Greg van Avermaet dedicated his stunning Tour de Yorkshire success to the memory of BMC Racing Team owner Andy Rihs after a superb final stage saw him crowned champion in Leeds.
Rihs passed away at the age of 75 last month, with BMC still in mourning after losing a friend and passionate cycling fan as well as owner.
But the team paid homage to him in perfect fashion as van Avermaet – who finished second on the fourth and final stage from Halifax and Leeds – stood proud atop the podium as general classification champion.
An emotional tribute from the Belgian followed, coming into the final day in second place prior to getting his hands on the Yorkshire Bank and Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries’ winner’s jersey.
“We’re really happy with the win, it’s the first win for BMC since Andy died, so for us it was a goal to win this race.
“Monday is his funeral and for us he was our big boss, he supported us for many years, the demonstration of the team was for him and I’m really happy I could finish it off.
“It was not that easy. It was a super-hot stage, the race opened up and we still had three or four guys there so I was pretty surprised. From thereon we tried to control the race as much as possible, we only had five guys but everybody gave his best and I’m so happy to finish it off.
“The whole week was amazing, I remember from the Tour de France in 2014 and Tour de Yorkshire in 2015, the crowds are amazing. This year, we were lucky with the weather and they came out – this race has taken its place on the calendar and is pretty amazing so I hope to be back next year.”
Dane Magnus Cort Nielsen had entered the final day on top, only to be dropped off the back of the peloton as the final 189km stage proved gruelling in the Yorkshire heat.
One man who found the going tough was Tom Pidcock – though nothing could take away from the immediate impression he has made on the Tour de Yorkshire.
Never before had the 18-year-old competed in an event quite like this, lining up on the start-line alongside the likes of Mark Cavendish in one of the biggest races of his career to date.
Yet with a performance beyond his years across the four days, this impressive Leeds-born teenager doesn’t look like being done just yet with the Great Britain Cycling Team.
The Yorkshire Bank and Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries blue jersey wasn’t to come his way but just finishing the gruelling four stages was an undoubted feather in his cap. Now he’s after more.
“The whole thing was amazing, I was off the back towards the end in the last 20km, but the amount of people cheering for me, knowing who I was was pretty special and I’m really grateful for that.
“I hope to be back next year, it’s a year away I suppose but hopefully it will fit into my plans.
“That last stage was really hard, as expected, it was just tough all the way around. There were hills for the sake of hills at times, we were 5km from the centre of Leeds and then just did another loop which was tough, but I got through it and made it to the end.”
Meanwhile, British fans had more reason to celebrate with Ian Bibby the highest ranked home rider in sixth in the general classification – with the man himself the most surprised person in Leeds.
When Bibby started racing, just “three men and a dog” would watch from the sidelines but, as he finished third in the final stage, even he was taken aback at just how much the sport had grown with thousands upon thousands gracing the Yorkshire roads.
“It has been absolutely incredible, it’s hard to believe that this is the UK.
“It can keep growing as well, give it a few more years. At least we hope so, this has got bigger since it first started in 2015 and if that continues then it’s going to be great for British cycling.
“I had a terrible preparation and didn’t feel it in the legs coming into it so I’m surprised to have done so well.”