Tales from Yorkshire (part 1): a county of champions

Even before the Tour de France’s Grand Depart in 2014, Yorkshire had always been a bit of a British cycling heartland. Champion cyclists hailed from its hills and some of the local clubs are amongst the most established in the country. 

Next year, the counties of Yorkshire will see the world road championships take place between its drystone walls. Meanwhile, the Tour de Yorkshire has given God’s Own County a firm place on the international cycling map.
In honour of Yorkshire’s great cycling heritage, we caught up with some of its cycling characters to hear their stories and reflections on the upcoming race. 

Annie Simpson, Trek-Drops road racer, Halifax
“The last part of stage two is where I grew up. It will be really tough. Even before we get to the main climbs at the end, the roads will be hard-going. 

Read: Reflections – can’t beat the real thing

“I started in the British Cycling Talent team at the same time as Lizzie Deignan, and there were a few of us in the talent team that lived in the same area. “There’s a ride that starts from Keighley, close to where I live. People meet there every Saturday come rain or shine. In January and February it’s the ‘Buckden run’, but every other week it’s called ‘café racing’, where they do a 20-minute race in the lanes.


“In the ‘Buckden run’ it’s every man for themselves, in a hard ‘through and off’ all the way to Burnsall. There and back is around 100km, and all those rides throughout my childhood were really tough. You’d get the likes of Scott Thwaites, Tom Moses and sometimes the Brownlees turning up, plus old pros like Keith Lambert and Sid Barras who are still kicking people’s heads in. 

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“On one epic ride there was snow and sleet in your face, and we were lined out, trying not to get dropped, otherwise you’d freeze and it’d take so long to get home! “There’s not always been that many female cyclists around, but for the majority of my cycling career I’ve trained with guys, and it has made me stronger. I feel lucky to have such people to ride with.” 

Garry Payne, Owner of Café Velo, Beverley
“We get a variety of people coming into the café, including a lot more ladies who have taken up cycling, and more cycling couples. We’ve made friends with quite a few of them. 

“One couple that came in was the playwright John Godber and Jane Thornton. John got some of his ideas for his play, The Scary Bikers, from coming into the café. It’s a play about a couple who cycle to Europe and has been on tour. Now Sky Arts are funding it, and hopefully turning it into a film next year.


“We also get elite racers coming in – Roger Hammond, riders from Holdsworth Pro Racing, Madison Genesis, and Team Wiggins. Bradley Wiggins came in the last time the Tour de Yorkshire was in Beverley. We’ve got a photograph from the outside where there must have been about three hundred people trying to get in. There was all this buzz outside, while Wiggins was downstairs with his team, relaxing with a flat white or a cappuccino. 

“It was a dream opening a cycling café the year the Tour de Yorkshire passed through in 2015. The second year it started in Beverley, but to actually have it start in Beverley again when it’s now a four-day race with the ladies’ two-day race, is absolutely fantastic.”

Kate Lightstead, Chair of Queensbury Queens, Bradford
“After I had my second child I really wanted to get into exercise, and I mentioned it to my sister [Lizzie Deignan], who bought me a hybrid bike for Christmas. When Lizzie started racing I was at university so I didn’t know a lot about cycling at all. 

“I wanted a challenge, so decided to do the Tour of Flanders because my sister talked about it being this iconic race, and the sportive was 200km. So Lizzie gifted me what I call ‘Glasgow’, which was her bike from when she won the Commonwealth Championships. It’s very special, and I love this bike. I rode it every day including through winter, then went and did Flanders on it. I was so pleased to get through the ride.

Read: Reflections – can’t beat the real thing

“I joined Queensbury Queens after I saw an advert on Facebook to start a women’s cycling group a couple of years ago. We met in the local pub, where the founder, Vicky Mathwin read out the constitution and a few of us put our hands up to be on the committee.

Our kit, designed by Tiffany Cromwell, is in Suffragette colours, and stands out quite a lot. We want to inspire women from all different backgrounds to get on bikes, and our motto is ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’. We’d started out as a handful of members and now we are up to 125 women and growing.” It is great to have a women’s two-stage race in the Tour de Yorkshire.”

Lucy Pittaway, Tour de Yorkshire official artist, Richmond (North Yorks)
“My partnership with Welcome to Yorkshire for the tour began in 2016 when I won their open competition to be the official artist. As my husband is a keen cyclist I know all the cycling areas and am a supporter of the Tour de Yorkshire.

“Work on the paintings starts in January, after a lot of prior research checking the routes, the areas, landmarks along the route, and the teams. I take photos of the sites and work from them, while keeping cyclists in mind. Obviously my interpretations include artistic licence and my creative style.


“This year I have brought in elements of some key landmarks in the stages. For example, Yorkshire Terrier is inspired by the gruelling stage four with its six classified climbs. Welcome to Yorkshire! features the iconic hairpin at Park Rash. Sir Gary Verity really liked the idea of a painting that focuses on the spectators.

Read: Michael Blann – The legs behind the lens

“When taking the photos of Park Rash, I drove up with my family. We left home under blue skies, but when we arrived at the top of the hill there was an absolutely howling gale, snow and sleet, and there was complete white-out. I began to regret setting off that day. We parked up and had a picnic, then during that time the blizzard suddenly cleared and we had glorious blue sky. That was lucky. “If you see a vehicle in the publicity caravan with three people dressed as sheep, that’ll be my husband and his helpers with the paintings!”

Dean Downing, Sports Director of Holdsworth Pro Racing racing, Rotherham
“Holdsworth Bikes as a brand is now Yorkshire-based. I became the sports director of the racing team at the end of January, so it’s been a quick learning curve for me. 

“I’ve always been a proud Yorkshireman as has my brother Russ. Dave Loughran, the Holdsworth owner, is born and bred in Sheffield. So for the new Holdsworth Pro Racing team to be invited to the Tour de Yorkshire is phenomenal as it’s one of the best races in the world now.


“We want to be competitive and put the Holdsworth brand out there and show that we are worthy of selection – being a Yorkshire team. “Stage 4 will be brutal and savage. It will test everybody. I did the recon in the team car and it was hard enough getting up the climbs in that! I had some nice results in my career, like at the 2008 National Championships in Helmsley in the North York Moors where I got bronze, but it’s really good being involved in team management. 

We all want to work hard as a team to give the riders their best shot, so I’m happy to help the riders in every single way now and I’m not too fussed about riding my bike as much as I used to. “Since retiring as a professional rider in 2014 I have been involved in the Tour de Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Bank bike libraries, and I am proud to have seen Yorkshire cycling develop since the Grand Départ. It’s just phenomenal how cycling has exploded.”


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