Tour de Yorkshire: Unheralded Belgian vindicated as Yorkshire impresses in spotlight

Belgian Serge Pauwels, a Grand Tour domestique for Dimension Data, broke clear over the final climbs into Sheffield to take overall victory on another uplifting weekend at the Tour de Yorkshire.

Team Dimension Data's Serge Pauwels (right) wins Stage Three of the Tour de Yorkshire. (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

Pauwels claimed the crowning moment of a career spent supporting the top names on the world’s biggest stages with a gutsy break 11km from home.

The biggest winner though was the Tour de Yorkshire itself. Crowded roadsides, welcoming but capricious spring weather and another three days of eventful and demanding racing underlined further the growing spectacle of the White Rose county’s premier free-to-watch sporting event.

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Now in its third year, the Tour shows no signs of slowing down.

Competitors on the hills above Burnsall in the Yorkshire Dales National Park during Stage Three of the Tour de Yorkshire.

If anything it is growing; in the span of the county it reaches, the development of the women’s race and the continued credence given to it by World Tour teams.

Organisers Welcome to Yorkshire – together with the Amaury Sports Organisation – have shown they are here to stay with the Tour de Yorkshire, that the legacy of the Tour de France Grand Depart is no flash in the pan.

What they need, and deserve, now, is their wish for four days for the men and two days for the women to be granted.

British Cycling are the stumbling block – the governing body saying previously that they wanted the Tour to show it could help sustain the wider impacts on cycling beyond the race itself.

Team Dimension Data's Omar Fraile (right) finishes second as team-mate Serge Pauwels (left) wins Stage Three of the Tour de Yorkshire.

They also want the Tour to prove it has a lasting impact – something it surely did this weekend – and to put it bluntly, that organisers should walk before they run.

Yet if anything, the Tour de Yorkshire is ready to sprint and will do so by filing paperwork seeking an extension to four days with the UCI, the world’s governing body, by May 15.

“There’s a lot of support from the riders, from our sponsors and from the public,” said Sir Gary Verity, the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire and the county’s champion of cycling.

“These are the biggest crowds we have had for a Tour de Yorkshire. A lot of people have asked me in the run up to the Tour if the recent negativity about cycling would affect the interest and the crowds.

Competitors on the hills above Burnsall in the Yorkshire Dales National Park during Stage Three of the Tour de Yorkshire.

“I think we’ve given an emphatic answer to that.”

The Tour’s great strength is its women’s race, with a boundary-busting prize pool and an elite field, headlined by Saturday’s winner and local heroine Lizzie Deignan, the former world champion.

If the Tour de Yorkshire wants for anything, it is a stellar men’s field to match the women’s race and the level of enthusiasm shown by the eager crowds.

This year’s field may have had the team heavyweights of Sky, BMC and Orica, but aside from maybe Caleb Ewan at the latter, the big teams do not send their biggest names, primarily because of the Tour’s place in the calendar, one week before the three-week Giro d’Italia.

Team Dimension Data's Omar Fraile (right) finishes second as team-mate Serge Pauwels (left) wins Stage Three of the Tour de Yorkshire.

That may change next year and in 2019 particularly as the world’s best start to focus more sharply on the Broad Acres in preparation for that year’s UCI Road World Championships on these roads.

One man who will feel he has an edge on the rest will be Pauwels who emerged from the shadows of being a support rider for bigger names like Mark Cavendish, to claim the first major win of his career.

“Two wins in one,” he laughed at the post-race press conference, which appropriately considering the surroundings in the industrial north of Sheffield, was held on the ground floor of Tata Steel’s Paragon Centre.

The two wins referenced by the 33-year-old were the stage three victory and the overall win which came with it. “On the climbs, nobody was able to make a difference,” said Pauwels, who broke clear 11km from home on the descent from the Cote de Wigtwizzle.

“My director-sportif Roger Hammond told me ‘don’t you dare look back’, so I didn’t.”

Pauwels’ team-mate Omar Fraile of Spain came home second ahead of Frenchman Jonathan Hivert, and the win itself owed much to the team dynamic at Dimension Data, embodied by their Yorkshire-born Classics specialist Scott Thwaites.

Thwaites, who admitted to having ‘butterflies’ when the race swept through his hometown of Burley-in-Wharfedale earlier in the stage, took his turn on the front over those brutal final climbs in the last 16km.

“Everybody contributed to the win and to get a one-two is really impressive,” said Thwaites.

“There were a lot of dangerous teams so it was down to me to control the group and I managed to slim it down to 25 riders, which was the idea.

“We had four riders in there so we had plenty of options.”

There were other storylines from an absorbing final day.

Skipton’s Pete Williams of OnePro Cycling busied himself in the early break up a heaving Shibden Wall; Nacer Bouhanni, the winner of stage two into Harrogate, was knocked unconscious after a heavy fall coming out of Wortley but was said to have regained consciousness on the way to hospital.

Dexter Gardias of Bike Channel Canyon gave that fledgling British team more exposure after he was named on social media as the race’s most active rider, 24 hours after his team-mate Harry Tanfield of Great Ayton had earned similar public acclaim.

But the final word goes to the bravest man in the race, who – as is now becoming customary for professional cyclists visiting Yorkshire – was effusive in his praise of the thousands who lined the roadside.

“I’ve cycled all around the world and my favourite three crowds are for the Classics in Belgium, those in the Basque Country and here in Yorkshire,” said Pauwels. “My boss said he wanted me to go to the Tour of Romandie to warm up for the Tour de France. I said ‘No. I want to go to Yorkshire.”

Decision vindicated.