As a teenager, I moved from Yorkshire to British Columbia. Imagine my surprise when, if asked how people were doing, they said “good,” “really well”, or even “great.” Not in Yorkshire. “Fair to middling,” “mustn’t grumble,” and “not so bad.” That’s what I grew up with. You could see that as miserable, dour and stand-offish, and many do. Or you could see it as a cautious realism, and a desire to see what happens before getting too enthusiastic. Either way, Yorkshire is not a place where people whoop with joy.
I mention this because “fair to middling” is about my level of enthusiasm for this year’s Tour de Yorkshire. I’ve written about the last two editions and I have been very proud of the emergence of this race. It has served as a bridge between the Grand Depart of 2015 and the World Championships of the coming autumn, and in doing so it has been a huge success for Yorkshire. I’d thought it was growing, but now I’m not so sure.
This year, I think, the organisers are looking ahead. I’d like to have seen more of the classics-style parcours of previous years, and I’d like to see more than a mid-stage bolt through the worlds course. If we’d had that, we’d have got courses that were a little less lacklustre, and a field with a bit more star-power, though the looming Giro and recently concluded classics season will always make this a tough time of the year to attract superstars. Anyway, mustn’t grumble. Let’s have a quick look at what we can expect this week, with a bit of local colour thrown in.
The men’s race
Stage one is day one, and that’s Thursday. It takes us from Doncaster to Selby, though it isn’t direct (which is just as well unless you wanted a TT). They don’t head into much by way of hills, though, and this is a sprinter’s day.
Local colour – Selby isn’t much of a place. It is just around the corner from my childhood home (in fact, I lived in Selby Council for 12 years), and I’ve barely been there. I was surprised to hear, through my parents, that it has become a tourist attraction. The reason? Someone called Jay Chou, a Taiwanese pop star, was married in Selby Abbey. No, me neither, but now the Taiwanese flock to Selby. Go figure.
Stage two moves north across the county from Barnsley to Bedale, and in doing so takes in the Harrogate circuit that we should all get to know. It is, I think, a missed opportunity as there are routes into Bedale that could be very tough. This isn’t one of them and we can expect the sprinters again to the fore.
Local colour – I love Barnsley. In fact, I once tried to buy a house there. Admittedly, I was five, the offer was 15 pence, and the house was Cannon Hall, but still. It’d be a nice place to be.
Stage three is the now-familiar finish in Scarborough, though they’ve adjusted the approach so that the hill out of Robin Hood’s bay is far further from the finish, which is flat, and should give a third chance to the sprinters.
Local colour – The riders will hurtle through Sandsend on this stage. I really hope the helicopter cameraperson is on his or her game, because this is one of the most beautiful spots in a very lovely county. I don’t have much to say about it except it is a place I used to love walking the dog. It looks like this.
Stage four is, by default, the Queen stage. It is a north-east-south horseshoe from Halifax to Leeds, and it passes through some sharp hills. In particular, the climb of Otley Chevin (the home roads of the Brownlee brothers as well as Lizzie Deignan) is late and sharp but at just 1.4km (and 10%) it won’t be enough to throw too many out of the field.
Local colour – Halifax hosts possibly my favourite museum, Eureka. If you’re in the area, go. If you do’t have a child, borrow one.
All in all, this is a course where a tough sprinter is the likeliest favourite. Weather is the only thing that could really throw a spanner in the works and the current forecast isn’t too disruptive. It may be cold and wet on Friday, and it may be blowy on Saturday, but I don’t think it’ll be decisive.
Who’ll the winner be? Well, the WT teams are CCC (led by Greg van Avermaet), the newly-minted Team Ineos (nominally led by Chris Froome, but on this course realistically working for… good question – Chris Lawless, if he can get over the hills, or Leonardo Basso if he can’t), Dimension Data (hoping for a return to form for Mark Cavendish) and Katusha (similarly forloron hopes, this time for Marcel Kittel to return to form, though they bring Jens Debusschere among other fast alternatives).
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a lower-division team upset the favourites here, and will throw four names at you – Boy van Poppel, Jonas van Genechten, Alexander Kamp and Dan McLay (racing here for the GB team). I’ll say that Greg van Avermaet, off-form and over the top though he is, will be your winner, pushed all the way by Boy van Poppel. Like I say; not a vintage renewal.
The women’s race
The good news is that there is a women’s race. The bad news is that it takes stages two and three of the men’s race, without any additional hills to make it more interesting. This is another one where a sprinter can thrive, so long as they can latch back onto the lead after the early hills.
More good news is that the field is fantastic, a reflection of the prize money available (as well as the lack of an impending three week Giro, of course). Lizzie Deignan, as discussed, was once very much of this parish and has returned to form quickly now she’s back riding competitively. She, like Anna van der Breggen, Annemiek van Vleuten and many more bring star power and the chance of fireworks, as they’ll look to make the race as hard as they possibly can, especially on the coast roads north of Scarborough.
I don’t think it’ll be a tough enough course to drop the fastest finishers, though, and I’ll give the nod to Lorena Weibes, form sprinter of the spring, to hold off the local challenge of Alice Barnes, as well as the returning speedster Jolien d’Hoore, for whom this might just be too much too soon.