THE SPIRIT of the Tour de France returned to Leeds yesterday as the city witnessed the coronation of the first man to win Yorkshire’s own tour.
Less than a year after the Tour de France began in Leeds, huge crowds were back on the city’s roads for the last act of the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire.
The final stage of the three-day event, from Wakefield to Roundhay Park, was won by Belgian Ben Hermans, but it was Lars-Petter Nordhaug, of the British-based Team Sky, who walked away with the overall victor’s blue jersey.
“I have ridden the Tour de France, which is a big race,” Nordhaug said afterwards.
“Today really felt like a big stage in the Tour.
“The crowds were massive, it was fantastic and I will never forget the last stage, riding in the leader’s jersey.”
Sky had to work hard to protect Nordhaug’s lead and he handed all the credit for overall victory to his team-mates.
“It was really hard”, he said of the final stage. “Ben Swift [the Sky race favourite, who crashed out on the first stage] told us what it would be like.
“We knew what was coming up, so we were prepared.
“The team rode really strong on the front. They were fantastic and I felt like I was a passenger. I only had to pedal the last 200metres.”
Hermans was no threat to the leaders and was allowed to break away late in the race.
“It feels amazing,” he said after crossing the line nine seconds ahead of his BMC team-mate Greg Van Avermart.
“I could not believe for the last 5k I had almost 30 seconds.
“I said to myself they will never close this gap.
“I could not believe I won this stage.
“I think I attacked at the right moment. Sky knew I was not a threat for the overall, so they could let me go.
“I don’t know why the other riders didn’t go with me, but I just gave it a go.”
Of the event as a whole, Hermans’ observed: “It was an amazing race, good organisation, amazing crowds and a good atmosphere.
“It is a little bit strange to race on these roads, because they are not the same as in Europe. There is a lot of twists and corners, up and down. It is really hard racing here.”
Sky’s hopes for the race seemed to have been crushed on Friday’s opening stage, which began in Bridlington, when Rotherham’s Swift was forced to abandon after crashing on a descent.
The two-time Tour de France-winning team rallied when Nordhaug won on the seafront at Scarborough and he led throughout the next two stages to claim overall victory by 11 seconds from Spain’s former Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez, with Thomas Voeckler finishing third, on the same time.
Nordhaug’s total time for the 515 kilometre race was 12 hours, 47 minutes 56 seconds, an impressive average speed of 40.228 kilometres per hour.
After a flat second stage, from Selby to York – won by Lotto’s Moreno Hofland – Sky were forced to dig deep to protect Nordhaug’s advantage over the hilly final 167km from Wakefield.
Sky managed to prevent any breaks by the leading contenders and Nordhaug pipped Sanchez to a one-second sprint bonus late in the stage, which meant he had an 11-second advantage on the road, with only 10 available for the stage winner.
Sanchez (fourth), Nordhaug (sixth) and Voeckler (10th) finished together in a group on the same time as Van Avermart.
Sir Bradley Wiggins, riding for his own team in possibly his final race on the road, came in 42nd, three seconds behind Downing.
Wiggins, who is preparing for an attack on the world hour record – set by Alex Dowsett in Manchester on Saturday – was 59th out of the 123 finishers, more than than 20 minutes behind Nordhaug.
Yorkshire’s top finisher was Josh Edmondson, of the Great Britain team. The Leeds rider was 22nd at 7min50 behind the winner).
Others from the county to complete the race were Liam Holohan (Leeds, Great Britain, 33rd at 9-25), Tom Stewart (Doncaster, Madison Genesis, 40th at 12-07), Gabriel Cullaigh (Holmfirth, Great Britain, 43rd at 12-08), Peter Williams (Skipton, OnePro, 70th at 22-26), Tom Moses (Keighley, JLT Condor, 73rd at 26-19), Harry Tanfield (Great Ayton, JLT, 82nd at 31-12), Oliver Wood (Wakefield, Great Britain, 90th at 32-13), Tom Barras (Keighley, NPC, 119th at 42-39) and JLT Condor’s Graham Briggs, of Doncaster, who was 123rd and final finisher overall, at 51-31.
The race was staged by Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO), who also run the Tour de France. Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France, fell in love with Yorkshire before and during last year’s Grand Depart. His return, for the county’s own race, has only strengthened the bond.
“With a big smile,” he said, when asked how he has enjoyed the Tour de Yorkshire.
“It is nice to be back in Yorkshire and nice to walk on the coast for the first time, ever. The very first time I came to Yorkshire it was by helicopter, so I saw Scarborough, but not from the land. I am very impressed, there has been so many people.
“There has been crowds everywhere, on every climb it has been very impressive. I am very happy. As I said last summer, I knew Yorkshire was beautiful, but I didn’t know how gorgeous it was. It is an outstanding backdrop for a race. When you draw a race you need the roads, you need in terms of sport something interesting, you need the backdrop and you need passion. We have all those things.”
Gary Verity, of Welcome to Yorkshire, was delighted with the success of the first event and predicted it will go from strength to strength.
“I think we have always been a cycling area. There’s four things in our DNA: Yorkshire beer, fish and chips, cricket and now cycling,” said Verity.