Tour of Britain preview

Sunday sees the start of the biggest annual cycling race on UK shores, the eight-day Tour of Britain. Coming at the end of an unprecedented summer of success when Britain has been gripped with cycling fever, record crowds are likely to be present to cheer on both their home favourites and the strongest field in the event’s history.

What kind of race is it?

The event was first raced in 1945 as the amateur Victory Marathon. Perhaps best known as the Milk Race, in which form it ran for over 30 years, it was abandoned in 1994 and briefly revived in 1998 and 1999 as the PruTour. It recommenced in its modern format in 2004 as a five-day race. It has been run over eight days since 2008, a reflection of its growing stature and is now classified as a category 2.1 race which forms part of the UCI Europe Tour.

The exact nature of the race varies from year to year, but it is generally one with a balanced mixture of sprints and moderate climbing stages, with many of the ascents being relatively short but surprisingly steep in places. With generous time bonuses on offer, the overall winner can be a punchy sprinter or a strong all-round rouleur.

The most recent winners of the event are:

2007: Romain Feillu (Agritubel)

2008: Geoffroy Lequatre (Agritubel)

2009: Edvald Boasson Hagen (Columbia-HTC)

2010: Michael Albasini (HTC-Columbia)

2011: Lars Boom (Rabobank)

What happened last year?

Rabobank’s Lars Boom claimed overall victory over Sky’s Steve Cummings by 36 seconds, with NetApp’s Jan Barta a further 19 seconds in arrears. The Dutchman secured the gold jersey after winning two stages and finishing second on the penultimate stage time trial.

Boom held off all challengers to take overall victory (image courtesy of Rabobank)

Mark Cavendish won the bunch sprint on the opening stage in Dumfries and retained the overall lead when the following day’s stage to Blackpool was cancelled due to Hurricane Katia. Winds also affected the following day’s stage, splitting the peloton as Boom won to move to the top of the general classification.

Boom was a strong second on stage four, just behind Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) on the summit finish at Caerphilly Castle, while another hilly stage the following day animated by Rapha Condor-Sharp’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke eventually ended in a bunch sprint where Cavendish allowed his lead-out man Mark Renshaw to claim victory for himself.

Boom took stage six from a reduced field sprint and had no problems the following day as An Post-Sean Kelly’s Gediminas Bagdonas won from a six-man break. With a 28-second lead going into the final day’s first of two stages, an 8.8km individual time trial, Boom – an excellent rider against the clock – lost out to Sky’s Alex Dowsett but gained time on everyone else to consolidate an advantage that allowed him to relax as Cavendish clinched the afternoon’s ten-lap criterium to give the home crowd something to cheer about.

1. Lars Boom (Rabobank) 26:57:35

2. Steve Cummings (Sky) +0:36

3. Jan Barta (NetApp) +0:55

4. Linus Gerdemann (Leopard-Trek) +0:57

5. Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Rapha Condor-Sharp) +1:03

6. Iker Camano (Endura Racing) +1:07

7. Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) +1:12

8. Joost Posthuma (Leopard-Trek) +1:13

9. Leopold Konig (NetApp) +1:19

10. Daniel Lloyd (Garmin-Cervelo) +1:25

This year’s race

The 2012 edition will be more testing than ever as the race takes in a number of climbs in the Peak District, southern Scotland, mid-Wales and Dartmoor before the final stage concludes on Guildford’s uphill cobbled High Street.

Cav will be looking for wins in the rainbow jersey (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The opening stage is pan-flat but with a technical finish that includes four 90-degree turns in the closing 1.1km. Nonetheless all eyes will be on Mark Cavendish, who may be sporting the world champion’s rainbow jersey here for the last time.

The next four days all feature enough climbs to force an initial selection among the GC contenders, although the toughest days look to be up front. Stage two passes through the Peak District with three first-category climbs, the highest at over 450m. The third stage has two Cat 1s and a Cat 2, but all in the first half of the stage, with a long, straight road into Dumfries to encourage the sprinters to cling on. The following day’s three climbs are less severe, with the odds favouring a bunch sprint on the sea-front in Blackpool. The now traditional Stoke stage offers opportunities for both a sprint and a breakaway on its lumpy parcours and technical finish.

Last year’s stage from Welshpool to Caerphilly provided an exciting attacking finish at the top of Caerphilly mountain. This year’s sixth stage follows a similar route, but this time ends with two climbs of the hill with a downhill finish. The end of the following day’s penultimate stage is strikingly similar: two late climbs and a climactic downhill.

Stage 6 is likely to end with a big race-defining battle in Caerphilly

Instead of the usual London city centre finale, stage eight throws in four categorised climbs and a cobbled hill to the line, offering one final opportunity for a last-gasp change to the general classification. Overall, there are hardly any easy stages here, with most days offering sprinters, breakaway artists and GC men an opportunity to triumph.

Who to watch

Wiggins won’t be 100%, but that won’t stop the fans from cheering (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

He won’t have the form to win the race, but it will be one hell of a lap of honour. Bradley Wiggins, Britain’s first Tour de France champion and Olympic time trial winner, headlines a host of star names and will receive the adulation of the home crowds no matter where he finishes.

Wiggins won’t be the only big name in attendance among the 17 competing teams, six of them WorldTour squads. The rainbow stripes of Sky teammate – and possibly soon to be ex-teammate – Mark Cavendish will be expected to deliver some home cheer in the sprints. Former Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez will lead the Euskaltel-Euskadi squad and two-time Giro winner Ivan Basso will ride with Liquigas-Cannondale.

Defending champion Lars Boom and his Rabobank team are absent, but four of last year’s top ten return in 2012, including third-placed man Jan Barta (NetApp). Look out also for Endura’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, who animated the 2011 race and has had a stellar European season this year which is likely to earn him a contract with a big-name team for 2013.

House will undoubtedly feature during the race (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Cavendish won’t have it all his own way in the sprints, several of which will come at the end of difficult lumpy stages. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), Robert Forster (UnitedHealthcare) and Aidis Kruopis (Orica-GreenEDGE) will be among the leading fast-men looking to add the scalp of the reigning world champion to their palmares.

Fans with deeper knowledge of the British racing scene will also be able to look out for former national champions Kristian House (Rapha Condor) and Russell Downing (Endura Racing) and adopted Brit Magnus ‘Big Maggy’ Backstedt (UK Youth). At the time of writing, a total of 29 British riders will take the start-line in Ipswich.

Here at VeloVoices Towers we’ll be following the fortune of Rapha’s House, who will be wearing the easy-to-remember dossard 111.

Race details

September 9th: Stage 1 – Ipswich to Norfolk Showground, 199.6km

September 10th: Stage 2 – Nottingham to Knowsley, 177.8km

September 11th: Stage 3 – Jedburgh to Dumfries, 161.4km

September 12th: Stage 4 – Carlisle to Blackpool, 156km

September 13th: Stage 5 – Stoke-on-Trent to Stoke-on-Trent, 146.9km

September 14th: Stage 6 – Welshpool to Caerphilly, 189.8km

September 15th: Stage 7 – Barnstaple to Dartmouth, 170.7km

September 16th: Stage 8 – Reigate to Guildford, 147.7km

The Tour of Britain starts on Sunday 9th September and concludes on Sunday 16th. Daily live coverage and highlights will be shown by ITV4 in the UK. For other live coverage check

Link: Official website

Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec review

Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) made a superb late attack in a thrilling finale to the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec, opening up a gap with Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) before beating him in the sprint for the line. The 32-year-old – who took the prestigious Milan-San Remo race earlier in the year – is looking good for the World Championships, with this victory coming off a second place at the Clásica San Sebastián.

Greg Van Avermaet, Simon Gerrans and Rui Costa on the podium (image courtesy of

The best climber’s prize went to the aggressive Bruno Langlois (SpiderTech-C10), while the award for the best Canadian rider went not to the likes of Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) or David Veilleux (Europcar), but to the wonderfully named Francois Parisien (SpiderTech-C10), who finished tenth.

The early breakaway

There were eight men in the first real escape – the initial group which had got an advantage grew too large, and was caught 45km in. Thomas Rohregger (RadioShack-Nissan), Vladimir Gusev (Katusha), Danilo Wyss (BMC), Tom Leezer (Rabobank), Lucas Euser (SpiderTech-C10), Sandy Casar (FDJ-BigMat), Hugo Houle (SpiderTech-C10) and Marsh Cooper (Canadian National Team) made up this eight-man group whose advantage was allowed to grow to over six minutes.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for the contenders’ teams to hit the front. Thomas Voeckler‘s Europcar and Ryder Hesjedal‘s Garmin-Sharp did the lion’s share of work on the peloton, with the breakaway’s lead reducing almost as quickly as the number of riders in the race. Casar was the first rider to be caught, and would retire soon after, with one of the race’s favourites Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) joining him after toiling at the back of the bunch for a while.

With the breakaway and its lead shrinking with every lap of the Québec course, there were a few counter-attacks from the peloton, but none that managed to stick. With just over 20km and just under two laps remaining, it was effectively all back together, with Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) lurking ominously at the front.

Late counter-attacks

The breakaway being caught so early inevitably meant that more attacks went off the front of the peloton, with Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Bruno Langlois opening up a gap of around 20 seconds. Langlois was there to collect points for the best climber classification – which he did eventually win – but the duo created enough concern to warrant a hard chase by the peloton.

French duo Jerome Pineau (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Christophe Kern (Europcar) tried to bridge the gap to the two leaders, before being quickly closed down. However, Pineau’s teammate Dries Devenyns did eventually make it across, with Langlois dropping backwards.

However despite the strong lead duo they couldn’t hold off the charging peloton, and came back together pretty quickly with about 4km to go.

Gerrans vs Van Avermaet

Then, suddenly Van Avermaet launched out of the bunch rapidly, quickly followed by Gerrans. Sagan decided after a vital few seconds of hesitation that he could wait no longer, and attempted to accelerate over to the two leaders. But it was too late. The sprint for the line was to be contested by Gerrans and Van Avermaet, two fast finishers and two riders who enjoy the false flat finish. Gerrans had led for almost the entire final kilometre, and continued to lead out the sprint right up until Van Avermaet fired for the line.

Surprisingly, the Australian national champion then had the energy and wherewithal to surge past the Belgian once more, and Gerrans took the victory. Sagan was swept up by the stampeding peloton, eventually finishing outside the top ten.

Gerrans takes the win (image courtesy of

Closing thoughts

It was an interesting race for quite a few reasons, principally to see who is and isn’t on form for the World Championships. Clearly, Simon Gerrans will be one of the favourites for the finish on the top of the Cauberg, with Peter Sagan also demonstrating that he is riding himself back into the form which saw him win three stages at the Tour de France.

However, at the opposite end of the spectrum is Edvald Boasson Hagen, who will be hoping that today was just an off-day or jour sans, as otherwise his form is looking poor ahead of a World Championships which may already be too hilly for his liking.

An honourable mention must go to Rui Costa (Movistar) and Fabian Wegmann (Garmin-Sharp), both of whom rode excellent races to take third and eighth respectively. Rui Costa won last year’s Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal, this year’s Tour de Suisse and finished inside the top 20 in the Tour de France. He is developing into a superb jack-of-all-trades, and at only 25 will no doubt be a coveted signing.

Wegmann is a comparatively elderly rider at 32, and while always appearing strong on these sorts of races, has very little to show for it on his palmarès. In fact, save for the mountains classification at the 2004 Giro d’Italia, his three national championships are just about the most impressive thing on his record. It’s therefore nice to see him riding strong, and he’ll be hopeful of more good results before the season is out.

Race result

1. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) 4:53:04

2. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) same time

3. Rui Costa (Movistar) +0:04

4. Luca Paolini (Katusha) s/t

5. Tom-Jelte Slagter (Rabobank) s/t

6. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-ISD) s/t

7. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) s/t

8. Fabian Wegmann (Garmin-Sharp) s/t

9. Gerard Ciolek (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t

10. Francois Parisien (Spidertech-C10) s/t

Link: Preview

Vuelta a España: Stage 20 preview

Stage 20: La Faisanera Golf to Bola del Mundo, 170.7km

You’d think that, after that mega-mountain weekend, the podium would be set. Well, it’s fairly certain it will consist of Rodriguez, Contador and Valverde but this final summit finish might just mix their positions around. The peloton has to get over one Cat 2 and three Cat 1 climbs before tackling the HC Bola del Mundo, finishing the stage at the highest point in the Vuelta. Oh, and did we mention that the last climb is an average 8.6% gradient, but has ramps of up to 23%?! Of course it does!

If Valverde and Rodriguez are still harbouring any hopes of the overall victory, they are going to have to attack hard where the road really starts to ramp up – that’s at around kilometre eight of 11.4, assuming they don’t try something even more audacious earlier on. And even if they do distance Contador, he still has a cushion of 1:35 over Valverde to play with so it will take a big effort to force a change to the red jersey. But in this race, you just never know. Perhaps more realistically, Valverde will want to ensure Rodriguez doesn’t get as much as a sniff of overturning the 46-second deficit which separates second from third.

There are opportunities for riders to change places a little lower down the order: Robert Gesink is 32 seconds behind fifth-placed Daniel Moreno, while just 34 seconds separate Laurens Ten Dam in seventh from Igor Anton in ninth, with Andrew Talansky sandwiched in between. But all eyes will be on the three amigos at the top of the order, and with time bonuses potentially crucial expect them to ensure that the day’s break is not allowed to stay away to the finish. The stage victory will go to one of the big guns – you can be sure of that.

Link: Vuelta a Espana official website