LIGHTNING struck for a second time, metaphorically if not literally, when stage one of the Tour de Yorkshire reached a thrilling, rain-soaked conclusion in Selby.
Fittingly for a finish outside the town’s famous Abbey, the finale was played out in a biblical downpour and it was Dutchman Jesper Asselman who emerged as the unlikely victor.
Asselman thwarted the sprinters by winning from a breakaway that had been at the front for most of the 182.5km slog from Doncaster, scene of Yorkshireman Harry Tanfield’s stage-one success in similar circumstances a year earlier.
It was a close run thing, Asselman almost being passed on the line by a charging peloton who had cut the break’s lead from almost two minutes inside the final 30km.
Yorkshire’s Gabriel Cullaigh, from Holmfirth, was the first British rider across the line in fifth, three places ahead of Tour de France legend Mark Cavendish.
Team Ineos, in their first ride since switching from the Sky brand, were the centre of attention throughout the stage, not for entirely positive reasons.
Manager Sir Dave Brailsford was dismissive of environmental protesters upset at new owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s connection with the fracking industry.
“I had to hunt them down first because I couldn’t find them,” he said after the stage finish.
“There was hardly anybody there, let’s be honest.”
Brailsford insisted: “If we’d had any concerns [about launching in Yorkshire] we wouldn’t have done it.
“We were right not to have any concerns because people are here and they are enjoying it.”
Ineos’s four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome is riding in Yorkshire for the first time since the Tour de France’s Grand Depart five years ago.
He said: “The weather was a bit grim, but the people were pretty friendly and it’s good to be here. It was good racing, solid racing, up and down all day.”
Yorkshire-based team SwiftCarbon were left kicking themselves after failing to get a rider in the break.
Team manager Paul Lamb reflected: “Initially I was really disappointed because it was something we planned.
“Quite a few of the other domestic UK teams got somebody up there.
“We did have a go, but we were a bit too keen and we went a bit too early and by the time the move did go we were on the backfoot and we missed it.
“We will have a talk about it. We should have been there, we’ve got the riders and the ability to be there and we should not have missed out. Having said that, with the torrential rain and standing water and gravel I am glad the guys have all got round in one piece.”
With three stages remaining, SwiftCarbon will try again.
“We are playing the long game,” Lamb added. “Stage four is the one, we are just going to bide our time and stage four we will be up there.”
The Women’s Tour de Yorkshire begins today, racing over the same course as the men’s stage two from Barnsley, skirting Leeds and tackling the Harrogate circuit, which will be used in this September’s world championship’s en-route to a finish in Bedale.