This week we caught up with Bob Brayshaw, Operations Director for the Tour de Yorkshire, who gave us the low down on how the Tour de Yorkshire is put together, what the main challenges are and what we can expect from the 2017 edition of the race. Here's what he had to say:
Putting bike race routes together is complex and simple at the same time. The first part of the process is obviously we need to know where we're going to start from and where the stage is going to finish. So that process begins very early in the preceding year and that's where Local Authorities or individual organisations bid to be a host-town. Once that has been decided, then there is a process of elimination, for want of a better explanation, around the suitability in terms of marketing and where in the region the start or finish may be and how we can link it with another part of the county. Also, there's the pure logistics on the size of that venue as to whether we can physically fit the race in there as the race is quite big on the ground - it requires a lot of space.
Once we've got a start and a finish it's a case of joining the dots, it's as simple as looking on Google Earth and joining it together. In that process though we have to take into account rivers, as you need a bridge to cross them and there's not actually as many bridges as you might think there are, there are the National Trunk Roads, such as motorways, where it isn't very popular for us to go across and actually drive on them, so we have to avoid them as best we can. Then there are certainly logistical things such as level crossings that we can go across but we wouldn't want to do more than one in any particular stage due to the difficulty in getting the timings right as its almost impossible if you've got more than one level crossing per stage.
Once you've worked out the start and finish and the obstacles in the way, then you've got the basis of a route and where it is physically possible to go. After that we've then got to build the sporting element in and all the iconic features of Yorkshire so that the race looks and feels right - as there's no point in going through lots of industrial areas with no rural areas and vice versa - we need a blend of both. It really is a bit of a trial and error process around where we can get the climbs in, where's suitable for sprints and featuring all the iconic elements of Yorkshire because, at the end of the day, it's about promoting Yorkshire as well as the bike race. What I do, is plot the route on Google Maps and then go out a physically drive them as what you find on the internet is not always what you actually find out there on the roads, and then try again and again until things come together and then the route is suitable for what we want to achieve from that particular stage
In terms of how I choose the climbs, because climbs are clearly a big feature in the races as every cycling fan knows, again it's about going back to basics and it's looking on a map with the profile of the terrain out there and first of all seeing where the climbs are. Climbs need to be sufficiently tough enough for us to categorise them as a King/Queen of the Mountains but also need to be safe. I can think of many examples of where I wouldn't want to bring a race down a particular climb in Yorkshire, or anywhere else in the UK for that matter, because it's unsafe for the riders. It might be because the road suddenly narrows round a blind bend or there's a nasty bridge at the bottom and as cyclists have a certain amount of kinetic energy stored up in their legs after a climb, we don't want them to crash at all, so we have to look at the whole safely angle first. It really is looking at the terrain though so that we can see where the climbs are and how we can fit them into the overall stage.
Well, the perfect route... is there such a thing? I think we've potentially got one in this year's race with Stage 3 because it's a perfect route for a final stage of a three-day race. To explain that, there's no point in having a really tough stage on stage one as that will write the sprinters out of the race and it is almost then a forgone conclusion that two or three of the General Classification riders will then win it. So first of all you lose all interest from cycling fans and media because it's a done deal before we even get out of the starting blocks. The perfect stage almost doesn't exist but this year on the Tour de Yorkshire, and in previous years, we look at keeping the race alive right up until the finish line on Stage 3. So Stage One I try and make it where it's a stage for everybody - it's a bit lumpy and has some hills on it to test riders - but it also has sufficient flat areas in it where the sprinters can still be in the race to be able to fight for the finish in the General Classification at the end. So Stage One is the perfect stage for that is where it will certainly test the climbers but it's also got a lot of flat or rolling terrain so that the sprinters can bring themselves back into contention for the finish.
Stage 2 we tend to classify as a flat day - a sprinter's day. There's a slight change in 2017 that yes, it's a sprinter's day in the men's race but we've also got to cater for the women's race as well because they will cycle exactly the same stage as the men on that day. So it needs to be a dual purpose stage, it's got to be tough enough for the women to make it meaningful but it also has to be sensible enough that the sprinters can possibly have an advantage on that day. There's no secret to it, the way to do this is to make the stage short enough so that in the men's race the sprinters can have a real effect on this, they're not going to burn themselves out on lots of climbs but it’s also tough enough that the women, for want of a better expression, have to struggle round the route to make it a meaningful race for what is a one-day race for them. So this year we've entered slightly more climbing than we would do usually for a flat stage of a men's race and we've actually had two professional female cyclists ride the stage to make sure that we haven't over-egged the pudding so to speak and everyone seems happy. In terms of the men's race, it's short enough at 122km that anyone could potentially win that stage.
Then in terms of the perfect stage, let's talk about Stage 3. I think we have a pretty good one this year. There's a lot of good feedback about this stage, it is a monster of a stage in terms of there being 8 classified King of the Mountains there, 3,500m of climbing and I could have potentially classified another 8 climbs and had 16 King of the Mountains but that would've been a ridiculous map profile! But it is a very, very tough stage for anybody so that will definitely be a climber's stage so hopefully overall we will have an equal race so when it comes to the finish line the General Classification is open for everybody.
Stage distances is a fairly easy one. I've mentioned previously about the women's race needing to be within the UCI regulations and our race classification means that we can have a maximum distance of 140km. We've also got UCI guidelines around what is the minimum and maximum length for a stage in the men's race, so it's got to fit somewhere in the middle. It is determined by the amount of roads that are out there to use and how we can fit various towns in there but we try our best to be around the 180km mark for the Tour de Yorkshire because of the type of race it is. The race is marketed as three one-day classics and so we try and make them very tough which sometimes means having to reduce the mileage.
In terms of starts and finishes, it really depends on what's on the ground at each of the starts and finish towns. Some towns just do not lend themselves to being a finish to get the race into the centre of town as we need a fairly long, straight piece of road and we also need a large amount of parking and open space to be able to fit the technical village, the finish line, parking for all the vehicles - which is a considerable about of vehicles - plus all the TV trucks and VIP units and so forth and so it really is down to what space is available in the town.
That's a good question! Clearly time is the key issue on the Saturday, the middle day of the race, as that's when the men's and women's stages run on the same day on the same route. First of all, the main logistical challenge is time and that's because we have to fit in a full stage for the women's stage, there then needs to be a certain amount of time to turn things around, such as the branding at the finish, but also our police colleagues who provide 30 motorcycles and two command cars for the men's race need to also, with exactly those same resources, escort the women's race in the morning. A good example would be last year with the stage from Otley to Doncaster, where they escorted the women's race into Doncaster and then they had to get themselves back to Otley, which at best is over an hour away, not accounting for any traffic problems, so the clock is definitely ticking around that return. So that it quite a challenge to make sure it all runs smoothly.
The other things, are that we have staff along the route, for instance we have over 1,500 Tour Makers lining the route over the three days and on that Saturday we expect them to turn up two hours before the race, so if they're somewhere near the start they need to arrive around 7am on site and we would need them to stay there until the men's race has gone past which is around 3pm which is a long day for staff to have to work and so everybody is really tired on that day. In terms of logistics, it actually doesn't over complicate things when it comes to the build and the route because both use the same facilities and same route, it's just mainly about timing.
The biggest challenge is making sure that everybody is safe. Last year we had 2 million stood out along the route watching the race. 2 million is very hard to equate, to actually understand and visualize what 2 million people actually looks like so we need to make sure that these people have somewhere safe to stand, to spectate and that the right information is put out on websites and social media so they are able to make safe decisions and not get themselves into problems with either moving traffic or because there's too many people in a certain location so a lot of work goes into assessing the route and the areas at the side of the route to make sure that we don't allow people to stand where it's unsafe.
The second thing we do is we risk assess every metre of the race, they are huge documents and take at least 5 runs of each route to make sure that it is all catalogued and that includes everything from steep hills, narrow bridges, sharp bends, traffic islands - anything at all that a cyclist could crash into and includes areas where we wouldn't want spectators to stand because if a cyclist was to crash that's where they would land. So risk assessment is a huge job. Then it's just down to literally just putting widgets on the map - making sure that all those pieces of equipment - direction signage, branding, advance warning signs two weeks prior to the race, so motorists who regularly use the roads involved know how long the delays might be.
Then there are a whole raft of meetings, we have 13 Local Authorities this year on the route, who all need a meeting each month to make sure that the progress on planning is going as it should be and is to their satisfaction. Add into that mix that we've also got the emergency services: police, ambulances and fire departments, military, the utility companies: water, gas, electric etc that all need a piece of the information. Then, on top of that, a real concern in today's world is around those people who want to disrupt the race or want to cause harm to those involved or spectating the race, so a lot of work goes in with our police colleagues to make sure safety is prioritised. And that's just a few things we have to do to make sure the race goes smoothly, it is a very complex piece of work that needs putting together in terms of the number of actual widgets that we need to make sure are in the right place at the right time. But it is a lot of fun too!
Race weekend is when I can, to a certain extent, relax, because we are where we are and there's not an awful lot we can do to change things. I am ready there to make decisions if the unexpected happens - a road is blocked - or anything else you can think of that could happen: floods, fires, pestilence, plague, anything, you name it! We have to make some sort of unanimous decision on the day but in terms of where I actually sit on the days, I drive a car about 30 minutes ahead of the race to support colleagues that I have that are an hour and a half ahead of the race putting right the little things that aren't exactly where they should be or need to be. Mostly though it's just checking that everything is tickety-boo!