The latest Tour de Yorkshire odyssey across this great county begins in Bridlington this morning with every professional cyclist from seasoned veteran to young prospect viewing the next three days with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
The excitement comes in the form of the sheer delight the world’s peloton continues to derive from its now annual visit to these parts, such is the welcome the riders receive from the hundreds of thousands who will line the 490km of roadside.
Trepidation arrives when those same cyclists analyse the challenge they are presented with over three days for the men, and tomorrow, from Tadcaster to Harrogate, for the women.
One of the great challenges Tour organisers have risen to ever since pulling off the masterstroke of bringing the Grand Depart of the Tour de France to Yorkshire in 2014, is creating stages that are demanding, rewarding and produce high-calibre victors. Marcel Kittel and Vincenzo Nibali, winners of those two Tour de France stages, are testament to that.
Three years later, co-organisers Welcome to Yorkshire and the Amaury Sports Organisation, have excelled themselves.
The next three days look to be the toughest yet, starting with today’s 173km trek from Bridlington to Scarborough, in which riders will be tested through the North Yorkshire Moors and up Robin Hood’s Bay, before the now familiar sprint on North Bay to a finish line that was yesterday brought forward 400m due to a high Spring tide.
Sir Gary Verity and Christian Prudhomme, the chief organisers, were reticent even to concede that ground before acknowledging that breaking waves over the heads of cyclists after five hours in the saddle is a little harsh.
Saturday sees a return to Harrogate where Mark Cavendish crashed famously in the sprint finish three years ago, but this time a sprint is by no means certain, with the Cote de Lofthouse 60km from home set to splinter the bunch.
That all leads into a 194km stage from Bradford to Sheffield on Sunday, which has eight categorised climbs, four of which come in the last 20km.
The official name of that final act is the ‘Yorkshire Terrier’, though ask around the peloton and the word ‘brute’ is mentioned more often than not.
Speak to anyone who is not a climber and it’s not an ideal route for them.Sheffield cyclist Adam Blythe.
“Some of these stages are really punchy,” said Ian Stannard, one of four British riders in the Team Sky squad and a veteran of their Spring Classics campaign.
“They’re all short climbs, but they’re all 15, 20 per cent gradient so you really feel that at the end of the day.”
Stannard was speaking at the eve-of-Tour press conference at the National Railway Museum in York last night, when it was widely acknowledged by all that it will be a rider with a big engine who will prosper this weekend.
“Speak to anyone who is not a climber and it’s not an ideal route for them,” added Sheffield’s Adam Blythe, a sprinter who will proudly wear the colours of British champion this week.
“I think it’s a case of hang on for as long as you can and hope for a bit of wind. Every day is just going to be brutal.
“The second day is supposed to be a sprint, but I’m not too sure. It’s Yorkshire, it’s never straightforward.”