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By ‘eck, it’s t’Tour of Yorkshire!

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One man's personal look at a new race with bags of promise and a stunning backdrop

Tour de Yorkshire 2016 - Stage Three Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Will and Conor have covered Romandie, and there’s no doubt that’s the star attraction this week, but there’s a little stage race in Yorkshire that starts on Friday. Honestly? It is only three stages, the start list isn’t great, and your attention should definitely be focused on Switzerland. Despite that, I like this race, because it happens where I grew up, and it reminds me of the amazing Tour de France depart in 2014. Also, there’s something hilarious about seeing hills you have known all your life suddenly rendered by ASO as “Cotes”. Self-indulgent though this is, therefore, a stage by stage look at the race, with as much local colour as I can crowbar in. One thing I do know you’ll like is some beer thoughts – Yorkshire may not be a traditional cycling heartland but it is a traditional beer heartland.

Local bias aside, I think this is a race with potential to grow. Clearly the level of fandom for cycling in the UK is huge at the moment and it is good to see ASO capitalising on that. Yorkshire is the obvious place to put a race – there is good access from most of the UK for fans and it is easy enough for the teams to manage logistics. Finally and most significantly, the route this year is different from last year, and still interesting. That's because there are hills all over Yorkshire (Pennines, Dales, Moors, Peaks, Clevelands, Wolds, Cheviots - though some of these are the same areas with multiple names), most of which come complete with roads, market towns, and silly names.

Let’s begin

Stage 1 – Bridlington to Scarbrough

What’s the route?

A punchy stage between two seaside towns, this isn’t a coatal route. The peloton swing inland from Bridlington, with Garrowby Hill, the largest “peak” in the Yorkshire Wolds the first obstacle. They then move over the moors before rejoining the coast at Whitby, and dashing through Robin Hood’s Bay to the finish in Scarbrough, more famed for spas, fish and chips and (sorry) a cricket festival than it is for cycling.

from letour.fr

Who’ll win?

The big factor here is weather. The moors aren’t mountainous but they are up and down and they are exposed. If it gets wet or blowy we’ll see a broken up peloton. If not, although there are some spiky bits this should be one for the fast men. The forecast currently says it won’t rain too much. Groenewegen, Bouhanni and Ewan are the international sprint stars, with Blythe and a stable of British fastmen providing competition. I’d expect Bouhanni to be on the best form and he’s my pick.

Any insights into the course?

My paternal grandparents lived in Driffield, just over Garrowby Hill from my home. It was a big enough hill to have escape routes for old cars to recover from overheating (an exciting thought for a five year old), and both ascent and descent might be fun to watch. Pretty, but not going to decide the race given how long a recovery they'll have through the pan-flat vale of York.

Goathland is the home of Heartbeat (that’s one for the Brits) and also of the Hogwart’s Express (sort of – it provides the trains, Hogsmeade station and some of the route, but they filmed much of it on the West Highland Line in Scotland, too). More relevantly, it is the sharpest ascent in the moors, but too far from the end to matter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take it in the big ring – it is a climb I’ve walked up without any difficulty and I’m no sort of athlete.

The only place the race might blow up is Robin Hood’s Bay. A smuggler’s village, it is buried around a narrow cove and the roads in and out are very steep and quite narrow. There isn’t long to bring the field back together if it does break up. Again, a very pretty place, this is where I spent my first few days of married life. If the back of the field get stuck at the foot of the climb, they’ll be outside an excellent ice cream shop just around the corner from this picture.

A typical Robin Hood's Bay hill
Mike Kemp/Getty Images

What about the beer?

None of the big Yorkshire breweries are on the route, although there are some good microbreweries springing up nearby. They will, however, pass the Black Swan in Pickering, an old coaching inn and a pub I adore. As a youth, I used to have a pint with breakfast in there (before I was legally allowed to do so) after transplanting Dad’s bees onto the moors to get us heather honey.

Stage 2 – Tadcaster to Harrogate

What’s the route?

Starting from Tadcaster, the route heads north-west into the Yorkshire Dales, with the toughest climb of the day coming at the top of Nidderdale, between Ramsgill and Lofthouse (or la Cote de Lofthouse, as we must think of it). They then loop back through Ripon, passing Fountains Abbey and into Harrogate.

from letour.fr

Who’ll win?

This one will be easier for the sprinters and should be between Bouhanni, Ewan and Groenewegen. I’ll say that Ewan should have shaken off the cobwebs and will take this one.

Any insights into the course?

The televised section of this stage is the image people have of Yorkshire – dry stone walls, genteel market towns, beautiful castles. I am, of course, biased, but it is ridiculously pretty and I hope you all enjoy watching it. Fountains Abbey should provide some spectacular heli shots, and there’s something for the history buffs, too – it was one of the richest abbeys pillaged by Henry VIII when he dissolved the monasteries.

Fountains Abbey in sunshine
W Buss/Getty Images

Nidderdale is my favourite place in Yorkshire to walk – it is quieter than the other dales, much of it is given to reservoirs (the peloton will pass Gouthwaite Resevoir just before the main climb) and the food and drink are excellent. If you’ve seen The Trip, Steve and Rob walk on the nearby Malham Cove and Pavement and eat at The Yorke Arms in Ramsgill in the first series – I have too, and the pates and terrines, in particular, are excellent. More relevantly, the fact I enjoy walking there should tell you that Lofthouse is a rolling climb that won’t cause many difficulties for many riders.

Nidderdale, a view and a drystone wall
Tessa Bunney/Getty Images

What about the beer?

There is lots on this stage to get excited about – Masham, around halfway through the stage, is the home of Black Sheep, which was founded by a dissenting member of the Theakston brewing family after Theakstons moved their operations from Masham to Carlisle. It is a lovely pint, but my heart belongs to Sam Smiths.

Tadcaster, the start town, is famed for two large breweries (Bass and John Smiths) as well as Samuel Smiths, founded by the younger Smith brother and made on more traditional lines. All draw their water from the Wharfe, flowing under the bridge at the start. For pubs near Tadcaster (and my local was four miles from the brewery) barrels are still delivered by shire horses and dray. The pub on the brewery site, The Angel and White Horse, fronts onto the main street near the start line, and backs onto the brewery and the stableyard where the horses are still found. It is probably my favourite pub on earth, especially when the log fires are burning.

Horses and Dray by the Angel and White Horse
Victoria Prest/York Evening Press

Stage 3 – Bradford to Fox Valley (Sheffield)

What’s the route?

Starting in Bradford, a city in the West of Yorkshire that sprung up with the textile industry, the field swing north and west through the Pennines, before looping back close to their point of departure and making their way along the spine of hills through West and South Yorkshire to the environs of Sheffield, where they take in a loop with four sharp climbs in the Yorkshire part of the Peak District. The finish is downhill but those four final climbs come within 15km and it’ll be harum-scarum to the line.

from letour.fr

Who’ll win?

This is probably the Queen stage, and it is a wide open affair. My heart says that the local lad (from Rotherham, about ten miles from the finish) and evergreen Russell Downing would be a lovely winner, but my head reminds me that he’s 38 and probably outclassed in this field. If the riders make it tough, there will be a breakaway or a reduced peloton competing for the finish, and my guess is that an elite group will go clear on the final climbs. Ewden Height, in particular, is short and sharp and might be a launch pad.

The WT and Pro-Conti teams all have riders with serious chances (the likes of Planckaert and Mitchell Docker will enjoy this challenge) but I’m going to go with another local boy, Scott Thwaites, to win the stage and the overall. The race passes his home town early in this stage and he’ll know these roads. He should be allowed to ride for himself and a top-20 in Flanders suggests he’s on good form.

Any insights into the course?

The first part of this race will be depressing for me, as I’m no longer as fit as I was when I ran a cross country route around Grassington, the northernmost point on this course. I note that a climb that turned me purple isn’t even classified here. I assume they’ve dug a tunnel (they haven't. I'm just not very fit.).

Expect the commentators to get all “Wuthering” through the middle of this stage as we are deep in Bronte Country around Haworth. More low-brow cultural commentary will be brought to the fore as we approach Holmfirth, where Last of the Summer Wine was filmed. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t had the pleasure, but it is a situation "comedy" about three old men (one of whom was, as far as I'm concerned, a sex-pest) that ran for an inexplicable 31 series. Still, Holmfirth and the surrounding countryside are lovely.

Haworth. Wuthering and hilly.
Photofusion/Getty Images

The race organisers have clearly been at pains to direct the route through the most scenic parts of this stunning county, but don’t listen to the cynics who’ll tell you the towns are ugly. They are industrial, but full of great Victorian architecture and public buildings speaking of an investment the UK no longer makes. Bradford, Halifax and Sheffield are all tremendous. You’ll also get a better curry in Bradford than just about anywhere in Europe, served (if you go to the right places) on a naan bread the size of a pillow case.

Saltaire, Bradford

What about the beer?

There are lots, but only one worth talking about here – my absolute favourite. After about 70km the race speeds through Keighley, a nice enough town and sandwiched between two of the many sharp hills that are a feature of this stage and this area. More importantly, though, it is the home of Timothy Taylor, the brewery responsible for, among other fine brews, Landlord. If you haven’t yet tried Yorkshire beer and you see a bottle of this, I urge you to try this one. This guy sums it up. On Sunday, get it slightly chilled (around 10°c/50°f) find something to snack on (pork pie ideal, crisps satisfactory, salad blasphemous) and pour a full pint. Then sit back and watch the stage three fireworks.

Mine's a Timmy Taylors! Cheers!
timothytaylor.co.uk