By Nigel Wynn
Tom Stewart crowned a successful Tour de Normandie for the British JLT Condor team on Sunday, becoming the first British rider to win the race since 1985.
Stewart took the race lead in the seven-day French race after stage five, where he had put himself in the day's break to place third.
He finished ninth on stage six's bunch sprint, won by team-mate Matt Gibson, and ninth again on the final stage to secure the final yellow jersey of the UCI 2.2-ranked event. Gibson also took the green jersey of overall points classification winner.
"I’m absolutely thrilled to bits to win," Stewart said after the win.
"It is one of the most chaotic, dangerous, stressful, and difficult races to ride. I don’t know how we’ve done it. We’ve pulled off something really special. It makes me so proud to part of the team and I’m so happy for Matt [Gibson] to take home the green jersey as well.”
Despite the results, it wasn't all plain sailing for JLT Condor as their team was reduced by two as Ian Bibby and Robert McCarthy abandoned after suffering with an illness.
James Gullen and Ali Slater then rode with two objectives: defending the overall lead and keeping Gibson in green. Stewart praised their colossal effort.
"James and Ali rode their hearts out for me over the weekend. They sat on the front of the peloton and rode into the wind for countless kilometres to ensure no one could attack. It wasn’t an easy job. Other teams had four or five riders they could use up in attacks. James and Ali rode like ten men."
Stewart finished the race one second ahead of second-placed Alexander Krieger (Leopard Pro Cycling), with Bjørn Tore Hoem (Joker Icopal) in third also at one second.
The last time a British rider won the Tour de Normandie was in 1985, when Paul Curran took the victory. Previous winners in the race have included Thor Hushovd, Stefan Küng and 2017 winner Anthony Delaplace.
JLT Condor were one of the British teams announced for the 2018 Tour de Yorkshire, which takes place on Stewart's home roads over May 3-6. Before then, Stewart and Bibby will ride for Team England at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, taking place over April 4-18.
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