The race organisers have planned a route which includes the toughest day in the Tour’s three-year history.
Stage three will take the already weary peloton from Bradford to Sheffield and challenge them with eight classified climbs, four of them in the final 20 kilometres. The demanding nature of the course guarantees a tense finale with the destination of the overall winner’s jersey likely to be decided in the closing moments.
Pete Williams, who lives in Skipton and rides for the ONE Pro Cycling team, was King of the Mountains in the 2015 Tour of Britain and wore the climber’s jersey after stage one at last year’s Tour de Yorkshire, but even he is casting nervous glances at the final day’s profile.
“It is horrific,” he said of the 194.5km slog, which includes more than 3,500metres of ascent. “It is the hardest stage so far. I don’t know how many guys are going to be left in contention, but it is certainly going to be one of the hardest days of the year for a lot of guys.”
The stage seems to have been designed to give the lie to any impression among continental riders that England is flat. There was criticism the opening stage of the inaugural 2015 Tour de Yorkshire was too hard and organisers Welcome to Yorkshire and Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) have shown they are willing to push riders to their limits, but Williams has no complaints.
“It’s good to have a selling points,” said the 30-year-old, who is ever-present in the Tour so far. “You can have flat races in Belgium that are some of the hardest in the world because they just race flat out. The roads here just lend themselves to a hard course. It is definitely not flat in Yorkshire, I can vouch for that.”
Williams – who was born in Southport, but moved to Skipton to be closer to the cycling-friendly roads of North and West Yorkshire – finished 70th overall in 2015 and was 81st last year, having worn the climber’s jersey on the second stage.
He is relishing the chance to race on home roads for a third successive year and will have plenty of support, particularly when the second stage finishes in Harrogate.
“We race away a lot and friends and family don’t get chance to watch you race that often, so racing close to home is nice to do,” he said.
“Two of the stages go pretty close to home, so I am going to have to get stuck in. I am looking forward to it.”
Williams admitted last year’s appearance on the stage one podium is a tough act to follow, but he is hopeful of giving a good account of himself.
“I have not done as much racing this year as last year so it’s hard to say how my form compares, but it seems to be coming on well,” he said.
The Tour de Yorkshire is a legacy of the Tour de France’s visit to the county in 2014. The huge crowds that turned out for the Grand Depart have been replicated as the White Rose’s own race and more than a million fans are expected to line the roads this weekend.
The race begins in Bridlington on Friday, with a stage finish on the seafront at Scarborough. Day two is from Tadcaster to Harrogate and is expected to culminate in a bunch sprint before the race will be decided in Sheffield’s Fox Valley on Sunday afternoon.
“It is good that everyone seems to have taken it on board,” Williams said of his home county’s enthusiasm for the sport.
“Cafes have Tour de Yorkshire specials on and the signs out and it’s good that everybody’s getting behind it, not just cyclists.
“It is a real community event and that is what it is like in France and Belgium – they see it as a festival day out and it is getting like that here.”