Welcome race fans, to round one of the Yorkshire v Flanders Classic series. Since the Dirty Wknd x All Things Ride April series, the world of pro cycling continues much as the rest of the world: The Tour de Yorkshire, like the fabled Classics of Northern Europe that usually proceed it, was cancelled due to the ongoing virus.
However cycling fans around the world have an itch that can't be scratched by sitting around eating junk food and watching Netflix. Cycling fans need the thrill of racing to stay sane, none more so than two of the most passionate cycling regions in the world.
Flanders needs no introduction - the home of the Hellingen, birth place of Eddy Merckx and setting for some of the most exciting races in history. Yorkshire, however, Might need a little introduction. A new name on the scene, but the 2014 Grand Depart, Tour de Yorkshire and and the epic 2019 World Championships means that 'God's own county' certainly deserves its place in the cycling canon.
The two regions are well known for being 'hard', their sons and daughters are used to tough riding, at home in often biblical weather and of course no stranger to brutally steep climbs. That's right, Yorkshire and Flanders are incredibly similar in many ways, so pitting the two against each other in a Zwift race seemed like the perfect way to delight race fans around the world!
Partnering again with our friends All Things Ride and with the amazing support of Welcome to Yorkshire, Cold Bath Brewing Co, Visit Flanders, Cycling Vlaanderen and Cycling in Flanders, no fewer than 100 riders took to the start line of the Harrogate Zwift circuit for what was set to be an epic race. Yorkshire in the blue and yellow kit, Flanders donning the famous yellow and black. It was fair to say that Blue jerseys outweighed black, but would that give the home team an advantage?
Fresh from the DW x ATR Classics series, many of the Yorkshire team were race fit and ready to go. Five red hot races throughout April meant they were expecting a fast start, but the Belgian contingent were a somewhat unknown quantity. Hardened racers from the All Things Ride and Dirty Wknd race teams like Muz Tuach, Adam Jones and Alastair Grant from ATR and Will Taylor, Andy Robinson and Mike Hazlewood from DWRT; adversaries in April, would become team mates in May to try and do the Yorkshire name proud.
With Cycling Vlaanderen, Cycling in Flanders and Visit Flanders turning on the collective bat signal to recruit some of the best Zwift talent in Belgium, the combined might of ATR & DWRT would certainly have a fight on their hands. They would however have some help from some other Yorkshire clubs, including Cappuccino CC, Cogs and Roses and the awesome Queensbury Queens. With the absence of the Tour de Yorkshire this year, many of the local race fans were keen to get their fix.
As the virtual gate dropped on round one of the YvF Classic, The Yorkshire lot seemed a bit cagey, not sure what to expect from their Flemish opponents. They were, of course, punished for forgetting their history. What else would expect from the region that produced Roger De Vlaeminck, Freddy Maertens & Tom Boonen? Of course the start was Vol Gas as the team in yellow and black shot to the front and began to dominate the race.
However Yorkshire has produced its own fair share of cycling legends too - Barry Hoban, Tom Pidcock, Lizzie Diegnen to name but a few, and of course never forgetting the legendary Beryl Burton! With this in their minds, the team were quick and ready to jump onto the Flanders attack. A great splintering was the result, with multiple groups forming on the road. Many however had chosen to ride the event at their own pace, and couldn't give a fig what was going on at the front!
The Harrogate Zwift course, for anyone who hasn't ridden it, is a tough lumpy little circuit that takes no prisoners. Four laps was going to be a challenge whether racing or riding, so it was a tough day out for all. The fact that it turned out to be 4 and a bit laps, might not have helped, but we'll get onto that shortly.
With the majority of the race favourites in the front group, the scene was set for an epic battle. After a Spring campaign of dominating every race in sight, the Yorkshire contingent of Taylor, Robinson and team leader/part time male model Jonny 'The Whisper' Secrett could have been forgiven for thinking that this would be a repeat. However, the Flandriens weren't here to play second fiddle, and without so much as an 'ow do', they began to turn the screw.
The Yorkshire boys were at a loss, and could do little as Fransesco Van Meeuwen skipped away after 10km. With numbers at the front, including Jo Pirotte, Charles Vandeplassche and Gerrit Delfosse, they were sitting pretty. The ever persistent Yorkshire & DWRT duo of Robinson and Taylor had their work cut out trying to make a dent. It was very much Advantage Vlaanderen early on.
A topic of much discussion on Twitter before the race was that of Ilya Gridneff - the Aussie born but Brussels based Dirty Wknd team member, who at the eleventh hour, decided to turn his back on his DWRT team mates and reward his adoptive country by donning the yellow and black. Rumours that he had changed his last name to 'van der Neff' on Instagram are still unconfirmed, but either way the Yorkshire team had the unenviable task of controlling 'The Big Man' for the day.
However, van Gridneff was beset by a Zwift mechanical on the line, sitting in the starting pen for an additional 40 seconds before being released. He would tell post race reporters that he didn't know what happened, but a leaked source from inside Zwift itself would later claim that he had been handicapped for having an FTP that was 'just too high.' One of the hot favourites now had a lot of work to do, and the Twittersphere was blowing up!
However the heroic race to the front that van der Gridneff was hoping for was not to be realised, simply because some of his Flanders team mates just weren't up for waiting around for him. After getting a bit of a feel for the course, Pirotte and Delfosse decided to drop the hammer and bridge over to their team mate up the road. With a couple of mates to block on the front, the gap opened up pretty quickly, and the Yorkshire team could do 'nowt' but watch.
Further back along the road, groups were shattering and forming again on the various climbs and descents. Local Yorkshire riders know the Oatley Road climb well, but it was a serious drag for those new to the area. Many splits would also happen on the Harlow Road climb - a tough, sharp little spike that really saps the legs time after time. Just ask one Mathieu van der Poel! The fact that the race organisers threw in a 5th ascent of Oatley Road did unsurprisingly not delight the peloton.
Media reports were varied as to the reason for the extra 5km in the race. Some claimed it was a simple miscalculation in the creation of the race length, others claiming the extra kilometres were added 'for a laugh'. Fan footage even surfaced showing some of the Yorkshire fans actually moving the finish line to try and help the home team. Race organisers have gone on record to play down the furore, claiming that 'it didn't really matter anyway, and the extra distance and climbing was good for 'em!'
After the great Flandrien attack early on in the race, it looked like it would take a full blown miracle to stop an all black and yellow winner. Details are slightly hazy as the explosive action happened off camera (TV Stations were apparently preoccupied with trying to get slo mo footage of Jonny Secrett's shoes) but post race interviews tell us that Pirotte managed to drop Delfosse and press on solo. Vandeplassche was doing a great job of snuffing out the Yorkshire response, so it looked like any sprinting would be for 3rd place.
But where oh where, dear race fans, was Ilya van der de Gridneff? Fear not - the 'Flandrien' was making up for his slow start and rocketing his way to the front. However, with the win already out of reach, the Yorkshire lads in the front decided to switch to plan B - annoy Ilya! The big man wasn't mucking around however, and introduced himself by putting the hurt on to the group!
Whilst all this was happening Flandrien superstar Jo Pirotte was zipping up his jersey, waving to the fans and sticking his hands in the air. Delfosse also came home solo after a great ride to make it a Flanders one two. All eyes now turned to the van der de Gridneff group, as the pressure he was putting on the group took its toll. After a brave ride, Taylor and Van Meeuwen were dumped out of the group. The final podium spot was decided on the final (extra) climb up Otley Road, with Vandeplassche doing enough to pip van der de Gridneffckx for the bronze. Andy Robinson took 5th to round out the top 5 as the first Yorkshire finisher. A truly scintillating end to a bike race.
With the podium decided, the remaining groups looked to get a little sport out of the final lap, with team mates turning on team mates to battle for positition. Global superstar Jonny Secrett battled with adversary come team mate Tom Jagger and Adam Walker. Not far behind the 2nd group on the road came Yorkshire's hard charging Leah Brewer, the first female finisher,
A little further down the road came Yorkshire stalwarts Rupert Visick, Seb Cailliau, and Lois Brewer, having been gapped by her sister on the first lap. Yorkshire team mates or not - sibling rivalry is a thing! Sadly there isn't time or space to mention the countless other riders who put in huge efforts around the course. They've all done themselves and their respective regions proud.
A special mention must go out to the ladies from Cogs and Roses CC, a relatively new Yorkshire club, all of whom are also new to Zwift as well. Quoted in the pre race press as saying they were not sure if they'd make it around all 4 (and a bit) laps, they all rode the whole course and had a great time doing it. Great work Cogs & Roses - Yorkshire grit really is a thing!
Congratulations to Team Flanders for filling the podium, and Jo Pirotte for taking the win. This Saturday (9th May) sees the teams take to the start line again for round 2. Will Team Flanders take the honours again or can Team Yorkshire rally an response. Tune in next week to find out.
- Jo Pirote
- Gerrit Delfosse
- Charles Vanderspache
- Ilya Rik van der de Gridneffckx
- Andy Robinson
If you're keen to join round two of the ride (just 3 laps this time, we promise) then click this link and sign up for the 9th May. See you on the start line!
Apologies if any of the above results are incorrect (please email us if so) - we're working from Strava only as Zwift doesn't produce results for this type of event. We really hope you had fun and enjoyed a Zwift ride with a twist! Thanks to All Things Ride, Cycling in Flanders, Visit Flanders, Cycling Vlaanderen, Kwaremont and Cold Bath Brewing co.