The whole adventure began under a veil of mystery and the ubiquitous cloak and dagger. I had received an innocuous email inviting me to an event by a PR company working on behalf of a high-end car manufacturer (details top secret) to launch their involvement in the cycling arena, especially the up and coming Tour de Yorkshire. Intriguingly as part of this unveiling was the opportunity to ride with their ambassador David Millar, followed by lunch with David and then the chance of interviewing the former Pro. Unfortunately, they would not divulge who the car manufacturers were. It was all mysterious and somewhat intriguing, like a novel written by Ian Fleming. I was hoping that this secretive company would turn out to be Aston Martin, c’mon how brilliant would that be?
After a wait of several days, more information filtered through and finally the name was revealed, Maserati. The luxury Italian car manufacturer was launching Maserati Cycling, an initiative designed to celebrate the brand’s new connection with the sport and to offer a series of new experiences for road cyclists. The rapid growth of road cycling in the UK has been particularly evident amongst Maserati customers and employees, whose passion for performance, sporting excellence and design provides a natural conduit to the sport. Like cycling, the Maserati brand has a rich heritage, and shares a reverence for history in its pursuit of engineering innovation.
Co-incidentally I had also been approached by the nice people of English Country Cottages who had kindly offered one of their high class properties to accommodate me whilst in God’s Own Country. They have a selection of self-catering cottages conveniently in and around the route of the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire. Our base was at the Coach House in the lovely unspoilt village of Askham Bryan it was central to most things, importantly York was only five miles east.
As we approached the house, I was mesmerised by its exterior, it was a sublime feast of stone, the interior a modern interpretation of a traditional cottage. A mix of lavish spaces accessorised to the highest standard. The décor is clean, fresh and comforting and every detail is exquisite from a welcome note accompanied by a beautiful arrangement of pink tulips and an array of colourful accessories and splashes of colour lifting each room. The owners are visibly proud of their property and it shows, they have sourced the most coveted items meticulously utilising an array of British designer, Cath Kidston’s sparkling accessories and the result is a warming Country elegance. There is an abundance of ‘Mod Cons’, several TV’s, Wifi, radio and plenty of well presented bathrooms and showers. All the rooms are cosy and over flowing with literature and all manner of games to occupy all ages.
Outside the garden is a attractive, with a manicured lawn and a seating area ideal as a sun trap. There is plenty of parking and the house and village are strategically placed for a foray to York or further afield.
I had a free day before the hectic itinerary of the Maserati launch so we ventured to the nearby historic city of York. Everywhere there are reminders of the Tour de France in the guise of yellow painted bikes. The Tour de Yorkshire takes place on the 1st to 3rd May 2015, the route was recently unveiled in Bridlington, the town where the race will start in. Ben Swift, Team Sky pro rider and Brian Robinson, the first British man to win a stage of the Tour de France, were in Bridlington to celebrate the international cycle race, a direct legacy of the 2014 Yorkshire Grand Départ. The race has three stages and includes a women’s event on 2nd May, a mass participation sportive on 3rd May and a cultural festival.
Stage one on Friday 1st May will start in seaside town of Bridlington and 174km later finish further up the coast in Scarborough. Stage two on Saturday 2nd May is one for the sprinters, and will see the race start outside the imposing Selby Abbey. The route takes in much of the Wolds, and from Selby will take the peloton towards Market Weighton, through North Newbald and on to Beverley, where they will turn north to Malton, then on to Stamford Bridge. Spectators will have the chance to see a circuit of York and organisers are hoping for a dramatic finish in the town, which of course witnessed incredible scenes during the 2014 Grand Depart.
As part of the legacy of the Tour de France to get more women cycling there will also be a dedicated women’s event on a circuit through York.
The final day, Sunday 3rd May will see the peloton make a return to some of the roads raced in the 2014 Yorkshire Grand Départ of the Tour de France, only with a twist; starting in Wakefield, riders will travel south to Barnsley before heading to Holmfirth where they pick up the Grand Départ route in reverse, racing to Ripponden before riding the iconic Cragg Vale – which in the Tour de France was the country’s longest continual climb and now becomes the longest continual descent.
The race will be shown live on television in the UK and across Europe and a huge television audience is expected, once again shining a spotlight on Yorkshire.
The race is being organised by Welcome to Yorkshire and Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.), with support from British Cycling and local authorities throughout the county, especially the start and finish towns and cities; Bridlington, Leeds, Scarborough, Selby, Wakefield, York and North Yorkshire County Council and East Riding Council.
Christian Prudhomme, Director of the Tour de France at A.S.O., said; “After the grandest of Grand Départs of the Tour de France, we were keen to return to Yorkshire. With its stirring landscapes, iconic cities and tough climbs, Yorkshire offers all the ingredients needed for a great cycling race. The welcome we received in Yorkshire in July 2014 was simply spectacular and I am very much looking forward to returning there in May for the Tour de Yorkshire”.
York is a beautifully understated city and best of all, its captivated by the bike, everywhere you look the bike is invariably present, its approach to cycling appears similar to Oxford, the bike is the King, long live the King. The main roads are busy but once you ventured into the side streets, like the Shambles and around the Cathedral it is a cyclists delight, the locals are receptive to all things two wheeled.
Maserati recognise cycling as a progressive market and are more than happy to be a major sponsor for the Tour de Yorkshire. Peter Denton, Region Manager for Maserati North Europe comments: “The sport is highly contagious. We have seen an ever-increasing number of our dealership network and their customers get bitten by the cycling bug over recent years. For Maserati and its customers at least, it would appear that cycling is the new golf.
“The excitement generated nationally by last year’s Grand Départ was mirrored across our team and network, so the Tour de Yorkshire legacy event provides a suitably high profile ride with which to kick off our two-wheeled activity.”
The venue for the launch was Ilkley Tennis & Squash Club, the approach was hindered by a substantial descent (which meant a subsequent climb). The plan was to have a short rapid ride with David before returning for a feast prepared by one of the cyclists, Alan Murchison, a Michelin star chef as well as a keen cyclist. In line with its ambition of enhancing the experience of the British cycling community, Maserati has recruited Alan, an age group duathlon World champion to apply his skills at one of the Tour de Yorkshire Ride feed stations. The final recipes will remain under wraps until the day but Alan will use fresh Yorkshire produce and apply an Italian twist to surprise and beguile riders, and hopefully give them the boost they need to see them home. The menu had been inspired by his ideas and his personal interpretation of the ideal foods required to sustain the average cyclist, before and after a lengthy ride, basically it was a mix of good Carbs and quality locally sourced produce. Alan had prepared a taster session of his ideas for us to sample, each was accompanied with the cycling benefits of the ingredients. For starters we were exposed to Yorkshire asparagus, Parma ham, basil & Fregola salad – Cycling benefits – Fregola, originally produced in Sardinia, is rolled semolina roasted in the oven. It is very high in complex carbohydrates and is an amazing energy fuel and smoked mackerel, rosemary, beetroot & potato salad – Cycling benefits – The mackerel provides fish oil & protein and the potato provides complex carbohydrates for energy. The beetroot is high in nitrates which aids transportation of oxygen to the blood. Two mains followed, Rare breed Yorkshire lamb ‘Shepherd’s Pie’ cooked with Barolo – Cycling benefits – This dish provides protein from the lamb mince, complex carbohydrates from the potato and the red wine is an anti-oxidant and Yorkshire pudding, red onion confit and spiced Italian sausage – Cycling benefits – The Yorkshire pudding provides complex carbohydrates and protein is provided by the sausage. Finally we moved onto desserts, Yorkshire rhubarb & ginger Parkin ‘Tiramsu’ – Cycling benefits – The ginger provides anti-flammatory benefits, rhubarb is high in nitrates and the milk will provide calcium and Espresso & Amaretti flapjacks – Cycling benefits – Espresso for energy, oats for slow release energy and sugar for an instant lift.
After getting changed into my fetching Lycra attire I started to feel unwell, I admit I was feeling anxious about the ride but this was more than butterflies, I was bent double and was resorted to throwing up in the spotless toilets. I had to accept begrudgingly that my brief ride was not going to happy, yet I was adamant that I would still interview David, I had two and a bit hours to recover.
I was feeling much better as the riders returned, plenty of fresh air and a constant flow of water worked. Whilst the rest of the journalists showered, a gap opened for me to chat to David earlier than expected. I have to admit I am no Jeremy Paxman, well I hope I am not but what followed was a really relaxed informal chat with the enigmatic Maserati ambassador.
David will be helping prepare participants for the Maserati Tour de Yorkshire Ride by offering expert insights into the particular challenges presented by the route’s climbs and how best to prepare. The Scot, one of only two Britons to have worn the leader’s jersey at all three Grands Tours, is a lifelong Maserati fan and lists the Maserati Ghibli II 2.8 GT as his dream car. He has never wavered in his dream to own a Ghibli, and despite previously coming close, is thrilled to finally take the keys to one as part of this new partnership.
Millar comments: “Just like the sport of cycling, motor sport is steeped in history, and the Maserati brand has played a key role in this rich heritage, through 100 years of engineering innovation. I am excited that two of my greatest passions in life are being combined and delighted to be involved from the start of what looks set to be a fantastic initiative.”
Which is your favourite tour event?.
What like a stage race – the Tour de France, it’s the one I fell in love with and its the one event where my heart is, even though over the years its got bigger and bigger and crazier and crazier, its still the only one that gives that magic feeling. Im also a fan of the Vuelta (Tour of Spain) for different reasons.
Do you miss the cycling scene?
No not really, that was one of the reasons why I chose to stop because I wasn’t enjoying it quite as much, it got to a point where it was time to move on. But I miss my friends and the camaraderie and the experiences which I will never have again, how deep we were at times, which I will definitely miss. But I have to remember how much it hurt, its easy to look through rose tinted glasses after a while and wish I was still racing and then you have to remember it was pretty much horrible most of the time.
How did you feel about missing the 2014 Tour de France?
I was gutted, I still am gutted. I think I will always be.
Do you think you could have produced?
I would have performed 100%, After 18 years I know what I am capable of, but hey C’est la vie
Any plans to set up your own cycling team?
No F&&k that, it’s a thankless job, the amount of effort you have to put in and to be honest I have had the best job in cycling, a racer. I just don’t what to manage a team or be a team boss. I need to expand my horizons and do something different.
The recent CIRC report alleging that 90% of the Peloton are still doping, whats your thoughts?
I thought it was very irresponsible of the commission to put something like that, where its one persons opinion and for them to say its from a respected pro but they are anonymous so we need to be a judge if they are a respected pro or not. Besides is just not true, its not based on any facts, again I feel it was very irresponsible, there are so many clean guys out there winning the biggest races, but then the headline across the World is the Peloton is still doping.
What do you like doing in your downtime?
NOTHING, Im really lazy ….. Actually I like gardening now. At my new house in Girona I am just planting a whole garden, checking my trees and wandering around the place.
Is your schedule as busy now in comparison to when you were cycling?
It has its moments, this week and next week is really busy. Hopefully the whole of April I will be at home. It’s a lot better than it was, 10 times better and that was another main reason why I stopped I didn’t want to travel as much.
Why choose Girona as home?
Its great for cycling, real community now. When we started the community wasn’t so big but in the last 7 or 8 years it become massive not that we are involved directly with it as we are located out of the town. Its just a great place to be a pro cyclist, the terrain, the roads, close proximity to airports. It’s a no brainer really!
What is the best bike you have ridden?
I don’t know, at that level they are all kind of good especially as a pro. The bikes we use are obviously the latest models. Nowadays they are all so similar.
Are they made to measure?
My Cervelo was made to measure, it’s the only Cervelo to have been made to measure and that was because I have a long back so I need to have a really long top tube. I had a 56 seat tube and a 61 top tube, I just don’t fit on normal bikes but other than that, most of the time I was on standard bikes.