Yorkshire trio out to defy odds in race to earn place

Scott Thwaites, from Burley in Wharfedale, at the Cow and Calf Rocks above Ilkley. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Scott Thwaites, from Burley in Wharfedale, at the Cow and Calf Rocks above Ilkley. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
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And then there were three...

The chances of a Yorkshireman actually riding the Tour de France in his home county now rests in the hands of a trio of twentysomethings.

Team Sky duo Ben Swift of Rotherham and Josh Edmondson of Leeds, plus NetApp Endura’s Scott Thwaites of Burley-in-Wharfedale are all harbouring hopes of making the start line on the Headrow in Leeds on July 5.

They are the county’s last three standing after another two riders, Rotherham’s Russell Downing and Sheffield’s Adam Blythe, fell out of contention.

That duo left their respective teams NetApp and BMC Racing at the end of 2013 to pursue their careers with other outfits that are not among the 22 who will be presented to the world at the First Direct Arena in leeds on Thursday, July 3.

So it is left to Swift, Edmondson and Thwaites to fly the White Rose flag from Leeds to Harrogate, York to Sheffield and beyond this summer.

Each man faces a major challenge to get there; whether that be age, experience or the depth of quality in front of them.

At 21 and 23 respectively, Edmondson and Thwaites do not have time on their side. A Yorkshire starting point for the Tour de France may have come a little too quickly for both, but making the nine-man roster for their teams is by no means beyond them.

Edmondson is in the second year of his contract with British powerhouse squad Sky and is highly thought of by team principal Dave Brailsford and his staff.

Sky have no fears in throwing a youngster into the toughest environemnt in cycling, as they showed last yera when the inclusion of former track prospect Pete Kennaugh proved an inspired move.

As reliable a domestique as Edmondson is, the sheer volume of riders in front of him vying for a place suporting Chris Froome means he has an enormous task on his hands.

Thwaites has a thinner squad to fight through at German outfit NetApp, who are at the opposite end of the team rankings to Sky.

NetApp were only given a wild card into the 101st Tour de France at the end of January with Czech rider Leopold Konig the man to lead their challenge. But as Ralph Denk, the team’s general manager, told the Yorkshire Post recently, Thwaites has as good a chance as any of his riders of making the team as a domestique.

That dangled carrot comes with a caveat, that Thwaites improves his strength for the mountains, something he will be hoping to work on in the coming weeks.

The last of the trio Swift, is the only one to have ridden the Tour de France, when he completed the three-week odyssey in 2011.

Since that breakthrough year on the road though he has struggled with injury and required corrective surgery on a shoulder problem last summer. He has begun 2014 strongly, with a host of top-10 finishes in races across the world as he looks to leapfrog team-mates Edvald Boasson Hagen and CJ Sutton in the race to be Sky’s sprinter.

Like Edmondson and Thwaites, he has local knowledge on his side for the first two stages of this year’s race, having grown up 11km from the finish of stage two in Sheffield. He just needs to start adding victories to his resume to convince Brailsford that his selection would be on merit, and not just nostalgia.

“It’s a highly-focused team for the general classification so it will be tough,” says 26-year-old Swift.

“There’s a lot of people up for selection. You might not know until a few days before or you might know as early as now. What it does do is give everybody an opportunity to try and prove themselves.”

Swift has an old favourite to look forward to in May when he rides the Tour of California, a race in which he won two stages back in 2011.

By that time he hopes to still be in the race for a starting jersey for the 2014 Tour de France, just as Edmondson and Thwaites will equally be hoping for the news that will change their lives.