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By ‘eck, they’re back again with their bikes!

A loving look at a growing race

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I stopped counting my articles for Podium Café after I’d posted about five. Couldn’t tell you how many words I’ve written, couldn’t tell you how many predictions I’ve got wrong. I can tell you my favourite article of my first year, though, no problem. That was my preview of the Tour of Yorkshire, raced in my home county and presented with plenty of silly stories.

So, time to take it on again. Another stage by stage look at the race, with local colour and personal anecdotes (I’ll try not to repeat myself from last year too much). If you really want to get into the local mood, have a look at Cycle Yorkshire, reviewed by our own Feargal McKay, which effectively puts to bed my (rightly chided) comment last year that Yorkshire isn’t much of a pro-cycling hotbed.

One thing I like about this race is that it seems to be growing organically, or at least as naturally as an ASO backed race can be, a few years ahead of the World Champs being held here. We’re up to four stages, and that seems to reflect a genuine desire for the race to be seen all over the county. Every time I visit my parents I note more cycle routes, families on bikes, etc. No idea how much is down to the Brownlies, to Lizzie Armistead/Deignan, to the better roads, to the Tour, or what, but it is good to see.

The women’s race

It is also good that there is some investment of money and time in the women’s race. I won’t embarrass myself with a full preview, but I’ll note that for the first time it has two stages. Unfortunately, neither is on the weekend and they’re both pretty early in the day, but there is racing and it looks like it’ll be televised. Nice and prominent on the race website, too. It looks like a pretty strong field, and the climb into Ilkley will be decisive. That’s Deignan country but she’s not racing, for the best of reasons. So, I don’t know who’ll win. Chantal Blaak? Why not. Oh, and let’s give Hannah Barnes stage one to keep the home fans happy (I don’t have any Brit men winning anything).

One thing that continues to annoy me? They’re racing from the same start/finish towns as the men, but on shorter routes. Presumably so that they don’t get tired. Because we can have progress, but not common sense or the full measure of respect.

Hannah Barnes, and a hope of a home winner
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The men’s race

Stage one – Beverley to Doncaster

The racing: for both men and women, this is a flat stage, leaving Beverley in East Yorkshire and sweeping westwards, then down into South Yorkshire. The early part of the route goes through the Wolds, chalk hills with a few sharp slopes and idiotic names (last year Garrowby, this year Baggaby) but nothing to worry the field, particularly with 90km to go. A bunch finish is likely.

The local colour: Early in the race (probably before TV) they’ll ride past Hornsea Mere, a very lovely lake (big, by English standards, a puddle if you’re Canadian or Russian) where I first went birdwatching and first went sailing, two things I still love to do. The finish is in Doncaster, a town known for trains and for horse racing. The St Leger, the oldest of the “classics” and horse racing’s answer to Liege Bastogne Liege is contested on the Town Moor every autumn. They’ll pass it just before the finish.

Doncaster: historic site of sprint finishes
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Stage two – Barnsley to Ilkley

The racing: Another meandering route of a course, this one is trending northwards from Barnsley (which isn’t far from Doncaster) and up into the Dales. Expect sharp slopes and some separation. If you grew up where I did, both the Old Pool Bank and the Cow and Calf are famous climbs, and the “mountaintop finish” on the Cow and Calf in Ilkley is a leg burner, but not a long one. Classics climbers might just hold on here.

The local colour: for the middle of this stage, the local colour is bright pink. Pontefract and Castleford are part of “the rhubarb triangle”, a tiny patch of land bordered by three motorways that is famed for production (or forcing) of rhubarb. Eileen Sheriden came from these parts and was an extraordinary cyclist in her day, and is still going strong.

Towards the end of the race, we’ll pass through Otley, home of Lizzie Deignan. Fitting, then, that this is a big stage and the Queen stage of the women’s race. Oh, and if you really want to please the locals (ha!) then feel free to start a chorus of local anthem “On Ilkla Moor bar t’at”. Translations available on request, but not necessarily helpful.

The Cow and Calf rocks, after which the climb is named
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Stage three – Richmond to Scarborough

The racing: The hillls come early in this race as we head towards the coast. Sutton Bank is a local landmark, and there’ll be heli shots of the white horse, but it is too far out to have any impact. The climb at Silpho has a better chance of relevance, but again things should come back together. This is a stage where weather could play a part, but the forecast looks good and if it is calm we can expect a bunch gallop to the finish. In previous years we’ve come into Scarborough through Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay. This year there’s a southerly loop to Filey, with fewer slopes and less exposure to the elements.

The local colour: Well, we’ve been in East, South and West Yorkshire, so guess where stage three happens? Yup, we’re in the North, and gearing up for the now-traditional finish on the sea front at Scarborough. Expect cricket chat, for which I make no apology. This is Yorkshire, after all. I used to watch Yorkshire vs The Rest of the World at Scarborough as a young lad, and it was considered a fair contest.

I associate Filey beach with dead jellyfish, a result of a particularly traumatic visit there as a child. Goodness knows what marine apocalypse caused that, but it is normally a very placid spot and a lovely little resort. The fish and chips from Inghams, eaten on the sea wall (fighting off sea gulls with your free hand) are a particularly British kind of lunch.

Sporting nirvana in Scarborough
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Stage four – Halifax to Leeds

A brief geography lesson: Back to the west of Yorkshire and yet another meandering course – Halifax to Leeds is not a long journey, but this route plays with the quirks of Yorkshire’s geography. The west of the county is essentially a string of river valleys (Dales) running West-East, forming up to make the Ouse and then the Humber. Each valley is separated by steepish, short hills. So if you travel North, then South, you more or less have to go up and down like a yo-yo. Hence this route. If you have an image of Yorkshire in your mind, it’ll be what you see on the final stage.

The climb out of Pateley Bridge, just after halfway.
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The racing: Remember the geography lesson? Up and down. Simply as a result of accumulated climbing, this is the Queen stage for the men, though you could make a case that the racing would be more exciting if you ran the course in reverse. Going this way, the last categorised climb is Otley Chevin, though they’ll be plenty of slopes after that. Expect separation early and a pretty fragmented field. This will likely have the feel of a classics stage. At 189km, it is (just) the longest day in the saddle, too.

The local colour: I talked more about beer last year, but as we don’t go to Keighley, but do go to Masham, I’m happy to name Black Sheep as the official beer of the Podium Café Tour of Yorkshire 2018. The riders are fed in Middleham, which is an oversight. They’d be much better off with a pie and peas and a pint in The Bay Horse in Masham. They could even have dinner at my favourite restaurant on earth, Hansa’s, which is just about where they’ll pull up after the finish on the Headrow. That won’t happen, but the savviest fans will watch the finish and then pile into Whitelocks for a drink.

The field and the contenders

The quality of teams continues to improve, and six World Tour teams (Sky, BMC, Sunweb, Astana, Katusha and Dimension Data) take to the line, joined by a GB squad (including wonderkind Tom Pidcock) and a mix of Pro-Conti and local Conti teams. There are some big names, with Cav and GVA certainly the household names in the lineup, but no shortage of possible winners. Given that this clashes with the Giro and is deep into Tour prep time, it is a good startlist.

Picking a winner is tricky. I’m fairly confident that we’ll see sprints in stages one and three, and I’d have Cav as a favourite if he’s back to his best. If not, this is wide open. GVA might fancy the bonifications, and Bauhaus is a good young sprinter with the Sunweb engines behind him. Kristoffer Halvorsen is one to watch, too, but if I had to back someone, it’d be Bryan Coquard, who is overdue a first win for his new team.

Stages two and four will determine the GC, and it is tricky to tell just how selective the climbing will be. I think our ideal rider is someone who can climb just well enough to stay in contention and can then finish races off. A classics rider, in other words. Mike Tenuissen turned heads in the spring but this might be too hilly for him. Serge Pauwels won last year and looks in decent form, I wouldn’t write him off but the competition looks tough. Greg van Avermaet could take this if he’s fully tuned up but it is hard to believe he will be. I have similar reservations about Magnus Cort Neilsen. Instead, I’ll pick a winner from the Sky ranks, a man who finished the classics season with something to prove: Dylan van Baarle.

Dylan van Baarle, your overall winner?
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Final thoughts

As I said at the start, I think the gradual ramping up of this race has been a model for how new races should evolve. The momentum of the Tour’s Grand Depart hasn’t been lost but time has been given to let this develop a unique identity. Moving to two women’s stages and four men’s is a positive step and means that there are now 8 start/finish towns, covering most of this ceremonial county. Most importantly of all, this feels like a race that fans and riders alike enjoy. Long may that continue, and here’s to 2018 seeing the most exciting and highest quality racing yet! Cheers!

He’s put too much head on that.
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