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Tour of Yorkshire - On the road with Deano

Former professional, UK cycling legend and now Assistant Manager for the JLT Condor team, Dean Downing writes exclusively for Leigh Day, giving a behind-the-scenes account of the Tour of Yorkshire.

The 2016 Tour de Yorkshire was a great success; the press has suggested 2 million people came out to watch the race live on the roadside. I feel pretty lucky that I had a ring side seat for those 3 days in Yorkshire as part of my Assistant Managers role with the JLT Condor team alongside John Herety and the riders and staff.

The crowds were packed deep with cycling fans and families in all the villages and towns. The King of the Mountains prime points were like something out of the Tour de France itself.

The weather didn't deter the fans coming out to support and it didn't deter the riders getting stuck in and racing hard in each of the stages that went from Beverley to Settle, Otley to Doncaster and the last brutal stage over the North Yorkshire Moors from Middlesborough to Scarborough.

It was some race.

Everyone has seen the race results and reports from the riders but I thought I would try and give you all an insight into my job as 2nd Director Sportif out on the road.  

Although the racing was 3 days long the JLT Condor team had a big preparation day before the start where we all met up at the hotel in York to start to organise how we would attack the race.

Both riders and staff all had specific jobs to do over the 3 days and with the Tour de Yorkshire quickly becoming one of the biggest races in the world we all had to be at our best.

The JLT Condor team consisted of 11 staff and 8 riders. Manager, Assistant Manager, Team Performance Coach, 4 Message Therapist's (normally called a Soigneur or Carer), 2 Mechanics, 1 camper van driver and the teams official photographer. Riders were given their rooms to check into, mechanics got busy with checking all the 19 bikes over, Swanny 's got busy with any riders that needed massages and myself and John Herety headed off to the Managers meeting where we signed all the riders on, collected the rider numbers, race manuals, car race radios, and had a bit of a chat with the other managers.

General chat was about how bad the weather was, wet and windy. It wasn't looking good for stage 1.

Proper Yorkshire Grit was needed.

Stage 1

Waking up for stage 1 out of Beverley the weather hadn't changed that much. Wet and windy. All vehicles were ready to roll, 3 Team Cars, 1 camper van and a Transporter is what it takes to get the lads and staff to the start.

The JLT Condor team have had some great success over the years in Beverley on the UK racing scene so we were well supported when we arrived, lots of autograph hunters, photos and press interviews for the riders and of course the team presentation to the fans. All in the rain and cold.

I managed to sneak off for a coffee with Tim Kennaugh to a friend’s cafe, Cafe Velo and then it was team talk time with John Herety.

Aim of stage 1, Get in the break. Graham Briggs did exactly that after only a few kilometres of the stage, 6 riders up the road, they quickly gained 1 minute, 2 minutes. Time for a team car to head up behind and support Briggsy.

A race of this standard always has 2 convoys, the reason for this is that both the breakaways and the bunch can be supported by 2 Director Sportives.

A radio call from John and it was our chance to head up behind Briggsy to support him.

First of all we had to pull over with both team cars and swap Briggsy spare bike from the 1st car to the 2nd car. We even swapped our guest for the day, who jumped into my car. With all that done, we made our way through the 50 vehicle convoy and then past a very relaxed peloton.

With riders taking the opportunity to have a quick natural break, it made for a very hectic drive from the back of the convoy to the front of the race. When we got there Briggsy was fine. No panic.

With a head wind all the way to Settle it was a tough day out for Briggsy and he ended finishing in a small group behind the peloton. Chris Lawless was in the top 10 and Best British rider on the stage with 7th.

A good showing from the JLT Condor lads on day 1. With bad weather all day, a long 185km stage, and a couple of hours transfer back to the York hotel it was a long evening for the Mechanics and Swanny's looking after the riders bikes and bodies.

Stage 2

Dean chats to Team Mechanic Iain McClellan before the start of Stage 2

Stage 2 from Otley to Doncaster was always going to be a great day out for 3 of our Yorkshire riders in particular, but for me too.

The crowds along the route were amazing. The race was on from the beginning, but the team’s tactics today were to save everything for the sprint into Doncaster and not get in the day’s breakaway.

It worked out well and the lads stayed together in the peloton and worked well in a messy finale to place 2 riders in the top 10.

The stage was a short one at 136km which meant the riders had to concentrate for a solid 3 hours. As did we in the car.

Even before the race hit the first kilometre we had to perform an emergency stop in the convoy. With riders stopping for mechanicals and then coming back through the convoy you always have to be looking in the mirrors for which side of the car they are and how fast they are coming before the corners.

One look in the mirror to see a Cofidis rider coming fast and the convoy stops in front all in a split second.

I managed to stop in time, so I was happy with that. The last 40 km of the stage was on roads that I have ridden on for years, and with family and friends on several parts of it, it was a great experience to see my local roads and villages packed out with supporting fans for the Tour de Yorkshire.

With sunshine for all of the stage it was looking like an easier evening for the mechanics, sadly not, coming into Doncaster and the last 15 minutes of racing there was a massive downpour. 19 bikes to get cleaned and in top condition for the last stage, another late one for Iain and Richard.

Stage 3

Stage 3 was the queen stage as they call it in the cycling world as it is the stage thought to be the hardest, most demanding and ultimately most prestigious to win. 

Something that we had been working towards for our 2 climbers in the team. The 2 Stevie's. Stevie Williams and Stevie Lampier

Again the weather was up and down all day, all 210km of it, it had it all, wind, rain, sunshine and the big hills just to make it even harder. 12km of neutral out of Middlesborough which then went onto the actual 198km of racing on very tough roads over the North Yorkshire moors, leading into Scarborough. 

Yet again, a breakaway went away early, sadly JLT Condor missed it. But the lads positioned themselves well behind Team Sky when it started to get into the latter half of the race over the Moors.  

The race was blown into so many groups and even 1's and 2's. 

Job of the day today for team car 2 was to look after our riders in the gruppetto. With a lot of abandons on stage 3 the last group on the road was still in the top 50 in the race.

Shows how brutal stage 3 was. 

Our young 19-year-old Welsh mountain goat Stevie W had a great ride in the finale placing in the top 30, 22nd to be precise. It could have been better too, if he hadn't punctured at a crucial time and had to chase back through the convoy of cars.

He came to within 500 m of the chasing group going for 10th place on the stage, but just couldn't close it. Next year Stevie. 

Again the crowds on this queen stage were incredible, Sutton Bank KOM was like a stage of the Alpe D'Huez. 20 people deep, all cheering on the world’s best cyclists, in the rain and loving every minute of it. 

That is what I will take away from this 2nd edition of Tour de Yorkshire. The huge crowds, the Yorkshire weather, the world’s best riders and the UK based teams taking it to them on every stage. 

I loved every minute of it too. 

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