In 2014, the Grand Départ of the Tour de France gripped viewers across the country. The fight for the iconic yellow jersey had crossed the sea, and spectators welcomed the arrival of a peloton full of the world’s greatest cyclists with spectacular enthusiasm. Yorkshire exploded into a plethora of colour, complete with bunting covered villages, knitted bikes lining the roadside, and was hailed by many, including race director Prudhomme, as the “grandest Départ ever”.
Fast forward 4 years, and the Tour de Yorkshire has quickly established itself as one of the most popular British cycle races, and the coming-of-age outing for new domestic team Canyon Eisberg. In the words of the team’s directeur sportif Tim Elverson: “It was one of our best races last year. It was certainly the race which underlined us as having arrived and we are delighted to be invited back. Morale was very high, everyone started well and we delivered. The extra day offers us an extra chance to show ourselves, though, and another opportunity to get things right.”
The 2018 edition sees the Tour de Yorkshire feature its first summit finish and a continuation of lucrative prize money for both male and female riders, as well as a newly-extended route. Both men’ and women’s races get an additional stage, taking the men’s from 3 to 4 and the women’s from a one-day classic-style race to a two-stage event.
Stage 1 from Beverley to Doncaster is suited for sprinting, with the relatively flat 182km route (132.5km for the women) featuring just one climb. Beverley was also host to the start of the 2016 edition where Groenewegen took stage honours. Don’t expect a repeat here though – the Dutchman and his LottoNL-Jumbo team will not take the start this year.
Stage 2 sees the riders start in Barnsley before tackling 3 classified climbs over 182km (132.5km for the women), as they head to the finish on Ilkley Moor. Most significant of the classified climbs is the summit finish on the Cow and Calf, averaging at 8.2% with a nasty kick upwards towards the peak. The climb gained attention in 2015 for the monumental crowd presence, with publications drawing comparisons to those seen at the Tour de France just a year previously. Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, JLT Condor’s Ian Bibby revealed the 1.8km climb would be a “tough finish”. The stage 2 conclusion in Ilkley will also host the finale of the Asda Women’s Tour de Yorkshire. With defending champion, Lizzie Deignan, expecting her first child, the field has been left wide open for a real GC showdown on the ramps of the infamous Cow and Calf climb.
Not the easiest of opportunities for sprinters, the men’s peloton will scale the Côte de Sutton Bank and Côte de Slipho while travelling from Richmond on the third day before their arrival in Scarborough – a town that played host to the finale of the Tour de Yorkshire in 2016.
No ceremonial final stage à la the Tour de France awaits the riders on the last day, however. The 189.5km, fourth and final stage from Halifax to Leeds is the hardest and longest one of the Tour, featuring 6 classified climbs – 3 of which either have an average gradient of at least 10% – not including the hidden, unclassified climbs that may surprise a few along the way.
But this is not Canyon Eisberg’s first rodeo. Granted, it will be their first under a new name – Eisberg and fellow sponsors, YellowJersey and Maxxis Tyres, joining up for 2018 – swiftly picking up the baton that Bike Channel relinquished at the end of 2017.
In 2017, their debut year as a team, the combined experience and determination of Gardias, Lowsley-Williams, Opie, Partridge, Pullar, Stedman, Tanfield and Townsend produced “one of the best races” of their season, according to Elverson. Wasting no time in turning themselves into ‘ones to watch’, the first stage saw Opie sprinting to third in a high-paced, crash-filled finish on the streets of Scarborough. The Cornish rider placed just behind the WorldTour names of Caleb Ewan (then Orica-GreenEDGE, now Mitchelton-Scott) and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo). The versatile line-up not only competed in the sprints, but fought in breakaways and the jersey competitions too. Gardias impressed spectators on Twitter and won the Digital Jersey on the second stage, and, hungry for more, was quickly followed by teammate Tanfield receiving the ‘most aggressive’ honours the day after. Every Canyon Eisberg rider shared in celebrating a great team performance. Bursting with pride, James Lowsley-Williams said, “We did pull it out of the bag. I still can’t believe how well we did. For a first-year team, a real wildcard, we smashed it.”
This year they’re even more determined. Lowsley-Williams has already stated his desire to gain a jersey by the end of the Tour de Yorkshire, and after making the selection for the 7-man team that will take the start line in Beverley, he is a dead-cert to feature in one of the daily breakaways. He joins sprinter Opie and previous jersey winners Gardias and Tanfield, a former national junior cyclo-cross champion in Paton and the incredibly experienced and highly decorated Tennant, alongside Tour of Quanzhou Bay winner Stedman who completes the line-up.
Tim Elverson is looking forward to the opportunity to perform against the best: “We can’t wait to get stuck in again. It is another chance to go out and play with the big boys, which we will all relish.” With an expected electric performance from the boys in blue combined with full TV coverage and an extended route, you won’t want to miss this race.
All photography by Hugh McManus, Canyon Eisberg.
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