Russell Downing led the way for Sheffield’s riders at the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire, and admits the raucous support from his home crowd has left him eager to return next year.
The 36-year-old, who came an agonising fourth in the road race at last summer’s Commonwealth Games for England, rode home 25th on stage three to finish an impressive 23rd in the overall classification.
Downing had been in touch of the leaders all weekend, but as the tour’s final stage took the riders over the Pennines, he admitted the final of six gruelling climbs took its toll.
And the veteran admitted the throngs of Yorkshiremen and women lining the roads would make the race the perfect place to end his career one day.
“It was tough all day,” he said. “Steep climbs really split it up and I was feeling alright, but those last two were really hard work.
“We lost ground there and that was game over for us, and that final sprint was a real killer and everyone in that second ground died a bit of a death then.
“But it’s been an unbelievable tour. Everyone’s compared it to the Tour de France, and for me it’s on par.
“Today was incredible. A great race on very similar roads to what the Tour was last year. It was mental and noisy and great to be a part of such a big race in Yorkshire.
“The home crowd was brilliant. Even a few guys in the peloton were even making fun and shouting my name as we could hear it all the time.
“Being in the last group with Wiggins was pretty amazing too, so it’s been a great few days. I’m looking forward to next year already - maybe I’ll even retire here in a few years time.”
The final stage from Wakefield saw the competitors over the Pennines and into a packed Leeds, after the Tour moved inland from Selby to York on Saturday.
British-based Team Sky’s Lars-Petter Norshaug claimed the first stage on Scarborough’s stunning coast, and hung on over the weekend to lead the overall classification by 11 seconds and take the first ever Tour de Yorkshire Blue jersey.
He said: “The team were riding really strong today on the front, they were fantastic – I felt like I was only a passenger and had to only pedal the last 200m.
“This felt like a big-stage Tour – the crowd were massive, I had a nice race today so I could really enjoy them.
“It was fantastic and I will never forget the last stage here, riding in the leader’s jersey with a strong Team Sky at the front. It was great to win a race here for Sky, in front of a British crowd for them.”
Tom Stewart was another flying the flag for Sheffield at the Tour, and the Madison Genesis rider secured 46th place overall while helping teammates Richard Handley and Erick Rowsell into the top 10 of the general classification.
And after the race the 25-year-old reflected on a job well done.
“After James [McLaughlin] got in the break the next job was just to look after Erick, our main contender, and I tried to do that for as long as I could,” he said.
“I just burnt too many matches and eventually got spat on one of the climbs with 40k to go. I was quite pleased to be able to help up until then though.
“I think it’s been unbelievable really. Obviously the crowds have been something else, I’ve never seen anything like it at any sporting event really.
“To say it’s the first time they’ve had it, it’s really promising and hopefully the way it’s been received by the public it should continue, and just get bigger and bigger for many years to come.”
* Yorkshire Bank is an Official Partner of the Tour de Yorkshire and the ground-breaking Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries initiative. Visit www.ybonline.co.uk