Barry Hoban, one of Britain’s most successful ever riders at the Tour de France, says that the opening stage of this year’s race is much tougher than most people are expecting – and he believes Mark Cavendish won’t win it.
Instead, the 74-year-old who won eight Tour de France stages between 1967 and 1975, a record for a British rider until Cavendish overtook it in 2009, thinks that Cannondale’s Peter Sagan will triumph in the opening stage in Harrogate.
Cavendish, whose mother comes from the town, has made no secret that his big goal for 2014 is to win that stage and get into the yellow jersey, something that has eluded him to date despite winning 25 stages of cycling’s biggest race.
Hoban, who was born in Stanley, West Yorkshire and knows the roads that will feature in the opening two days of the race better than most, believes the first two days of the race, featuring stages from Leeds to Harrogate and York to Sheffield, will be “explosive.”
He told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “It’s going to be two explosive stages for the Tour de France but I think a lot of people are going to be in for a surprise. I keep seeing comments to say it is a reasonably flattish stage – the first stage is not flat at all.
“There are some lumps in there that are going to hurt a lot of legs – it’s certainly not going to be an easy stage. I think the field is going to be split to smithereens, there will not be a big bunch sprint through Harrogate.”
We’ll have to wait until July to see whether Hoban’s forecast of a Sagan win on the first day of the race comes true, but no-one would argue with another of his predictions – that the Tour’s visit to Yorkshire will attract bumper crowds.
“The people in the media don’t really appreciate how consumed the British cycling cyclist is and the support they give to the sport,” he explained. They will turn up in their millions, it will be an amazing thing.
“It is a financial and economic boost. People won’t just go for one day, they will go a couple of days beforehand and ride up the iconic climbs and they will probably take a week off and that will be spent in Yorkshire.”
Besides those eight Tour de France stages Hoban also won two stages of the Vuelta, and is the only British rider to have won Gent-Wevelgem.
One of those Tour de France victories came the day after Tom Simpson’s death on Mont Ventoux in 1967, with agreement in the peloton that a British rider should win as a tribute.
Two years later, he married Simpson’s widow, Helen, and the couple now live in Wales.
Hoban will be returning to Yorkshire next month when the Specialized Concept Store in Harrogate hosts an evening in his honour on May 13 from 7.15pm. Contact details for the store are here.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.