IT seems that Yorkshire is the centre of British cycle sport this summer, particularly for town centre racing. These events are great for spectators as the racing takes place around street circuits, with riders lapping every couple of minutes. There are lots of opportunities to watch the action close-up and first-time visitors always comment on just how fast the mass of tightly packed cyclists speeds past.

The best domestic riders in the country will dual it out in separate races for men, women, boys and girls. This national series of circuit races kicks off with rounds in Otley on Wednesday, June 29th and Ilkley on Friday, July 1st, followed by Barnsley and Sheffield a fortnight later.

Otley hosts the longest standing town centre race in the country. It has an impressive 36-year heritage with past winners such as Lizzy Armitstead, Mark Cavendish and Tom Pidcock. Anyone who’s anyone, past and present has raced at Otley including Bradley Wiggins and Ed Clancy. Such races provide crucial experience in the development of British riders who are aiming to become professionals. Tom Pidcock says: “Otley was always my favourite race of the year when I was younger. It’s local, the crowds are brilliant and it’s a pretty technical course that you can learn to race properly on. I loved racing against the professionals there when I was a kid. I was always going for the win and wasn’t intimidated by them."

For all the riders, regardless of their level, racing at Otley is a high-point of the season. You just can’t beat racing in front of big crowds and many businesses have their busiest day of the year on race day. This makes for a great atmosphere whether you particularly enjoy bike racing or just want to come out with friends for a pint and fish’n’chips.

In contrast, the Ilkley round is the new kid on the block in terms of its town centre races but none the worse for that. The inaugural edition benefitted from the massive interest in the visiting Tour de France, and was organised as part of the “Grand Depart” in 2014. It continues to draw big crowds and features a steeper climb than the Otley circuit where the riders are roared on by spectators, many with cowbells and clappers. The event is already a firm fixture on the local sporting and social calendar, with the customary BBQ and pop-up bar by the bandstand attracting plenty of trade.

The circuit starts outside Bettys Café Tea Rooms on The Grove, then climbs the steep ramp of Riddings Road. However, canny spectators know that the toughest section comes on the long stretch of false-flat along Albany Walk where strong riders can really make the others suffer. The circuit then drops sharply down Wilton Road around a tight high-speed corner before an extremely rapid return to the bars, restaurants and shops along the finish straight on The Grove.

Initially, there were markedly smaller fields in the women’s races, however eight years later, the situation has changed out of all recognition with the growth of professional teams and so many more opportunities for world-class racing at the top of women’s cycling. Well supported circuit races such as Otley and Ilkley have certainly played their part, and both events will feature the top domestic teams, many of whom have just completed the six-stage Women’s Tour.

With the longest days now with us, promising fine summer evenings, the next in a long line of world-class Yorkshire cyclists might well be lining up for one of the youth races at Otley or Ilkley.

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