THE longest days of the year are here and, taking advantage of the evening light, are the annual Ilkley Cycle Races, which this year will be held next Wednesday.

A back-to-back programme of races will run from 5.55pm into the night, bringing the customary mix of elite and amateur racing to the streets of Ilkley.

The inaugural event in 2014 came just days before Yorkshire gave the Tour de France arguably ‘the grandest of Grand Départs’.

Since then, the promoting Ilkley Cycling Club have been particularly encouraged to see more and more youth riders participating each year, enjoying being able to race in the heart of the town in front of large appreciative crowds.

Event organiser, Mike Firth, was keen to stress that race night isn’t the preserve of cycling aficionados.

He said: “It’s a great opportunity to meet friends and neighbours and to enjoy a very atmospheric and free event.

“We have the usual Lishman’s barbecue and Ilkley Brewery tents next to the bandstand and there are stalls around the course.”

This sixth edition of the event sees riders tackling the Riddings Road climb every lap. However, the toughest section is often along Albany Walk as the road continues to rise and rivals are at their limit. It is here that the decisive moves are often made.

The extremely competitive, Elite men’s race sees the return of former winners Pete Williams (SwiftCarbon) and Tom Moses (Madison Genesis) who will be challenged by strong teams from Wheelbase, Wold Top, Ribble Pro Cycling and the very talented juniors from Fensham Howes - MAS Design.

This year, a record field in the women’s race will be chasing a £400 first prize, with the runner up receiving £300 and £240 for third.

Whitby's Ellen McDermott (Team Boompods) has been riding well in the recent OVO Energy Tour Series and will be a force to be reckoned with. Team-mate Hannah Larbalestier was second last time and is likely to feature strongly, along with Amy Monkhouse (Storey Racing), who also finished on the podium in 2018.

Until recently, girls were few and far between in the youth races. Five years later, the situation has changed completely with girls now making up a third of the field in the under-14's race. This growth in participation is terrific for the sport and has been fuelled by high-profile events like the Asda Tour de Yorkshire Women’s Race, which is one of the most prestigious and lucrative events on the women’s cycling calendar.

British, European and World champion Tom Pidcock (Wiggins Le Col) first opened his account at Ilkley by winning the under-14 boys’ race in the event’s first year.

He has risen to the professional ranks and is still a prolific winner, his latest success becoming the first ever British winner of the Espoir (under 23 edition) Paris-Roubaix race. He is currently enjoying a well-earned mid-season break but still holds the lap record at Ilkley of one minute 59 seconds for the 1.5 km circuit.

The next in a long line of world-class Yorkshire cyclists might well be lining up for one of the youth races this year.

The race event schedule is as follows: 5:55pm - Under-14s (20 minutes); 6:25pm - Under-16s (25 min); 7pm - Women’s (40 min); 7:45pm - Men’s for third and fourth category riders (40 min); 8:40pm - Elite Men’s (60 min); 9:50pm - Event expected to finish.