With the temperature just half a dozen degrees above freezing and persistent rain occasionally taking on a more sleet-like consistency, the Tour de Yorkshire’s May Day start in Middlesbrough could easily have passed for Belgium in March. So it was perhaps not surprising that Sky’s Spring Classics specialist Luke Rowe had a glint in his eye when he exited his team bus and contemplated the race-deciding stage that lay ahead.
He wouldn’t be drawn on Sky’s plan for the day, but did reveal: “We might not win today, but I guarantee we will be making it very hard for everyone.”
The Welshman was more forthcoming on how his season has panned out so far and on what he hopes lies ahead. A career-best fifth at the Tour of Flanders, Sky’s best finish ever in the Belgian Classic, and 14th in Paris-Roubaix, Rowe said he is very satisfied with the way his spring went.
“I’m really happy with how the season’s gone so far. The Classics worked out pretty well. There were a few bittersweet moments, times when I think I was a little bit unlucky, but if you speak to every rider who rides every single Classic and I’m sure they’ll all say that things never go smoothly all of the time,” said Rowe.
The Tour de Yorkshire marks a change in Rowe’s focus. With the early-season one-day campaign behind him, he’s now aiming to gain selection for the Tour de France for the second year in succession. The British stage race is one of the first steps towards that.
“I’ve got to change focus and try to get a place in the Tour team and go there and win it with Chris Froome again. I think I’m on track to do that,” said Rowe, who made his Tour debut last year, helping Sky’s leader to his second yellow jersey. He is well aware, though, that this will be no easy task.
“It’s no secret that there’s a lot of strength in depth on our team, so even just to make the squad is a big ask. But that’s a goal I’ve set myself, I’m committed to it, and I’m fairly confident I can make the squad,” he said.
With that goal very much in mind, Rowe admitted it gives him and his teammates a real boost to hear how Froome had responded to his ill-timed puncture at the Tour de Romandie, which cost him his chance of contending for that title.
“It does give you a lift to see Chris winning a big stage in Romandie. Obviously he missed out on the overall because he punctured at the wrong moment, but that’s what our sport is all about. But to switch it around right away by finishing fourth in the time trial and then winning yesterday shows that he’s exactly where he needs to be – and we will all be fully behind him,” said Rowe.
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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