Welcome back race fans, to the second Yorkshire v Flanders Classic. After fireworks from the off at round one, cycling fans around the world were salivating at the prospect of a send bite of the virtual apple. Team Flanders dominated the first round, with not only an all yellow and black podium, but fourth place too, just for good measure. Andy Robinson came in a close 5th to save some blushes for the Yorkshire team, but it was clear they had been outclassed. You can read the full race report here.
However, week two was a new race, and the Yorkshire team would not be caught napping again. Or would they? Stepping down from the team buses before the race started, it was remarkable how many more fans had come along to Harrogate to watch the phenomenal racing and spot their favourite riders. The largest crowd was of course outside the Yorkshire team bus, fans young and old hoping to catch a glimpse of 'Smash Hits' magazine recently voted 'hottest cyclist in the peloton' Jonny 'The Whisper' Secrett. They would of course be disappointed. Everybody knows that The Whisper always takes a helicopter to the start line.
Eyes were also on last week's breakaway winner. Jo Pirotte of Team Flanders was truly in a class of his own, capitalising on a perfectly set up move by his Flandrien team mates, to skip away to the line in the best example of social distancing we've seen to date. Thomas De Gendt tweeted later that night that he almost thought he was watching footage of himself. It was a dominant display by the Flemish, and one that Team Yorkshire could only marvel at.
After some midweek 'meetings' between Zwift, the organising software company, and Team Yorkshire, the slightly red faced 'home' team, round 2 of the Yorkshire v Flanders Classic (The Sequel), was shortened to 3 laps of the Harrogate UCI circuit. Whether an attempt to keep the racing punchy for the millions watching on TV, or an attempt to save Yorkshire blushes, the result was the smashiest of smashy starts. Those who raced round one were fully prepared for a fast start, with many of the 150 riders on the line galloping out of the traps.
The first ascent of the fearsome Otley road climb will go down in history. At an average of around 5% it doesn't sound very fierce, but the fact that it goes on for about 23.4 kilometres means that it's no flat piece of cycle path. Add to that the front group pushing 350 to 400 watts, and you've got a spicy start to a bike race! Needless to say, selections occurred all over the road, as the strongest (or maybe most awake) riders raced to the front, and summited Oatley road in what would surely be the winning group.
Despite Yorkshire's best efforts, they were again able to do little as two Belgians again danced off the front of the bunch very early. You guessed if race fans, it was of course man of the moment Jo Pirotte and compatriot Jimmy Tielens. Fraser Duff came over the Yorkshire race radio to say that he wasn't really up for pushing upwards of 5 watts per kilo to hang onto the back of them, and nor was anyone else in the group. As with round one, the two Belgians got away as the rest of the front bunch looked at each other, praying for some kind of miracle.
Groups formed, as riders began to move up or fall back depending on how their early legs fared. The first lap was hot as hell, as riders jostled and fought for position, not wanting to lose that precious draft or experience the dreaded 'close the gap' warning. As the group wound round to Harlow Road (or MDVP Hill, as it absolutely should be called), there was a reasonable sized group baring down on Pirotte and Tielens.
As at the World Championships on that rainy day in September last year (gosh, doesn't that feel like another lifetime now?), Harlow Road can crack even the best riders in the world, and it did its job admirably yet again on lap one. However, dear race fans, if you were expecting a carbon copy of last week - i.e. two Flandriens sailing away from the bunch, never to be seen again, then you're in for a shock!
Because seen again they were. Fans around the world will forever argue about what happened in the two up breakaway - did they just get bored and ease off the pedals? Did Tielens insult Pirotte somehow, stopping them from working together? Or did Zwift's double draft effect just make a break like that too difficult this early on? We'll never really know, bit to the delight of the Yorkshire fans, the front bunch came back together.
With a stacked field of names like Duff, Andy Robinson and David Bavin from Dirty Wknd Race Team, Jonny 'The Whisper' Secrett, Phil Turpin and Alastair Grant from All Things Ride, as well as Andy Walker (Yorkshire) and last week's 3rd place Charles Vandersplassche (Flanders), it really was game on! No pannenkoekens in this group and with such a wealth of talent straining at the straps, it wasn't going to take long for this group to split too. As the watts ticked up again the inevitable selection happened, with Pirotte and Thielens again driving the pace, but this time taking the cream of the Yorkshire crop with them.
Turpin, Duff and Walker hopped on the Flanders train, leaving Bavin, Robinson and Grant to deal with a hyperactive Vandersplassche, and a motoring Muz Tuach, who had in the week managed to secure himself a Belgian passport and had switched sides. Whether this has anything to do with the B word (don't mention the B word) or just the most shameless display of glory hunting since Ilya van der Gridneff last week, it was hard to know. Whatever the reason, ATR chief Muz donned the yellow and black for this week, and stuck his Flemish thorn into the collective Yorkshire side.
Speaking of fan favourites, where was Ilya van der de Gridneff this week? Rumours had been circulating days before the race: positive test for salbutamol? Racing ban after being caught in violation of lockdown rules for everesting in Flagey? Powering a whole Belgian hospital for 24 hours just with the watts from his turbo? The truth is we'll never know; maybe he just fancied a nice gentle ride outside, but the Aussie would not be adding his late-start-hard-charge style to round two. Cross your fingers, race fans, and hope that he deigns to join us for 'The Decider' next week!
Back to the front of the race, because somewhere between the second and third lap, Pirotte did a Pirotte, and again socially distanced himself from the front group. Not wanting to misinterpret the lockdown laws, he dropped some huge watts and bid 'slapwel' to the group, pinned his ears back and set off for the line. Tielens was left to deal with Yorkshiremen in the group, and deal with them he did. After keeping the pace high for the final lap, he was able to attack again on the finish climb, passing race sponsor Cold Bath Brewhouse and Yorkshire institution Betty's on his way to second place. The Yorkshire train of Turpin, Duff and Walker were left to fight it out amongst themselves for the final spot on the box, Turpin taking that particular honour.
With a classic race such as Yorkshire V Flanders, it's often the battles further down the field that provide the juiciest drama. After feeling the heat in the front group's kitchen, riders form their own dogfights, racing for nothing more than pride. Next across the line was Yorkshire's Andy Robinson, just pipping Flanders' Charles Vandersplassche. The Flandrien had been the main agitator in the second group, causing it to shatter at the end of the second lap. At the line it was just Robinson and Vandersplache, the DWRT man making the Belgian pay in the end for his early activity.
Behind them, former team mates, countrymen and, dare we say it, friends, Muz and Grant again sprinted for the line with Grant taking the honours this time. This scenario has played out at so many races this spring, these two warriors being so well matched. But before these two were team mates sprinting for bragging rights at the team dinner that night. Have things turned a shade darker in the wake of Muz's headline grabbing defection? Rumours of a spot of socially distanced 'afters' via Whats app are yet to be confirmed by either team, but to say the post race press conference was 'frostier than Steven Kruijswijk's 2016 bib shorts' is an understatement!
Dropped by the Grant/Muz feud (or maybe just too scared to go near such a spicy battle) Bavin managed to hold off the hard charging Evert Grisar at the line, with Yorkshire stalwart Adam Jones taking Peinetti at the death to round out the top 15. The remaining riders came across the line thick and fast, with Flanders again celebrating taking the top spots for the second week in a row, and Yorkshire consoling themselves with a spot on the podium. Whilst putting in a better showing than last week, the overall standings after round 2 will not please the Yorkshire team:
You can check the full Zwift Power results below. Bear in mind this doesn't show all the riders, just those registered on ZP:
Another Flanders victory, and an even bigger mountain to climb for Yorkshire at this coming Saturday's round three. You can join the action on Saturday 16th May by clicking here.
Congrats to Adam Jones from Team Yorkshire who wins the Kwaremont post ride selfie competition. Check out the series Facebook Group for full details.