Yorkshire joy for Nordhaug
Published 03/05/2015 | 17:56
Belgian Ben Hermans took the final stage and Team Sky's Lars Petter Nordhaug finished top of the general classification, but it was the Tour de Yorkshire organisers who could claim to be the big winners after another amazing weekend of cycling in the county.
They claimed as many as 750,000 people turned out to watch Sunday's finale, a 167km rolling road from Wakefield to Leeds which revisited many of the key points from last summer's Grand Depart of the Tour de France, with as many as 1.5million people coming out over the three days of the event.
Those are phenomenal numbers for most races outside of the Grand Tours, but particularly surprising for the inaugural edition of an event.
Those fans enjoyed not only another festive atmosphere, but also a fascinating race which was not decided until Nordhaug was able to cross the line in a pack nine seconds behind Hermans, giving the Norwegian an 11-second margin of victory over Hermans' BMC Racing team-mate Samuel Sanchez and Thomas Voeckler of Europcar.
"I'm very happy," said Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme, whose ASO group has organised this race as a spin-off from last year's Grand Depart to the Tour. "There was for me the perfume of the Tour de France. I think it's the perfume of Yorkshire.
"So many people, huge crowds, everybody has got a smile on their face, and a very interesting race thanks to the route. Yorkshire is made for cycling."
Hermans took victory after attacking with 10 kilometres left. He soon swept by the fading solo effort of American Lawson Craddock (Giant-Alpecin) and built a 20 second lead on the way into the finish in Roundhay Park.
That was enough to secure the stage win by a final margin of nine seconds as the peloton behind squabbled over the general classification places, with Nordhaug able to stay with the secondary group and maintain his lead.
That gave Team Sky the victory they came for, even if they had initially been hoping to crown Yorkshire's own Ben Swift before he crashed on Friday's opening stage.
"It was for sure a really hard stage," Nordhaug said. "Ben Swift, who we were riding for before he crashed, had told us everything about the stage so we knew what was coming. We were prepared and the team was riding really strong in the front. I felt like a passenger until the last 200 metres.
"I have ridden the Tour, I have ridden in big races, but this really felt like a big stage on the Tour, the crowd was massive. I had good legs today so I could really enjoy the crowds. It was fantastic to be wearing the leader's jersey, with a strong Team Sky, with all the crowds. A very nice day."
Despite a poor initial forecast and the odd shower along the way, huge numbers turned out. Police estimated 20,000 saw the riders leave Wakefield, and the route was lined almost from start to finish with only a narrow path clearing for the peloton over the top of the big climbs like the so-called 'Cote de Cow and Calf' above Ilkley.
With several British riders in the field, a number of them got to enjoy moments in the sunshine.
With a breakaway further up the road, JLT Condor's Tom Moses went off the front of the peloton as the race passed through his home town of Oakworth on his 23rd birthday.
Leeds-born Josh Edmondson, here for the Great Britain squad, then took his turn on the climb out of Ilkley while Irishman Philip Deignan moved to the front of the Sky train as they passed through the hometown of his girlfriend Lizzie Armistead in Otley.
Sir Bradley Wiggins, enjoying something of a lap of honour as he winds down his road racing career, started the day more than 15 minutes down in the general classification and was again well off the back as the leaders crossed the line, but was soaking up the crowd's adulation.
But come the end of the day, the biggest smiles were on the faces of Welcome to Yorkshire chief Gary Verity and Prudhomme.
"Last year Yorkshire raised the bar for the Grand Depart, and the first edition of the Tour de Yorkshire has already put the bar very high," Prudhomme said. "The baby has been born and it is growing fast."