Tour of Britain review

The second half of the Tour of Britain demonstrated that you don’t need 2,000-metre hors catégorie mountains to produce exciting racing. A combination of short, sharp climbs, undulating terrain and testing winds proved more than sufficient to shatter the peloton repeatedly. It was a situation in which Endura’a Jonathan Tiernan-Locke thrived, seizing the gold jersey on stage six and defending it with verve all the way to the finish in Guildford to take his fourth overall GC victory of 2012.

Stage 5: Stoke-on-Trent to Stoke-on-Trent, 146.9km

UnitedHealthcare’s Marc de Maar, the national champion of Curacao, reaped the rewards of a well-timed solo attack to take victory as Sky’s challenge for the gold jersey imploded on an undulating stage which shredded the peloton.

Marc de Maar sporting his 2012 Curacao national champion jersey (image courtesy of Marc de Maar on Twitter)

As always, the Stoke stage resulted in a lively day’s racing. Eight men, including the omnipresent Kristian House (Rapha Condor) went clear ahead of the first climb of the day. House gained a useful four points for third place at the summit to consolidate his lead in the King of the Mountains competition.

Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Bernard Sulzberger (Raleigh) subsequently broke clear, before Basso decided to briefly go it alone before being hauled back in at 40km. By this time, race leader Mark Cavendish (Sky) and several others had been distanced in the windy conditions over the rolling hills, leading to Bradley Wiggins sitting up to wait for him. However, Cavendish was much further behind than first thought. Stranded, the pair would eventually roll in nearly 12 minutes down, and Wiggins would then abandon overnight with a stomach bug.

By the time the race reached the final categorised climb, the cat 1 Gun Hill, the lead group was down to 27 and was stressed even further when Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura) attacked on the ascent. The leaders regrouped, but then De Maar, Paul Voss (Endura) and Jeremie Galland (Saur-Sojasun) overcooked a right-hander with 9km to go. Galland crashed heavily, fracturing his collarbone, but De Maar was able to quickly chase back on and then launch a solo attack just inside 7km. With the group seemingly happy to cut him some slack he emptied the tank, establishing an 18-second lead and winning with ease. Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Sharp) won the sprint for second 15 seconds later ahead of De Maar’s teammate Boy Van Poppel, to move up to third and second overall respectively. Howard finished immediately behind them to reclaim the gold jersey by seven seconds.

After the stage, De Maar explained how he had nearly abandoned the race after an eventful opening couple of days:

I started off in crashes on the first two days so I kind of lost my motivation because I came here to do something in the GC. Luckily my team director coached me through the last few days as I was almost thinking of going home but luckily I didn’t as I won a stage today.

It took some effort to stay away but as soon as the finish came closer I started to believe in it and all of a sudden I had some extra percentage to put on my pedal. I am really proud of myself. Still can’t believe it, too much excitement going on but I am sure we’ll get back to the hotel and realise what is going on.

Stage 6: Welshpool to Caerphilly, 189.8km

The queen stage of this year’s race featured four first-category climbs in the back half, including two ascents of Caerphilly Mountain close to the finish. Endura’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, fifth last year, lost out in the sprint for stage victory to NetApp’s Leopold Koenig, but achieved his primary objective of wresting the gold jersey off the back of Leigh Howard.

Koenig clinched his second win of 2012 (image courtesy of NetApp)

Kristian House yet again featured in the day’s six-man break, snaffling the ten points available on each of the first two climbs of the day without being challenged to extend his King of the Mountains lead over Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi) to a near-unassailable 42 points. The escape’s lead stretched out beyond seven minutes but the peloton always had the chase well under control despite Sky and Endura forcing a split inside the last 60km.

On the first loop up Caerphilly Mountain the lead group quickly disintegrated to leave just House and Graham Briggs (Raleigh) out front. Behind them, Tiernan-Locke stretched his legs and eased away from the chasing group, moving into the lead near the summit with 12km to go. Koenig sat on his wheel all the way up the climb second time around before easing ahead on the downhill finish and sprinting clear to take the win. Garmin-Sharp’s Nathan Haas won the sprint for third from an 11-man group some 19 seconds back, while the top two overnight, Howard and Boy Van Poppel, were gapped on the run-in and finished at 33 seconds.

The net result was that Tiernan-Locke jumped from sixth to first overall, 13 seconds ahead of Howard, with Haas now third, a further five seconds behind.

Stage 7: Barnstaple to Dartmouth, 170.7km

Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Pablo Urtasun claimed both the stage win and enough points to keep his slim King of the Mountains hopes alive as race leader Jonathan Tiernan-Locke consolidated his position at the top of the standings ahead of Sunday’s final stage.

Urtasun proved the strongest on a snaggle-toothed stage finish (image courtesy of Euskaltel-Euskadi)

Urtasun had been part of a high-profile five-man breakaway which slipped away after the first climb of the day. Joining him in the escape were teammate Samuel Sanchez, Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale), Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) and stage five winner Marc de Maar. They were subsequently joined by five other riders, with Urtasun taking maximum points over the day’s two first-category climbs, but ultimately it was the original quintet who would contest the finish.

Coppel yo-yoed on and off the back of the group before being finally dislodged with 6km to go. Sanchez, too, fell away only to regain touch in time to support his teammate on the descent to the line. The former Olympic champion led out the sprint, Urtasun sat on De Maar’s wheel and came around him in the closing metres to take the win. Basso was third, Sanchez fourth.

Behind them, Tiernan-Locke led the chase off the front of the peloton, eventually splitting off the front with a small group which included third and fifth-placed Nathan Haas and Damiano Caruso (Liquigas) but not Leigh Howard or Boy Van Poppel, second and fourth overnight. With the race leader setting an impressive tempo to lead the chase without help, they would finish just 46 seconds behind the winner, with NetApp’s Leopold Koenig eight seconds in front of them after a late and unsuccessful effort to bridge across to the leaders. The Englishman extended his race lead to 18 seconds over Haas, with Caruso at 23 seconds the only other genuine threat for overall victory.

Stage 8: Reigate to Guildford, 147.7km

The final stage gave British fans four good reasons to celebrate as home riders secured three jerseys and the stage win. Node4-Giordana’s Pete Williams started the ball rolling by getting into the four-man breakaway, which effectively confirmed him as the winner of the sprints classification. Similarly, with Pablo Urtasun missing out on the break, Rapha Condor’s Kristian House clinched the King of the Mountains competition. The break built a three-minute lead – helped by the peloton being delayed at a railway crossing – but their cause was always going to be a forlorn one.

JT-L – a worthy and impressive winner (image courtesy of Endura Racing)

They were briefly given hope inside the final 50km when NetApp’s determined pace-setting – in an effort to gap Mark Cavendish and set up something for Leopold Koenig – fractured the peloton on the final cat 1 climb, which featured sections of up to 20%. But with both the reformed peloton and an intervening chase group closing in, Jack Bobridge (Orica-GreenEDGE) soloed off the front with 32km remaining and quickly pulled out a gap of around 20 seconds. However, with Sky measuring their effort carefully, he was reeled back in at the 12km mark. Solo counter-attacks by Gediminas Bagdonas (An Post-Sean Kelly) and Urtasun proved short-lived, and Sky brought the race back together with 6km to set up the bunch finish.

Luke Rowe opened up the lead-out in the final 500 metres on the uphill, cobbled drag of Guildford’s high street. As he had done before, Cavendish eased off to find more wheels to follow – in this case Endura’s Russell Downing and Liquigas’ Fabio Sabatini – before exploding out of the Italian’s wheel just after the 200-metre board to win by four lengths over UnitedHealthcare’s Boy Van Poppel, with Sabatini third. It was the Manxman’s third win of the race, and a fine way to sign off his year as reigning world champion.

Three seconds later Tiernan-Locke, who had been alert in responding immediately to every possible threat throughout the stage, finished safely in the main pack to defend his 18-second advantage over Nathan Haas and claim overall victory. Between himself, Cavendish, House and Williams, British riders almost locked out the day’s podium. Only the Dutchman Van Poppel, winner of the points competition, ruined the all-British party.

Closing thoughts

With cycling fever at its peak after the Tour de France, Olympics and Paralympics, British interest in cycling has never been so high. Every stage of the race was well attended despite inclement weather at times, with the crowds on Saturday’s climbs and on the final day often five or six deep. With Bradley Wiggins taking a back seat – and then an early exit – fans still had several British successes to cheer on, with Sky’s Mark Cavendish and Luke Rowe accounting for four wins and Jonathan Tiernan-Locke becoming the first British winner of the race since Robert Millar won the Kellogg’s Tour in 1989. And we should not, of course, forget Kristian House and Pete Williams, winners of the mountains and sprint competitions.

Tiernan-Locke was particularly impressive. His climbing talent was already well-known, but here he demonstrated his tactical ability. Without the aid of race radios, his judgement of when to attack, when to follow and when to sit tight was exemplary. He will surely step up to a WorldTour team next season, with Sky likely front-runners for his signature.

Finally, the parcours proved to be excellent. While there was plenty to encourage the sprinters, routine flat stages were few and far between, and most offered ample opportunities for both climbers and breakaway specialists to challenge for victory. Although perhaps too many of the earlier stages featured their key climbs too early in the day to really bare their teeth, the later ones had suitably undulating Classics-style profiles which, when combined with windy conditions, led to plenty of aggressive racing and splits in the bunch. Is the race deserving of an upgrade in status and perhaps an extension to nine or ten days, which would help smooth out one of its biggest bugbears: the high number of long-distance transfers? Maybe not yet, but with interest in the sport at an all-time high it is surely worthy of consideration.

General classification

1. Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura) 29:11:22

2. Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) +0:18

3. Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:23

4. Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) +1:02

5. Christopher Jones (UnitedHealthcare) +1:12

6. Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp) +2:01

7. David Lelay (Saur-Sojasun) same time

8. Boy Van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare) +2:14

9. Christian Knees (Sky) +2:35

10. Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) +4:30

Link: Preview, Mid-race reviewOfficial website

Tour of Britain mid-race review

It took a while for the juggernaut to start operating smoothly, but three stage victories, two overall leaders and a race-defining split later it’s fair to say that Sky have already made their mark on the 2012 Tour of Britain. As the race reaches its midway point with Mark Cavendish in the leader’s gold jersey, British riders head the general classification, King of the Mountains (Rapha Condor’s Kristian House) and sprints competitions (Node4-Giordana’s Pete Williams). However, the race for overall victory is just beginning, with the main GC contenders waiting in the wings. Here’s a recap of the four stages so far.

Stage 1: Ipswich to Norfolk Showground, 199.6km

The opening stage of the race was also its longest and flattest, so it came as no surprise to see it won by a British Sky rider. Only it wasn’t Mark Cavendish who claimed the victory and the first gold jersey, but a maiden professional win for 22-year old Luke Rowe. The Welsh neo-pro, a late replacement for Thomas Lovkvist, benefitted from a major crash just before the flamme rouge which unseated Cavendish and about a dozen others.

A first stage win and a first leader’s jersey for Rowe (image courtesy of Sky)

The day’s action had started from the moment the flag dropped as a break of four, including Kristian House, set off up the road. The former British national champion claimed maximum points over each of the day’s three third-category climbs before the peloton scooped them up with 20km to go. Almost simultaneously on the narrow roads, Node4-Giordana’s Rico Rogers somersaulted spectacularly off the road, bringing down several others, and barely a kilometre later another multi-rider crash occurred at a small bridge.

Sky and Endura kept the pace high in the closing kilometres to avoid any further mishaps on the final run-in. But at 1.2km to go and with Sky in pole position to set up the sprint for him, Cavendish’s wheels went out from underneath him – he claimed later that he had been tagged by an over-exuberant NetApp rider – and down he went, bringing several others with him including Tyler Farrar, who would abandon overnight with a concussion. Another crash on the next corner claimed teammate and Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins, and in the resultant carnage Rowe jumped out of the wheel of Boy Van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare) in the final 100 metres to finish the day in gold. Endura’s Russell Downing was a distant third.

Stage 2: Nottingham to Knowsley, 177.8km

Another day, another win for a 22-year old. An impressive Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) executed a fine sprint in Knowsley Safari Park to hold off Mark Cavendish for his second win of the year.

Howard held off Cavendish to take stage 2 (image courtesy of Orica-GreenEDGE)

Teammate and fellow Ausseie Jack Bobridge had initiated the day’s six-man break. Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Pablo Urtasun led them over all three of the day’s cat 1 climbs to relieve Kristian House of the mountains classification lead, but the group’s lead of 3½ minutes was never going to be enough to survive the peloton’s charge. Bobridge ploughed on – alongside Node4’s Pete Williams – to hold them off until the 23km mark, freeing up his teammates from pulling duty on the front of the bunch.

Despite a late two-man escape, Sky were in full control at the 2km mark. However, Cavendish found himself with only lead-out man Luke Rowe ahead of him with 600 metres to go on an uphill finish. He appeared to ease up into the final corner to avoid being caught on the front too early, allowing Howard and Boy Van Poppel to slide in ahead of him, but was unable to close the gap on his former HTC-Highroad teammate, who held him off by half a length to leave the world champion shaking his head in frustration. Van Poppel, in third, took over the overall lead.

Stage 3: Jedburgh to Dumfries, 161.4km

Just as he did in last year’s edition, Mark Cavendish won the bunch sprint in Dumfries, ensuring that a damp, grey day had a rainbow (jersey) at the end of it. The world champion exacted revenge for his defeat the previous day by putting at least six lengths into second-placed Leigh Howard.

On a damp, grey afternoon, Luke Rowe (centre left) successfully launched the Manx Missile (centre right) to victory in Dumfries (image courtesy of Ian Wadkins)

Cavendish was prominent early in the stage as the peloton was kept together long enough for him to lead out Luke Rowe to take the maximum three-second bonus at the first intermediate sprint after 11km – enough to put him back in the virtual lead.

Thereafter a five-man break formed and produced a lively tussle for the King of the Mountains jersey as the riders tackled two cat 1 climbs followed by a cat 2 within the opening 63km. Kristian House was the main protagonist in the escape group, taking a first and two seconds over the three climbs, with only Raleigh’s Bernard Sulzberger able to deny him a clean sweep. House nevertheless moved to the top of the KoM standings. Former classification leader Pablo Urtasun led the peloton over each climb to sweep up the points for sixth on all three, limiting his deficit at the end of the day to just five points.

Over the flat second half of the stage the peloton quickly reeled in the break. Vacansoleil-DCM stagiare Wesley Kreder was the last surviving escapee, joined by Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Sharp), and the pair held off the Sky-led bunch until the final 2.5km. This time, at the third time of asking, the WorldTour leaders got it right, with first Bradley Wiggins and then Bernhard Eisel perfectly positioning Rowe to lead Cavendish unopposed round the final right-hander with 300 metres to go. He peeled off, and with clear air behind him Cavendish barely had to break sweat to finish it off. Howard had the considerable consolation of claiming the leader’s gold jersey on count-back over Cavendish.

Stage 4: Carlisle to Blackpool, 156km

The finish proved to be little more than a stroll on the promenade in Blackpool as Mark Cavendish claimed back-to-back wins. The world champion left Steele Von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp) and Leigh Howard trailing in his wake as he ended the day swapping his rainbow stripes for gold as the new overall leader.

Kristian House again featured in the day’s six-man break as he sought to consolidate his lead in the mountains classification. He duly claimed maximum points over the three climbs to extend his advantage over Pablo Urtasun to 21 points. Although the escape’s advantage approached seven minutes at one point, they were easily hauled in by a peloton led by the combined horsepower of Sky and Endura. In the latter part of the race, Sky upped the pace as the peloton was buffeted by coastal crosswinds, resulting in a permanent split which reduced the race for stage victory – and quite possibly the GC – to around 30 riders, including key favourites such as Howard, Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Sharp), Luke Rowe (Sky) and Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura).

With the remnants of the break scooped up inside the final 10km, Sky exercised an iron grip over the race all the way into Blackpool. Lead-out man Rowe fired off the front on the final straight and Cavendish opted to drop back – as he had in Knowsley on stage two – to force Howard to chase after Rowe and lead him out. This time there was no mistake: Cav blasted by a fading Howard – who was also passed by Von Hoff – to take an easy victory and the gold jersey which just the previous day he had said he was in no hurry to wear.

With some tough climbs to come over the next few days, Cavendish will be back in his beloved rainbow jersey soon enough, as the likes of Tiernan-Locke and Vanmarcke will seek to stamp their authority on the GC. Already the list of potential winners looks to be a short one, with more than two minutes separating first from 20th ahead of the final four stages.

General classification after stage 4

1. Mark Cavendish (Sky) 17:07:51

2. Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) +0:06

3. Boy Van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare) +0:14

4. Luke Rowe (Sky) same time

5. Rony Martias (Saur-Sojasun) +0:20

6. Steele Von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp) s/t

7. Russell Downing (Endura) +0:22

8. Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Sharp) +0:26

9. Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) s/t

10. Yanto Barker (UK Youth) +0:27

Link: PreviewOfficial website