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Over the past 18 months, the focus of world cycling has been on Britain for all the wrong reasons. Team Sky’s handling of Bradley Wiggins’ mystery treatment in the Critérium du Dauphiné back in 2011 was questioned, with Sir Dave Brailsford’s reputation tarnished, and the finger of doubt pointed to a sport that has suffered more than any over the last generation when it comes to cheating using performance enhancing drugs.
It will be with a huge sigh of relief, then, that the spotlight will be on the action itself this week, with the much loved and respected Tour de Yorkshire getting underway for its third renewal. The race has become more than just a legacy of when the White Rose county hosted two Tour de France stages back in 2014, as massive crowds have turned up to cheer on a field that has increased in quality year on year.
The 2017 edition is the strongest yet, with Luke Rowe, who has helped Chris Froome secure Tour de France glory in each of the last two years, and Jon Dibben, who won the points race at last year’s UCI Track World Championships, both included in the Team Sky line-up.
Elsewhere, the defending Tour de Yorkshire champion Thomas Voeckler and the 2015 winner Lars Petter Nordhaug will also fancy their chances of securing a second title. Cofidis’ Nacer Bouhanni and Australian speedster Caleb Ewan will also look to snatch the sprinters crown.
Ewan has shown his quality and naivety in equal measure this season, winning the sprinters jersey on home roads in Australia thanks to four stage wins in the Tour Down Under back in January, before admitting to making a “massive rookie error” in celebrating early on the second stage of Abu Dhabi Tour in February. The latter allowing Marcel Kittel to take advantage and pip him to victory. Ewan, who was second on the opening day of the Tour de Yorkshire 12 months ago, has also hit the tarmac several times, including when crashing out of Tirreno-Adriatico last month. The 22-year-old still claimed second place in the points standings in the Gulf, and the first two stages of the TDY look tailor-made for his style, who many have compared with Mark Cavendish’s.
Friday’s Bridlington to Scarborough route and Saturday’s Tadcaster to Harrogate stage should be contested by the sprinters, although the latter does feature one climb, so it might be possible for a breakaway group to get out and stay out. The likelihood of two bunch finishes is high, however. Ewan is sure to be up in the vanguard alongside Bouhanni, who has won two one-day semi-classics this year in Belgium and France, and Adam Blythe, who won British National Road Race Championships in 2016 fending off Cavendish amongst others. Blythe is adept at breakaways and is certainly one to watch if a group escape the clutches of the peloton. Keep an eye on Harry Tanfield; the Great Ayton rider will be pushing the pedals on roads he grew up on and might just surprise on day one.
The third stage on Sunday is when we’ll find out who will be the outright winner. The 194km route from Bradford to Sheffield features eight climbs, with four of them inside the final 20 kilometres.
Nordhaug was the favourite last year, but was only sixth to Voeckler, who beat Ireland’s Nicolas Roche in the General Classification after the third day. Roche is currently riding in the Tour de Romandie, so is absent from Yorkshire this week, but Voeckler, who was second in 2015, and Nordhaug are prominent in the betting for the outright market once again. Samuel Sanchez, however, has had to pull out of the race. BMC Racing Sports Director Jackson Stewart reported that the Spaniard is still recovering from his Vuelta al Pais Vasco crash.
While Team Sky will be desperate to produce a good news story, the pressure on the likes of Rowe, who crashed last time out in the Paris-Roubaix, and Dibben, who crossed the line 47 minutes down on race winner Greg Van Avermaet on his debut, might just be too much for a home win.
That could leave the race open to Steven Kruijswijk. The Dutch rider is a very good climber and can boast top 25 finishes in the Tour de France. He also has successive top ten’s in the Giro D’italia in the last few seasons. Fifth last year, he should relish the tougher third stage and is a strong each-way bet to deny Voeckler a second Tour de Yorkshire success.