Tour de Yorkshire - Lizzie Deignan and Lizzy Banks push Lorena Wiebes all the way to Bedale
For much of this opening stage of the Asda Women’s Tour de Yorkshire Race it was a good thing to be called Elizabeth and to be representing the home county.
Lizzie Deignan of Otley repeatedly drove the peloton from Barnsley in pursuit of a small breakaway that consisted of Lizzy Banks of Sheffield.
While Deignan, the former world champion and one of the biggest names in women’s cycling, eventually succumbed to the screaming in her legs as she continues her comeback from childbirth, Banks elevated her own stock with a commanding ride to put her arms into the red jersey belonging to the Queen of the Mountains.
Yet the honours on day one of this two-day women’s jaunt from the south of the county to the Yorkshire Dales, and then over to the coast, belonged to a young Dutch rider who sprinted clear up a slight incline into the throng of people lining Bedale’s Market Square.
Lorena Wiebes has not had many notable achievements in her career, but at just 20 years of age she looks well positioned to continue the fine tradition of the Netherlands producing female cyclists of the highest calibre. Holland is home to the last two road race world champions and the subplot of this intriguing 132km opening stage was the fact it took in the loop around Harrogate that in September will decide the winner of the fabled rainbow jersey.
“I’ve been doing it wrong in training so I’m glad I actually saw the proper course,” laughed Deignan, moments after crossing the line. “I’ve been coming at it from a different angle in training. God knows how. But it’s a good circuit.”
The one and only chance to ride that key part of the worlds course in race conditions was why such a stellar field had assembled for the women’s Tour de Yorkshire.
Fourteen of the top 15 teams in the world set out from the shadow of the Town Hall in Barnsley at 9am making it the deepest field in terms of quality the women’s race has attracted.
Parity with their male counterparts in the length of the two stages and the prize money at the end of it were also enticing factors, but there can be no doubting the standard is also of equal merit.
Nor the numbers at roadside, with Yorkshire folk embracing the race as they have done in each of the previous four years.
“It’s phenomenal that they were still all out there in the pouring rain,” said Deignan. “There were people in shorts and t-shirts. We’re so grateful they were still out supporting us.
“I didn’t quite have the legs to pull anything off. I’m still so eager to get going and I’m finding it boring. I can’t attack like I used to. But that will come back a couple of races down the line.
“At the moment for me it’s all about getting those races in and getting my race rhythm.”
Further up the road, Banks certainly found her rhythm.
After repeated attempts to launch a breakaway the Bigla rider finally got free of the bunch as the race left South Yorkshire and headed towards Pontefract.
By the time the summit of the categorised climb up Cote de Lindley came into view it was Banks versus Leah Dixon of Brother UK for the right to wear the red jersey.
“I knew I had a chance, but also that she was a super strong rider,” said Banks, who was born in Worcestershire but has called Sheffield her home since moving to the city for university 10 years ago.
“I wanted to sit behind her, but ended up on the front, so I just had to ride her off my wheel.
“I saw I had a gap, but it was 500m to go. I was dying, but had to go as hard as I could to get the jersey.
“I can’t describe how special it is to be here with the jersey on and my family here; the crowds are amazing.
“Around where I live in Sheffield is the best place to train because you’re always pushing.”
Banks led the breakaway as Bedale hoved into sight, but the escapees were finally swallowed up three kilometres from home.
From there the heavyweights of the women’s tour took charge and Wiebes burst clear.
“It’s one of the best wins of my career,” said the young Dutch rider.
“When the breakaway was caught I thought I can win this, and the team did an amazing job to put me in a strong position.”
And so to Bridlington for the final women’s stage, 132km up the Yorkshire coast to Scarborough.
“Savage climbs,” said Banks, “and the wind and the rain isn’t going to help.”
Welcome to Yorkshire.