ALL EYES are likely to be focused in one direction when the fourth Tour de Yorkshire begins next May.
Already gaining a reputation as one of the most popular races on the circuit – among riders and spectators – the 2018 edition has been boosted by the expected inclusion of one of the sport’s global superstars Mark Cavendish.
The rider list will not be confirmed until next Spring, but Cavendish attended yesterday’s route announcement at the Piece Hall in Halifax and insisted he plans to be on the start line in Beverley on May 3.
“I would not be here if I had no intention of racing,” said the former world road race champion and 30-time Tour de France stage winner, whose last competitive appearance in Yorkshire ended painfully when he crashed on stage one of the 2014 Tour de France’s Grand Depart in Harrogate.
“I would have been here this year, but I was at home watching with glandular fever.
“I wanted to be there; hopefully I don’t get glandular fever again and I’ll try to be on the start line in Yorkshire.”
Race organisers Welcome to Yorkshire and Amaury Sport Organisation seem to have had Cavendish in mind when designing next year’s route, which features two possible sprint stages.
Cavendish will be expected to be among the battle at the front when the race hits Doncaster on stage one.
Two days later, another bunch finish is predicted on Scarborough seafront at the end of a 184km dash from Richmond.
The rest of the race will be less favourable to the Manxman, with a summit finale in Ilkley on stage two – which begins in Barnsley – followed by a taxing final stage, from Halifax to Leeds, featuring six categorised climbs.
You are never going to get an easy route in Yorkshire. That’s what makes it special and it’s why cycling is popular here, because you know you need a bit of Yorkshire grit to get round it.
“It’s hard,” Cavendish said of the 704.5km course.
“But that’s what makes Yorkshire so great for cycling, the routes here and the places you can ride and the diversity of the terrain.
“You are never going to get an easy route in Yorkshire.
“That’s what makes it special and it’s why cycling is popular here, because you know you need a bit of Yorkshire grit to get round it.
“But it’s the same for everyone; you have got to make the most of it and it suits my team again.”
Without Cavendish, but including Yorkshireman Scott Thwaites, Dimension Data pulled off a stunning one-two in this year’s edition of the race, Serge Pauwels claiming overall victory ahead of team-mate Omar Fraile Matarranz.
“It’s a good route for Team Dimension Data to win again next year,” Cavendish observed.
“There’s two sprint days and obviously I will try and win those, if I race, so we will see what happens.”
Road racing’s world championships will be staged in the county in 2019, making next year’s Tour de Yorkshire something of a dress rehearsal.
Cavendish stressed: “I want to ride the world championship wherever it is.
“It doesn’t make it more appealing being in Yorkshire, but it does make it nicer for me.
“Harrogate is where my mum was born, I grew up there and to be able to race there doesn’t make it appealing, it just makes it nicer.
“I know the roads, I have ridden here a lot. Yorkshire is a beautiful place; it is big, but not big in terms of what we do in cycling so I’ve seen most of the roads and I really like riding here.”
Judging by the scenes at the route announcement, when Cavendish was mobbed by passers-by and fans seeking autographs and pictures, his inclusion will raise the profile of a race which attracted 2.2m spectators this year.
“It’s the fans that make this race special,” Cavendish said.
“In the peloton, the (Tour de France’s) Yorkshire Grand Depart is still talked about as the best anyone of this generation has seen.
“This (yesterday’s launch) is the race presentation; it’s not the race, but it is a bigger crowd than we get for a lot of actual races in Europe and it is wicked to see.
“It’s not just people wondering what’s going on – people know what’s going on and they are out with a big smile supporting cycling and supporting the county of Yorkshire.
“The people here are the friendliest you’ll ever meet and that’s why it’s nice to be here.
“You definitely get a buzz, you get a smile about it and it makes you want to come back.”
The Tour de Yorkshire has been expanded to four days next year and could feature in Cavendish’s preparations for the Tour de France.
The 32-year-old – who is four behind Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins at the world’s most famous cycle race – added: “It’s nice to see the men’s race get an extra day and the women’s race as well.
“In a few years the race has grown and it is attracting the best riders in the world.
“I am sure it is only going to grow from here.”
I’ll go down fighting, pledges Scott Thwaites: Page 20.