It wasn’t a bad weekend for Team B.M.C. On stage 3 of the Giro D’Italia (in Israel) Rohan Dennis sneaked the bonus seconds he needed at the intermediate sprints to turn over a one second G.C. deficit, wresting the maglia rosa from the back of Tom Dumoulin. Dennis thus became the latest rider to wear the race-leader’s jersey in all 3 Grand Tours and Dumoulin and his Sunweb team were spared the responsibility of trying to control the race 2 weeks before they need to. The Giro will resume in Sicily – there may be 2 more insignificant stages before the assault on Mt. Etna, but at least the TV cameras will be able to show us more than the camels, dusty dual carriageways, soulless settlements and barren landscapes that dominated the coverage of 2 frankly monotonous stages in the Israeli deserts. The frequent adverts were a welcome break, but even they were book-ended by pleas for potential tourists to visit Israel. No thank you.
Van Avermaet Regains the Winning Thread
If it’s scenery you want with your bike race, it’s hard to beat the Tour de Yorkshire. There might not be the hilltop towns of Tuscany or the lavender fields of Provence, but there is the rugged beauty of the Dales and the Moors, there is the passion of the huge crowds; initially a legacy of the 2014 TdF Grand Depart but now an annual phenomenon. And this year there were 4 days of uninterrupted warmth and sunshine…a freak of meteorology never before witnessed in Yorkshire and final proof of global warming and climate change. In Greg van Avermaet the race had its classiest winner yet. By his own standards, and in comparison to his stellar 2017, the Olympic R.R. champion had had a disappointing classics season. His only individual win had come in a stage of the Tour of Oman and he had been 3rd in E3 Harelbeke, 4th in Paris-Roubaix and 5th in the Tour of Flanders. In Yorkshire he finished 2nd on 2 of the 4 stages, enough to clinch the points competition as well as the overall classement, and GVA was quick to pay tribute to the efforts of his team, whose attacks on the final stage destroyed the chances of race leader Magnus Cort Neilsen.
Stephane Rossetto Claims an Epic Solo Victory
But, while the overall contenders were left to fight it out on the run into Leeds, or, more accurately, were prevented from fighting it out by the controlling tactics of B.M.C., the real hero of the day – if not the season – was crossing the line in total isolation. Stephane Rossetto has been on the roster of Team Cofidis Solutions for the past 4 seasons. The 31 year old Frenchman is a good, honest journeyman professional with a handful of wins in minor French races. He’s a decent climber and a time-trialist but he is never going to be a Grand Tour contender or a Classics winner. But he must like Yorkshire – he was 4th in the inaugural TdY in 2015 and Sunday’s efforts had been prefaced by his work on stage 2, orchestrating the day’s break and being the last of the quartet to be caught, only 18km from Ilkley, where Magnus Cort Neilsen’s power climb up Cow and Calf took him into the lead that he held until the final stage.
The Hardest Ever Bike Race in Britain?
Rossetto’s gritty solo stage win was like watching a long Test Match-savings innings by Geoffrey Boycott, and will probably see him elected as an honorary Yorkshireman. In its race preview (26th April) Cycling Weekly had billed the stage as the hardest ever laid out on British soil – 189.5 km with 6 categorised climbs and an elevation of 3,400M, it was like a One Day Classic (Note to World Tour: perhaps it should be??). Throw in temperatures in the mid 20s and a headwind for the last 80km, and it was never going to be an easy day.
Rossetto was one of 14 riders who got into the lead group but after 40km he had only Canyon-Eisberg’s Max Stedman for company. It looked like the archetypal doomed early break; the G.C. riders were content to let them stay clear, mopping up the KoM points, and ITV’s pundits Chris Boardman and David Millar were able to conduct a long debate as to whether there were more stones in the combined walls of Yorkshire than in the Great Wall of China. Then, on the hellishly steep slopes of the Cote de Park Rash, Rossetto left Stedman for dead. With well over 100km to go, and despite a 9 minute gap to the peloton, it still looked like the red climbers’ jersey was the best he could hope for. Races just aren’t won like this anymore. Watching Rossetto’s solo effort was like watching an image from the past; with a bit of imagination you could picture him in a woollen jersey with spare tubes wrapped around his shoulders.
King of the Mountains, Combativity….and Black Sheep Ale
But Rossetto wasn’t stopping. Picking up maximum points on the last 3 climbs he secured the KoM competition and then, with his advantage merely eroding, rather than rapidly diminishing, the stage win became first a possibility, then a probability. It became an inevitable outcome after the eclipse of Cort Neilsen on the final climb out of Otley; B.M.C. had 4 riders in the lead group and it became more crucial for them to control that group than chase down a leader who was out of the G.C. reckoning. Without that restraint Rossetto may well have been caught – he was visibly tiring in the closing, thankfully flatter, closing kilometres – but he held on to win by 34s, recording the biggest win of his career, and his first since 2014. The combativity award was an inevitable extra to add to the climbers’ prize and he also won his own height (1.80M) in crates of Black Sheep Ale for being the first rider to pass their brewery in Masham. Chapeau Monsieur Rossetto, or should that be Eh up, lad!