CYCLING LEGEND Chris Froome is already looking forward to his next date in the county after helping Team Ineos to a memorable Tour de Yorkshire triumph in Leeds yesterday.
Froome, a four-time Tour de France champion, rode in support of young colleague Christopher Lawless, from Wigan, who finished second on yesterday’s final stage from Halifax and held on to the overall leader’s blue jersey.
It was Ineos’ first race since rebranding from Sky last week and they have faced protests from environmental campaigners opposed to team owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s connection with the fracking industry.
But Lawless’s victory thrilled a big crowd at the finish line on the Headrow as the race crowned its first British champion and Froome, making his debut in the event, was enthused by all four days.
He told The Yorkshire Evening Post: “It has been fantastic.
“I don’t get the opportunity to race in Britain much so I have really enjoyed it and it was great to be riding in front of a home crowd.”
Sky were the world’s most dominant team and won the Tour de France last year with Geraint Thomas, but Froome admitted: “Even more of a surprise was getting the victory here in our first race as Team Ineos.
“I am really proud of how all the lads rode, especially Chris Lawless in the final. He was really impressive.
“It has been a really special week and I have thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the Yorkshire weather!”
Rain, sleet and strong winds battered the riders in the opening three stages, but the sun shone yesterday and Froome will be hoping for a repeat of that when Yorkshire stages the UCI Road World Championships in four months’ time.
The Harrogate circuit, which will host the men’s road race and time trial, featured in Friday’s stage two and Froome, who will ride for Great Britain in the autumn, observed: “It is very, very tough.
“It is going to be a huge test come September. Being almost 300kms long it is going to be very, very challenging.
“Hopefully we can put a strong line-up on the road for that and it might be a race like today, very unpredictable, quite aggressive, but hopefully we can field a good team there.”
Froome finished 13th overall and his attack on Cote de Otley Chevin laid the platform for Lawless’ victory, the 23-year-old finishing two seconds ahead of defending champion Greg Van Avermaet who won the stage.
Scott Thwaites, from Burley-in-Wharfedale, was 10th on the stage and eighth in the general classification.
Gabriel Cullaigh, of Holmfirth, was eighth across the line, his second top-10 finish of the race.
There were two Yorkshire riders in the top-10 overall as Connor Swift, from Doncaster, finished one place behind Thwaites.
Rob Scott, from Hebden Bridge, began the day wearing the red best climber’s jersey, but was pipped to the king of the mountains title by Frenchman Amaud Courteille.
Another Yorkshire rider, Jacob Scott from Holmfirth, was third in that category.
His Yorkshire-based SwiftCarbon squad were 11th in the team classification.
Lawless has started every Tour de Yorkshire and described his success as “unbelievable”.
This year’s race winner said: “I never expected to be that far up on GC [general classification], let alone win it. I surprised myself and I’m a little shellshocked.”
Ineos’ involvement in cycling has been controversial, but Lawless stressed: “As a team it’s super important we did well at this race. I don’t think we’d have been too disappointed if we hadn’t won it, but we need to put a showing in.
“It’s a nice way to repay Ineos; they’ve come in and kept 30 riders in a job and about 100 staff.”
Lawless also won the points jersey while Thwaites’ eighth was the highest finish by a Yorkshire man in a Tour de Yorkshire.