The Tour de Yorkshire is a race renowned for its grippy parcours and gargantuan crowds.
Being a 2.HC race, it draws all the biggest UK teams, alongside a strong contingent of Pro Continental and WorldTour teams.
This melting pot of a start list means us UK fans could tune in to ITV4 to see a lad who once raced for our local club hitting out against Greg van Avermaet and Chris Froome.
The race is always remembered for the fanatical support it draws, as the crowds come to cheer on the race and celebrate this festival of ‘God’s Own Country’.
This year, the race was made all the more memorable by conditions some would call ‘Belgian’, and some would call apocalyptic, with three of the four stages being played out in block headwinds, non-stop rain, and temperatures more suited to February than May.
We spoke to three of the riders from Canyon DHB-p/b Bloor Home about their race, the team’s growing confidence, and their place in the international peloton.
Like the parcours they raced on, the Tour de Yorkshire was one of highs and lows for Canyon-DHB-p/b Bloor Homes.
After holding the KoM jersey for the first two stages thanks to the breakaway exploits of Jacob Hennesy, and finding three riders in the top 12 on GC going into stage 3, the boys in blue were maintaining their reputation as one of the teams to beat in the UK ranks.
However, fortunes were dramatically reversed when some riders failed to start stage 3 with illness, and the remainder lost out in the fight for positions in echelons.
However, rather than throwing in the towel, the surviving riders rallied in the final stage, working as a unit to place Max Stedman into a lead bunch dominated by riders from Team Ineos and CCC-Team, fnishing 16t on the stage.
The first stage of Yorkshire was one for the brave, and certainly one the riders will remember. “I was so cold I weed myself twice to keep warm,” recalls the small and slight Stedman, a rider that would invariably suffer when the conditions turn.
“You can tolerate that rain for maybe one stage, but this as the worst weather I’ve experienced on a stage race. Every day when we woke up and checked the forecast to see more rain, a little bit of me died.”
Rob McCarthy‘s experience was similar.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been as cold in a race as I was on stage 1” he says. “It was really cold and wet, and we were racing through a lot of farm tracks, so there was a lot of animal shit on the roads, and that ends up all over you from the road spray.
“A load of people got ill over the race, those conditions just suppress your immune system so much.”
Rob himself later fell foul of the consequences of racing at such a high level in such tough conditions, falling ill mid-way through the tour.
Local boy Tom Stewart, born and bred in Yorkshire’s Doncaster, is a true example of Northern Grit however, and is able to find the positive in racing through such conditions.
“I hate training in bad weather, but racing in it is something you just deal with. And it all becomes part of the story – they’re the races you remember when it’s terrible weather. As horrible as racing in tough conditions can be at the time, you remember them and have stories about, and you cherish that. I’ve done so many races in good weather that I’ve just forgotten about now. I sort of like that about bad weather.”
The weather didn’t deter Hennessy however, as he went on the rampage in the breakaway to scoop up King of the Mountains points and earn the team the climbers’ jersey at the end of the day.
Stewart was next to make the headlines for the team. His ability to put the conditions to one side came to the fore on stage 2. Although the weather wasn’t quite as apocalyptic as stage 1, it was far from what you’d call clement, with block headwinds and driving showers.
He made it into a break early in the race, along with a handful of fellow brits from teams including Team Wiggins, SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling, and Vitus Pro Cycling. He went on to animate the breakaway, repeatedly attacking and whittling down the group, scooping up intermediate sprints in the process.
The break was caught tantalisingly close to the line, with only 4km to go. However, Stewart’s efforts were far from wasted, putting his team, and of course, his own talents, well into the limelight, and granting him some special moments.
“Being in that break was a special experience, not just because I was at the front of the race, but more for the memories. We went straight past my sister’s house, and her and her kids were stood outside. Being in the break meant I was able to give them a wave.
“It’s really special to be able to take in the number of people at the side of the road. You see so much more when you’re in the break and you can make eye-contact with people – whereas that’s not possible in the bunch.”
At the end of stage 2, the team were in a strong position, with three riders in the top 12 of GC, including Hennessy fifth overall and in the KoM jersey.
With Stage 3 the wheels threatened to come off the well-oiled machine however. As McCarthy had alluded to when recounting the conditions of stage 1, the delicate immune systems of riders already at their limits from careful diet and hard training sometimes just gives in when harsh weather conditions are added to the mix.
Two riders from the team pulled out before the stage with illness, and Rob himself faring only slightly better.
He said: “Stage 3 was the worst for me. I was starting to get ill, and was starting to feel pretty empty. I got dropped with 50km to go and had to ride it out on my own. I finished 20 minutes down, last man on the road. The last stretch was super-windy and hilly and I was just crawling. I’d been on the rivet all stage so I was just blowing in those final 50km.”
And McCarthy’s story is symbolic of a bad day for the team as a whole. With the winds blowing hard all day, team manager Tim Elverson knew echelons were imminent.
“We’d been chatting about where the winds would change direction in the team talks,” says Stedman. “But it happened just slightly differently on the road to what we were expecting, and we were caught out.” The Canyon DHB-p/b Bloor Homes contingent were caught at the wrong side of a split brought about by Team-CCC and Ineos, with the team ending up splintered across various chase groups on the road.
“We were unlucky when it all kicked off; there’s only so much space on the road and only so many people that can share it,” explains Stedman. “We gave it our all to make it across to the lead group, but it was too little too late. We knew that if we’d made that split, we’d have been able to do something in the race. We knew that something was going to happen around there, we just weren’t quite in the right position, and so it was massively frustrating for us.”
The team came across the line in dribs and drabs, their GC chances shattered by the time losses they’d sustained. McCarthy finished dead last, having gutted out the final 50km in solo suffering.
Some riders may have let their heads drop after such disappointment, but it’s testament to the team’s confidence and spirit that they wrestled something back on the final stage. The team worked to get Stedman into the elite lead group of 30 or so riders that was packed with Ineos and CCC men, including Froome, Van Avermaet, and overall winner Chris Lawless.
“It was a great feeling to make it into that elite group at the front on stage 4 and still be there at the end,” say Stedman, who finished 16th on the day, and 25th on GC – the team’s highest position in the overall.
“To know that they [the WorldTour teams] were going as hard as they can and you’re still with them gives a lot of confidence. And knowing that if I’d had just another few percent I could have made top 10 is a great feeling. It was really good for us as a team, we were looking to salvage something after stage 3 and were going for the break, and when that didn’t come off, we had to go again for that final stage placing.”
Stedman’s confidence and optimism about being so close to that top 10 stage placing is illustrative of the team’s attitude as a whole. There’s a real sense of momentum in the squad, and they’re not fazed by mixing it up with big boys from WorldTour.
“I’ve looked up to these guys at some point when I’ve been watching racing, so it’s always cool to be racing with them, and feels a step up. However, you also just think of them as another guy there racing their bike. Obviously, you show them a bit of respect in the bunch, and they’re not going to give you a whole lot of space, that’s how the hierarchy in the peloton works,” says Stedman.
Stewart agrees with the sentiment, that, at the end of the day, whether you start and finish the race on a Team Ineos ‘deathstar’ or in Canyon-DHB’s van, it’s all about who turns the pedals hardest.
“It’s cool to race with the WorldTour guys, but it doesn’t really change anything in the race. They’ve still got to get from A to B fastest, like everyone else. They have no advantage over us in terms of what they’ve got to do on that day, and they’re going to suffer in the race just the same as we are. It’s not their race to lose, which is what some people seem to think,” he says.
Similarly, McCarthy talks of how Canyon DHB-p/b Bloor homes had gone out with the intention to “beat the bigger teams at their own game” and mix it up in GC-forming stages, not just making token appearances in the breakaway.
Canyon DHB-p/b Bloor Homes are a young squad, and the riders are hungry for success. The way they raced at Yorkshire, despite the tarnishing point of stage 3, shows just how close they are as to those you see making the cover of Cycling News and the top feature of websites around the world.
“We’ve raced WorldTour teams enough now to know that the level’s high and of course, we know they’re world-class riders, but then, it’s not a massive jump to see yourself in that situation,” says Max. “You’ve got Connor Swift [Arkea-Samsic], Harry Tanfield [Katusha-Alpecin, previously Canyon-Eisberg] and James Knox [Deceuninck-Quick-Step] as examples of that”
McCarthy is of a similar mindset. He’s raced, or been in teams with, those now competing at the highest level, and knows that he’s within touching distance and a lucky break of that next step too, especially when part of a wave of success such as that Canyon DHB outfit.
“Seeing people I used to be teammates with like Fabio Jackobsen (now Deceunick-Quick-Step, and raced with Rob in Dutch team SEG Racing Academy in 2015) doing so well now is really inspiring. He wasn’t that much better than us, and to see him stepping up fills you with confidence,” he says.
However, the trio acknowledge that in their current set-up, they’ve got the infrastructure and opportunities that the pro continental teams so rife on the continent have.
“Tim [Elverson] has done a great job this year, we have had a great race programme and had a good training camp in Calpe at the start of the year. The squad Tim has put together and the confidence and culture he’s instilled in us has been a massive part of our success,” explains McCarthy. “Having such a stacked roster means that we know we always have an opportunity to show ourselves in great races.”
Indeed, the programme that Elverson has engineered for the team is outstanding, and both the junior and senior riders seem to be spending more time in Europe than the UK now the season is in full swing.
“It would be nice to step up, but the race programme we have is basically the same as you’d get at Pro Conti level – other than a very outside chance of a wildcard invite to a grand tour or spring classic – so I’m happy,” says Tom.
“We’re going to races like Le Samyn and Tro Bro Leon and so you can’t ask much more than that. We’ve done nine 1.1 races and loads of 1.2s and 2.2s. We’ve got the opportunities here, and we’re having a laugh, and we enjoy the racing. And who knows it that’s the case if you step up, with the different atmosphere and environment? It’s swings and roundabouts.”
As Stewart alludes to, this is a tight-knit unit, and I really get a sense of that from following their progress on social media, knowing them personally, and speaking to them for opportunities like this.
There’s a cohesive and positive spirit in the team, and the riders seem to genuinely appreciate being a part of.
And that positive attitude shines across in the way that they look back at the Tour de Yorkshire. The guys talk of one of their key races of the year not with negativity due to one moment of error on stage 3 putting an end to a potentially very strong result, or with horror as a result of the conditions, but with a sense of privilege and fondness.
McCarthy recalls of stage 3 when, last man on the road, limping out the remainder of the race: “The crowds really helped get me home on that day when I was out the back. Even when I was 15 minutes behind, they were still out there, cheering me on and supporting me.
“Even when you’re dropped, cold and wet, having people shouting you on puts a smile on your face and reminds you that it’s not really that bad, and makes you think what a cool experience it is.”
The passion and volume of the crowds of Yorkshire are unique, and one of the hallmarks of the race. It’s something that the riders talk of with a sense of wistfulness.
“Riding up Otley Chevin [the iconic climb rising out of Otley] on stage 4 with the crowds forming a tunnel up the road and screaming encouragement was probably the closest I’ll get to that Alpe d’Huez feeling,” admits Stedman.
Stewart sums up the unique beauty of cycling, and the experiences it affords those strong enough to race at its top level, eloquently. He explains how the feeling of racing through villages lined with fans undeterred by driving rain and gales “is something you can’t manufacture, you can’t buy, you can’t fake.”
He adds: “We’re so fortunate as bike riders in this country to be able to experience that. No one else can experience that – millionaires can’t go and buy that. And even riders in other countries don’t get that, Yorkshire is just so special in that respect, and we’re so lucky to be able to race it.”
Indeed, lucky riders in a team currently on a very long run on luck. Keep your eye on the results sheets, as you’re likely to see the words ‘Canyon DHB-p/b Bloor Homes’ near the top of one soon.
Jim Cotton is a freelance cycling writer and content creator who has written for Cycling Weekly, VeloNews and Unfound.CC. His work can be found at https://mountainmutton.com/
All images courtesy of Hugh McManus / Canyon-DHB