A parcours crammed full of challenging short, sharp climbs produced a rollercoaster of a race, with the yellow jersey being passed from rider to rider like a hot potato. But when an exhilarating week of racing came to an end on the streets of London, the winner was not Bradley Wiggins or Michal Kwiatkowski or one of the host of marquee names but Dutch neo-pro Dylan van Baarle, who held his nerve on the final day to announce himself to the cycling world with no small amount of panache.
Living up to its billing
Although there was only one major summit finish in this year’s edition, the Tour of Britain fully justified its elevation to 2.HC status with a parcours that placed a variety of demands on the riders throughout the week, with virtually every day providing exciting and competitive racing.
Book-ended between a pair of city circuit sprint stages won by Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), we had plenty of variety. The only other bunch sprint fell to Mark Renshaw (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) on stage two, but even that came after the descent from Great Orme with just 6km remaining, which saw constant attacks off the front of the peloton.
While there was just one proper summit finish, there was plenty of challenging climbing throughout. The queen stage three saw Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani-CSF) triumph after a ding-dong battle with Tinkoff-Saxo’s Nicolas Roche on the 6km, 7.2% climb of The Tumble which swung from Zardini to Roche and then back again. But that would prove to be far from decisive as the saw-toothed nature of the following four days – raced on parcours which would not have looked out of place in Ardennes week – produced plenty of nail-biting finishes which saw the GC fluctuate from day to day.
An uphill finish on stage four saw a charging Michal Kwiatkowski (OPQS) overhaul the three survivors of the day’s break in the final 150 metres. IAM’s Matthias Brändle then took two wins in a row, the first with a solo attack on the final climb, the second in a three-up sprint after OPQS and the peloton made a mess of timing the chase.
But it was the marathon 226km stage seven which determined the fate of the yellow jersey. Julien Vermote (OPQS) attacked from the break on the first of two cat 1 climbs at the back end of the stage, but van Baarle finished third, 23 seconds behind Vermote but crucially 57 seconds ahead of the group of GC favourites. This gave him a 19-second cushion going into the final day’s double-header time trial/circuit finish – enough for him to successfully defend his position at the top of the order as Sky’s Bradley Wiggins claimed the race against the clock before Kittel wrapped up proceedings with a photo finish victory over Mark Cavendish (OPQS).
Who is Dylan van Baarle?
The 22-year-old Dutch rider stepped up to Garmin-Sharp from the Rabobank development squad at the start of this season and has quietly put together an impressive first-year palmares in second tier races, finishing third overall at the inaugural Dubai Tour, 11th at Three Days of West Flanders and sixth at the Ster ZLM Toer, where he finished second in the 7km prologue, his only podium finish prior to arriving in Britain.
Although he managed just one top-ten finish here, on stage seven, it was enough to win him the overall when combined with strong performances on the queen stage and an 11th place finish in the short individual time trial on the final day in which he gave up just nine of his 19-second advantage to overall runner-up Kwiatkowski.
From agony to escstasy and back again
No one experienced more highs and lows during this week than Movistar’s Alex Dowsett.
At the mid-point of the race, the British time trial specialist must have been cursing his luck. A late solo attack on stage two petered out within sight of the finish line. Then he was one of the major protagonists in a nine-man break on stage four, only to be scuppered by a double puncture. To add insult to injury, the commissaires immediately clamped down to prevent him from being paced back to the front by his team car – a technically illegal practice which is normally overlooked after a rider is delayed by a mechanical problem.
Although he cut a frustrated figure in interviews after both stages, Dowsett was undeterred. On stage six he got himself into the break again. The OPQS team of race leader Michal Kwiatkowski got their calculations wrong – Eurosport’s Sean Kelly would have had a field day – as they allowed the three escapees to get 11 minutes up the road and then received little help from other teams chasing them down.
This left us with a thrilling chase in the final 50km or so as OPQS desperately tried to close the gap. Cavendish took a number of long pulls on the front and even Kwiatkowski himself had to drag the peloton behind him in the final 10km. But up ahead Dowsett – a time trial winner at last year’s Giro d’Italia – was also going full tilt, and although it ultimately meant Brändle was able to easily claim his second stage in as many days, this time the Briton’s efforts were rewarded as he took over the race lead.
His joy was short-lived though. The two cat 1 climbs close to the following day’s finish in Brighton proved too much, ending his reign in yellow. But he at least received the overall combativity prize for his efforts during the week – deserving recognition for the man who had done more than anyone else to animate a thrilling race.
Kittel vs Cav
The long-awaited battle of the world’s top two sprinters never fully materialised here. Cavendish was hobbled on the opening stage when he was struck by another team’s car as he was rejoining after taking a comfort break. He was third there, but banged up enough that he could not climb out of the saddle to contest the sprint 100%.
He did, however, contest the closing sprint in London, but had to give best to the big German, albeit by inches.
Cav’s overall record in head-to-head sprints against Kittel isn’t great, and while there have been mitigating circumstances for his defeats in the past couple of seasons – antibiotics compromised his 2013 Tour de France and here he’s still on the way back from his big crash at this year’s Tour – but there are few people now who can objectively deny that the pendulum has swung. Kittel can justifiably claim to be the fastest man in the peloton.
Can Cav come back and enjoy a 2015 free from the injuries and illnesses which have plagued him this year? And if he does, will that be enough for him to turn the tables on Kittel and hold off the next generation of fast men who are now nipping at his heels? Maybe, maybe not. It will be one of the ongoing stories of next season, for sure.
Race in numbers
0 – Professional wins by first year pro Dylan van Baarle prior to the Tour of Britain.
6 – The leader’s yellow jersey was worn by different riders after each of the first four stages – in each case the respective day’s stage winners: Kittel, Renshaw, Zardini and Kwiatkowski – and by six different riders in all.
3 – Stage victories for Omega Pharma-Quick Step, none of them by Mark Cavendish, who nonetheless still holds the Tour of Britain record of ten stage wins.
1 – Mark Renshaw‘s win on stage two was his first of the season, breaking a 13-month drought stretching back to last year’s opening stage of the Eneco Tour.
Stage 1: Winner – Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano). Leader – Kittel.
Stage 2: Winner – Mark Renshaw (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). Leader – Renshaw.
Stage 3: Winner – Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani-CSF). Leader – Zardini.
Stage 4: Winner – Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). Leader – Kwiatkowski.
Stage 5: Winner – Matthias Brändle (IAM). Leader – Kwiatkowski.
Stage 6: Winner – Brändle . Leader – Alex Dowsett (Movistar).
Stage 7: Winner – Julien Vermote (OPQS). Leader – Dylan van Baarle (Garmin-Sharp).
Stage 8a: Winner – Bradley Wiggins (Sky). Leader – van Baarle.
Stage 8b: Winner – Kittel. Overall winner – van Baarle.
1. Dylan van Baarle (Garmin-Sharp) 32:22:50
2. Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:10
3. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +0:22
4. Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani-CSF) +0:37
5. Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) +0:42
6. Jon Izagirre (Movistar) +0:46
7. Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) +0:50
8. Alex Dowsett (Movistar) +0:54
9. Jan Barta (NetApp-Endura) +1:09
10. Dylan Teuns (BMC) +1:10