JUST short of two million spectators thronged the roadside to cheer on their cycling heroes over the four stages of the Tour de Yorkshire, according to the organisers.

And many thousands turned out across Craven to see the fourth and final stage of the race from Halifax to Leeds on Sunday, as the peloton, containing world-renowned riders such as multiple Tour de France winner Chris Froome, hurtled through Sutton-in-Craven, Cross Hills and Skipton and into the Dales.

Thousands of fans made their way to Park Rash near Kettlewell to see the riders take on the iconic climb, and thousands more lined the route there through Embsay, Eastby, Barden, Burnsall, Threshfield and Kilnsey.

The stage was won by Belgian great Greg van Avermaet in a sprint finish in Leeds city centre, while Team Ineos rider Chris Lawless was the overall race winner.

Craven District Council chiefs again hailed the Tour de Yorkshire - this year’s was the fifth edition of the race - after it pulled in an estimated extra 10,000 people into the town compared to a normal Sunday.

Sharon Hudson, council’s communications manager, said: “It was fantastic to see so many people turn out in Skipton and the surrounding villages, to cheer on these world-class athletes.

“The Craven countryside looked stunning on the television coverage and this was a great advert for our district, with images shown to audiences around the world. Events like these are a great boost for our local businesses and tourism industry.

“Many thanks to the team from Skipton Town Council for their help on the day and the Tour-makers for their assistance in making the event run smoothly, and thanks to all the spectators for turning out with such enthusiasm.”

Chris Lawless became the first British winner of the Tour de Yorkshire despite losing out to defending champion Van Avermaet on the final stage.

Welcome to Yorkshire chiefs estimated that 800,000 spectators witnessed stage four at the roadside.

Van Avermaet (CCC Team) forged clear with Lawless and his Team Ineos team-mate Eddie Dunbar on the 175km trek, and while it was Van Avermaet who sprinted to victory along The Headrow, Lawless came home in second to seal the biggest overall race win of his fledgling career.

Dunbar meanwhile, rounded off the final podium, nine seconds further adrift, and that performance helped Team Ineos win the team classification.

This year’s Tour de Yorkshire women’s race was run over two stages, from Barnsley to Bedale, and Bridlington to Scarborough, over the same distances as the equivalent men’s stages for the first time. The overall winner was the Netherlands rider - and all-time great of women’s road cycling - Marianne Vos.

Otley’s Lizzie Deignan, who was racing in Britain for the first time since the birth of her daughter in September, finished the second stage almost four minutes behind Vos.

She said: “I was there when I needed to be on the climbs but I was blocked in the cross winds

“It was difficult because I was in no man’s land and there wasn’t that much information on the radio.

“Tactically I didn’t ride well, but when you are really on the limit you don’t always make the right decisions.”

Speaking after the race, Wigan-born Lawless said: “I can’t believe I’ve won what is essentially my home race and I’m over the moon.

“ I’ve really surprised myself over the last four days and that was the deepest I’ve ever dug on a bike. It’s always nice to race in Britain because we don’t get to ride here much and the crowds in Yorkshire are always amazing. I’ve started every edition of this race and always had good memories of it. It’s always a nice race to come to and the fans are always really supportive.

“There’s hundreds of thousands of them and I’ve heard my name shouted a few times this week which is always nice. It’s incredible to have won here.”

Welcome to Yorkshire’s commercial director Peter Dodd said: “This is a big year for cycling in the county with the UCI Road World Championships taking place in September, and the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire has been incredible.

“The pride and passion of all those people watching over the last four days has been plain to see and having the world-class male and female riders in action will have inspired thousands of people to get active. We’ve taken the race to another level this year and Christian Prudhomme (race organiser) commented today that Yorkshire deserves the yellow jersey for its crowds. The crowds were up there at Tour de France-level proportions. We’re showcasing Yorkshire to a worldwide audience and that’s incredibly powerful, and our race is going from strength to strength.”