BY dangling the carrot of the richest prize in women’s cycling for last year’s Asda Women’s Tour de Yorkshire, organisers ensured they grabbed headlines in the fight for equality in the sport.
They also produced a thrilling stage over the same route that the men rode in the teeming rain into Doncaster. They even had the poetic storyline of it starting in Otley, the hometown of local heroine and then-world champion Lizzie Armitstead.
By sustaining the level of prize money at the £50,000 mark – still more than the men will earn over three days – and sticking to the same blueprint for a second successive year, organisers of the Tour de Yorkshire have shown that they were not just merely stealing the headlines, but that they are here to stay.
In return they have been rewarded with an all-star cast, one headlined by a heavyweight contest between the two best riders in the world right now, a slugfest to match the Klitschko-Joshua world title fight 200 miles south later in the day.
Armitstead is back – now as Deignan after her marriage to Team Sky’s Philip – and her direct opponent for the £15,000 top prize money appears to be her Boels-Dolmans team-mate Anna van der Breggan.
One hundred and 42 other cyclists would argue otherwise, and there are myriad of other intangibles such as the Yorkshire weather and a demanding climb up the Cote de Lofthouse midway through the 122km jaunt from Tadcaster to Harrogate, but recent form suggests Deignan and van der Breggan are in a league of their own.
Indeed, of the last three UCI World Tour races – Amstel Gold, La Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege – van der Breggan has crossed the line first, with Deignan second. With so many riders taking to the start line every race, it is unheard of to have a status quo at the head of the field.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Anna and Lizzie look to make it a really tough race,” said Lucy Garner, the British rider who finished second in Doncaster last year and one of those intangibles who will look to tear up the script.
“They’ll want to rip it to pieces from the outset and make everyone work really hard to contend with the pace they set.
“Especially with that climb right in the middle of the race.”
They’ll want to rip it to pieces from the outset and make everyone work really hard to contend with the pace they set.Lucy Garner
Luring the two hottest properties in cycling to the race is testament to the pull of the still-fledgling Tour de Yorkshire.
The race may not be part of the Women’s WorldTour – introduced in 2016 to revamp the women’s calendar – but already it feels like a bigger event.
A tougher course promises an even better race, even if it does not play directly into the hands of 22-year-old Garner, from Leicestershire.
“I was delighted last year to get a second place, but this year might be a little different,” said the former two-time junior world champion, who rides for the Wiggle High5 team.
“It’s not a course that suits me, but from a team perspective, we have plenty of cards to play, and I like the fact that we’re doing the same course as the men; that’s a big lure for riders, as is the prize money on offer.
“You see that with the amount of big names there are in the field, the likes of Lizzie and Anna.
“The Tour de Yorkshire has become a target for all the big names. There’s a real buzz around the women’s event. The organisers have done a very professional job of marketing and promoting it and making it a top-notch event for us riders.”
Garner, a sprinter by nature, will look to hang with the climbers on the ascent up Cote de Lofthouse before hoping to seize an opportunity to attack if one comes her way, just as it did last year.
“When I watch the video back now I did hesitate as to which side to go, just for a second and that’s all it takes,” she told The Yorkshire Post.
“It’s left me with a feeling of ‘what if?’ But each year I’m making a step forward. It’s hard in women’s cycling, there’s no under-23s level like the men have, no bridge between juniors and seniors.
“I went from being top of the junior pile as world champion to the bottom of the pile in the seniors as a teenager.
“I went from trying to get (Olympic champion) Marianne Vos’s autograph as an 18-year-old to racing against her within a few months. You’re in at the deep end, but for me it was a positive.”
There is plenty of local interest in the Asda Women’s Tour de Yorkshire.
As well as Deignan, Abby-Mae Parkinson, 19, from Dewsbury, Leeds’s Annabel Simpson, 26, and Rebecca Womersley, 24, from Mirfield, ride for the DROPS team. Steph Mottram, 28, and Sophie Thackray, 17, compete for NCC Group-Kuota-Torelli.
There are four representing the White Rose riding for SunSport Velo; Sheffield’s Hannah Larbalestier, 23, Liz Burrows, 34, Lizzy Banks, 26, and Seonaid Thompson, 31, of Leeds.
Scarborough’s Louise Scupham, 19, rides for Jadan Weldtite.