportunity to race in Britain much so I have really enjoyed it and it was great to be riding in front of a home crowd,” said the four-time Tour de France winner.
“Even more of a surprise was getting the victory here in our first race as Team Ineos.
“I am really proud of how all the lads rode, especially Chris.”
Further down the GC, Burley-in-Wharfedale’s Scott Thwaites came home eighth for Vitus ProCycling while Doncaster’s national champion Connor Swift of Madison Genesis was ninth, both having featured heavily on a final stage that again highlighted the strength of the Tour de Yorkshire as a premier event.