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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website