Holdsworth team set for Tour de Yorkshire close to home

Russ Downing
Russ Downing

The renowned crowds of the Tour de Yorkshire will have something new to cheer for this year - a genuine home team.

The Rotherham-based Holdsworth squad will be on the start line in Beverley on Thursday having received a wild-card invitation just seven months after forming.

They might be brand new to the peloton, but their invite should come as no surprise. Led by the Downing brothers, Russ and Dean, they boast Yorkshire cycling royalty, and in Holdsworth they carry one of the most famous names in the nation's racing history.

Only a handful of fans will remember the original Holdsworth team, but for those of a certain vintage the sight of their orange and blue bikes will recall the 1970s - when they were the UK's most successful squad.

Yorkshire-based businessman Dave Hanney owns the Holdsworth brand and had the idea of relaunching the team late last year. Former Team Sky rider Russ was his first call.

"He said to me, 'Wouldn't it be cool to relaunch it just like it was 40 years ago?'" Russ told Press Association Sport.

"From there it's just been a whirlwind. Here we are just a few months down the line, we've got a UCI-registered team and we're going to start in the Tour de Yorkshire."

The original Holdsworth squad had little to do with Yorkshire, having their roots in the Hemel Hempstead Cycling Club from which they took their distinctive colour scheme.

But Russ can trace roots back to the original incarnation as his first manager as a pro was former Holdsworth rider Keith Lambert.

"The more the project went on, the more it felt like it was meant to happen," Russ added. "There's a lot of nostalgia and history. Holdsworth is now owned by a Rotherham company. Myself and Dean are Rotherham boys, so it's nice to be working with a local company and such a cool brand."

There are five Irishmen on the 12-man squad, explaining why they will race under the Irish flag this year, but the team also boasts German veteran Bjorn Thurau and Jake Womersley - himself Yorkshire cycling royalty as the grandson of Brian Robinson, the first Brit to win a stage of the Tour de France.

While Russ, 39, continues to ride as road captain, his elder brother Dean, 43, serves as sporting director.

"We're not making any big statements like we're going to win the Tour de France in five years," Dean said, referencing Sir Dave Brailsford's promise when Team Sky launched in 2009.

"We've got a quality team that can do the odd European race but we'll concentrate on the UK scene with the aim of qualifying for the Tour of Britain.

"We pushed really hard to get into the Tour de Yorkshire and now that's happened, that's awesome."

For a embryonic team pushing for brand awareness, the global coverage the Tour de Yorkshire attracts is vital oxygen.

"For me, as an event it is one of the best in the world," Dean said. "Yorkshire has got some of the best scenery and some of the best racing roads in the world. For us as a Yorkshire pro team it's so exciting to get the invite."

With six WorldTour squads and seven Pro-Continental level teams heading to Yorkshire this week, Holdsworth know their place but will not be content with making up the numbers.

"We've got the quality to be in the breaks and to be in the sprints," Dean said. "Bjorn has ridden at WorldTour level and so has Russ. When rival teams look over and see those guys, they command respect.

"We're not planning to win the Tour de Yorkshire in year one but we'll be there fighting with that Yorkshire grit on every single stage."

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