THESE are heady days to be a professional cyclist from Yorkshire.
Road cycling is a booming sport in the county and it will hit the headlines again in little more than a month’s time, when the second edition of the Tour de Yorkshire begins in Beverley.
Pete Williams, who was born in Southport but now lives in Skipton, attributes the sport’s growing popularity to a number of factors, including the Tour de France’s visit two years ago, the success of British star Bradley Wiggins and how well Team GB have performed in recent Olympics.
“There’s a massive difference to even five years ago,” Williams said of the level of interest in his sport.
“I did the Tour de Yorkshire last year and there was a bit of a buzz about it, because of the Tour de France the year before.
“A lot of the public didn’t know what to expect, but it was pretty successful. There were big crowds and the locals seemed to accept it, pretty much like the Tour de France.
“There’s not been a lot of press about this year yet, but that will probably start building now.”
Another big stage race, attracting top riders from the continent, can only be good for cycling’s profile, Williams believes.
“Races like this keep it fresh in the minds of people,” he added. “The Tour of Britain keeps growing and growing, with the amount of coverage and people on the roadside.
“It is the Olympics this year, we have got a great track program and we’ve had a lot of success and that spurs people on.
“There is so much talent now in British cycling and we have got more and more riders performing on a world level.
“Geraint Thomas is predicted to be the new Bradley Wiggins or Chris Froome and I can’t see the sport getting any smaller.
“It is a great sport to be doing and it is great to have an event in Yorkshire – it is so nice here, the roads and everything.
“It’s good when my team-mates come over and see where I go training every day. People think it’s a bit grim and wet and cold up north, but it’s nice in summer!
“Hopefully, we’ll get some good weather for the Tour de Yorkshire.”
While the race is undoubtedly a means of boosting tourism in the county, for the riders themselves it is anything but a holiday.
Williams said: “It is a tough event in terms of the racing side of things. The route last year was really hard, because the roads are hard.
“On paper it doesn’t look that hard, but when you actually ride them it is really hard. The tarmac is a bit slower than on the Continent and the climbs are so steep.
“They are a bit more gradual in Spain or France. This year will be no different and I think it will be a hard three days.”
The shake-up is expected to come on a testing final stage from Middlesbrough to Scarborough, but Williams said the favourites could get caught out before then if they aren’t paying full attention.
“The first day is pretty deceptive,” he observed. “There’s a few cheeky little climbs. On paper it probably looks like a textbook bunch sprint, but there’s a heck of a climb out of Settle after 100 miles, when your legs are feeling it. Patley Bridge as well, if it is windy, is long enough to split the peloton and it could lead to a big day for the overall.”
Williams is a former points winner of the Tour of Britain, but describes himself as an “all-rounder”.
“I am a Jack of all trades, master of none,” he insisted. “My role is either to help the out and out climbers or help the out and out sprinter.
“Or if it is a day for it I try to go in the break and then see what I can do at the finish.”
The Tour de Yorkshire is a big focus for Williams’s team One-pro, who have been taking part in Spring races on the continent in preparation.
“I’ve been racing in Belgium for the last few weeks, doing semi-classics,” Williams said.
“They have gone pretty well for me personally, helping out the team leaders.
“Last weekend was the Corsica Criterium International, which is two days and quite hilly. Then we are back in Belgium doing some races there.
“But the team boss, the guy behind it all, lives in Harrogate and he wants us to do well here.
“We are a British team, so it is going to be a bigger thing for us. It has got some importance for the team.”