A crucial opening stage
In both previous editions of the Tour de Yorkshire, the winner of the stage to Scarborough has gone on to win the overall – Lars Petter Nordhaug was the victor from a five man group in 2015, and Thomas Voeckler in a two-man sprint against Nicolas Roche last year.
Although the addition of an even tougher stage (see below) means it may not quite be so decisive this year, it still promises to be a thrilling stage that should establish a hierarchy in the GC.
As in 2015, the stage starts in Bridlington, heads west to Pocklington, north to Whitby and finally south to Scarborough.
There may only be three categorised climbs, but this is Yorkshire, and anyone who knows the roads will be aware of how undulating the terrain is. The constant ups and downs should prompt action early on, even before the route’s biggest test of the Côte de Robin Hood’s Bay 28km from the finish.
Deignan headlines women’s race
The biggest British name taking part in the Tour de Yorkshire is Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans), who is among the favourites for the women’s race.
Taking place on the Saturday morning, the peloton take on the same 122.5km route starting in Tadcaster and finishing in Harrogate that the men will later in the day.
Both previous editions have ended in sprints, but a hillier route (albeit one containing only a single categorised climb) provides hope for riders seeking to win from a breakaway.
Chief among them will be Deignan. Riding on home roads and in front of home fans, she’ll likely pull rank over her teammate Anna van der Breggen despite finishing runner-up to her in all three of the Ardennes Classics last week.
However, there will be plenty of riders looking to organise their teams to force a sprint finish, including last year’s winner Kirsten Wild (Cyclance) and the on-form Coryn Rivera (Sunweb).
Quality sprint showdown on stage two
In the men’s race, the only real chance for the sprinters to compete for a victory will be stage two.
There should be enough teams invested in controlling the race for a bunch finish given the number of hopeful sprinters in the race. Most notably, a trio of top rate speedsters who will likely go head-to-head in a competitive finale.
There’s Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott), the young Aussie who on paper has the quickest kick but may be worn out by the earlier undulating kilometres; Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), whose aggression always provokes excitement and often controversy too; and Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto-NL-Jumbo), who won the opening stage in last year’s edition but is still desperately seeking his first victory this year.
Toughest stage of the Tour de Yorkshire to date
With its total of eight categorised climbs and many more uncategorised rises, stage three reaches a dimension of difficulty hitherto unseen in the Tour de Yorkshire’s brief history. The enormity of this stage should make for a thrilling and potentially all-changing finale to the race.
The first four climbs are tackled in quick succession during the first half of the stage, with the peloton still in West Yorkshire having started in Bradford, and could see decisive splits occur early on.
Then, after 80km of bumpy but officially climbless kilometres heading towards South Yorkshire, four more climbs are crammed into the final 15km. This should prompt a frenzy of action among whichever riders are still left in contention.
All these ascents are characteristic of the region – very short and very steep. Punchy riders have dominated the race over the past two years and will be well-suited to this stage too, but the added climbing will mean only the toughest and most resilient will triumph.
An unpredictable race
It’s not just the terrain and the lack of World Tour teams to control the racing that makes the Tour de Yorkshire unpredictable – it’s the fact that there is no clear favourite, too.
Two riders with good records here are Thomas Voeckler (Direct-Energie), who is defending champion, and Samuel Sanchez (BMC), who was second in 2015. However, both are continuing to lose their punch with age, with the former now 37 and the latter 39.
Among younger riders with good records here are Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), who was fifth last year prior to his Giro breakthrough, and for whom the extra climbing in this edition will be a blessing rather than a curse. There’s also 2015 winner Lars Petter Nordhaug, who will be eager to show former employees Sky what they’re missing.
It’s also worth looking out for Voeckler’s young teammate Lilian Calmejane, another punchy rider who has starred in Pro Continental races this season, already racking up a total of six wins.
>Lots of British interest
As one of Britain’s biggest stage races, the Tour de Yorkshire provides a rare chance for less high profile and emerging British riders to show their worth against top WorldTour talent.
Excluding Sky, in total there will be five British based trade teams competing: Bike Channel Canyon, JLT Condor, Madison Genesis, One Pro Cycling, Raleigh GAC, as well as a Great Britain National Team.
Riding for Sky will be their classics leaders Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe, who, although being among the hardest in the peloton, may find the climbing too much for their rouleur builds, especially after an exhausting spring campaign.
Sky’s young duo of ex-track specialists Owain Doull and Jonathan Dibben also ride, while British champion Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport) has the chance to show off his national champion’s jersey on home soil for the first time this season.