The bunting is back out and there are blue and yellow bikes everywhere. Welcome to the first edition of the Tour de Yorkshire, which promises to build on Britain's new-found enthusiasm for pro racing that was unforgettably demonstrated last summer when the county hosted the Tour de France's Grand Départ.
Although neither the peloton, which features a mere two riders from the WorldTour's top 50, nor the weather, which is blowy and cool, will be as spectacular as they were last July, this new three-day race is still set to impress. To a large degree this is down to the presence of just two riders – Bradley Wiggins and Marcel Kittel.
Wiggins, of course, will be making his first appearance in the colours of his eponymous team after his departure from Team Sky as he builds towards his June attempt on the Hour Record. Kittel, the winner of the opening stage of last year's Tour in Harrogate, will be making his first competitive outing since February's Tour of Qatar, having spent three months battling the effects of a debilitating virus.
Wiggins, especially, is guaranteed to draw out the crowds, but form and the race route suggest these two headliners won't be among the contenders for the blue and yellow leader's jersey. The favourites to claim that at the stage three finish in Leeds on Sunday include Yorkshireman Ben Swift, who leads a very punchy Sky line-up, LottoNL-Jumbo duo Moreno Hofland and Steven Kruiswijk, who are fine-tuning their form for the Giro d'Italia, and BMC's Greg Van Avermaet, who is the kind of Classics specialist who should thrive on the lumpy opening and closing days.
The initial stage between Bridlington and Scarborough has been billed as one for the sprinters. However, the sharp drops and climbs on the North Yorkshire Moors and the very exposed coast road between Whitby and the finish on Scarborough's Marine Drive could well bring the GC contenders to the fore.
Day two between the minsters of Selby and York suits the returning Kittel much more. The climbs on the Yorkshire Wolds come too far from the finish to have a significant impact, leaving plenty of time for Giant-Alpecin to chase down any escapees before entering the finishing circuit in York, where Kittel will be heavily tipped to open his 2015 victory account.
Day three, running in a huge loop from Wakefield through the Pennines to finish in Roundhay Park in Leeds, is the 'queen' stage. Starting on the terrain that made the closing kilometres of the Tour de France's second stage such a huge test, it concludes with a series of short, sharp ascents, notably the Cow and Calf climb out of Ilkley and the Chevin above Otley. Following them is an uncategorised rise up to the final intermediate sprint at Arthington, which is likely to be contested by a very small group of the strongest riders, who should be able to rebuff any pursuit over the final 15km.
Swift has the form, racing characteristics and local knowledge to be among them. But the 27-year-old Rotherham rider may find himself being pressed hard by a bevy of fellow Yorkshiremen who will be especially motivated. There are more than a dozen Tykes in the field, including Cult Energy’s Russ Downing, Olympic team pursuit champion Ed Clancy and An Post’s Josh Edmondson, who is riding in Team GB colours.
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