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

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 cyclingfans.com.

Link: Official website

What’s happening in September?

With September dawning, the end of a long, hard season is in sight for the peloton, many of whom will have already clocked up in excess of 10,000 racing kilometres this year. It’s a busy old month, though. With the Vuelta coming, the last of the five Monuments and the small matter of the World Championships to tick off, there’s plenty of hard racing still to be done, and heroes and headlines to be created.

It’s probably fair to say that September is a month in which sprinters will have to take a back-seat for the most part, with those who favour races where the road points skywards coming to the fore. Here’s a quick round-up of the key highlights we’re looking forward to on the road over the next 30 days.

Grands Prix de Quebec (7th) and Montreal (9th)

September also features a pair of back-to-back WorldTour races in Canada, both hosting their third edition this year and both suited to puncheurs: the GP de Quebec and GP de Montreal.

The Quebec race is run over 16 laps of an undulating 12.6km circuit with an awkward 4% ramp to the finish line. Philippe Gilbert won in 2011 after Thomas Voeckler had taken victory in its inaugural running.

Montreal’s event comprises 17 laps of a hillier 12.1km circuit, but with its two major climbs occurring in the first half of the lap, with a smaller one at the end. The race’s previous winners are Robert Gesink (2010) and Rui Costa (2011).

Links: GP Cycliste de Quebec official website, GP Cycliste de Montreal official website

Tour of Britain (9th-16th)

He won’t 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 the eight-day Tour of Britain and will receive the adulation of the home crowds as he rides first north and then south up the spine of the country before the finale in Guildford (as opposed to the traditional London city finish).

Wiggins won’t be the only big name in attendance among the 15 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, while former Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez will lead the Euskaltel-Euskadi squad. Look out also for Endura’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, who livened up the 2011 race and has had a stellar European season this year which is likely to earn him a richly deserved contract with a big-name team for 2013.

This year’s route takes in plenty of climbs, with perhaps as few as three bunch sprints. It should certainly encourage attacking riders to put themselves in the shop window with a view to signing contracts for next year, and ensure the racing is anything but processional.

Link: Official website

Road World Championships (15th-23rd)

Cycling’s Road World Championships takes place this year in Limburg in the Netherlands, including roads and climbs which will be familiar to fans of the Spring Classics, with race finishes running up the Cauberg hill, the final climb of Amstel Gold. It runs for nine days, taking in ten individual events in junior, under-23 and elite categories – road race and time trial – plus a team time trial for trade teams.

The road race parcours starts with a preliminary course through the province of Limburg before embarking on laps (ten for the elite men’s race) of a 16.5km circuit containing two testing climbs. Bemelerberg Hill is a winding 900-metre ascent with gradients of up to 7%, while the climactic Cauberg is 1.5km with slopes of up to 12%. The finish is 1.7km beyond the Cauberg’s summit. It’s a course unsuited to defending elite men’s champion Mark Cavendish, and likely to favour punchy climbers such as Joaquim Rodriguez. The defending women’s champion is Italy’s Giorgia Bronzini.

The various time trials will start in different locations, but all will finish on the Cauberg. The German pair of Tony Martin and Judith Arndt will defend their rainbow stripes here.

Link: Official website

Giro di Lombardia (29th)

The fifth and final of the five ‘monuments’ of European cycling, the ‘Classic of the Falling Leaves’ covers 251km from Bergamo to Lecco and is definitely one for the puncheurs and pure climbers, with previous winners including Philippe Gilbert and Damiano Cunego.

This year’s modified route contains five significant ascents, with the highlight being the Muro di Sormano, back in the race after a long absence. Just 2km long, it averages a scarcely believable 15.2% with a maximum gradient of 27%. This will no doubt lead to a significant initial selection ahead of Lombardia’s signature mountain, the Ghisallo, which will further thin out the group of contenders. The final climb, the 3.4km Villa Vergano, has its summit just 9km from the finish. Last year, Leopard-Trek’s Oliver Zaugg was the surprise winner, claiming the first victory of his eight-year career by riding all the big names off his wheel on the last ascent. It’s likely that a defining attack from an already small lead group will occur again here.

Link: Official website

This month’s birthdays

A selection of some of the more notable birthdays in the peloton this month:

5th: Daniel Moreno, Katusha (31 years old). Joaquim Rodriguez’s minder at the Grand Tours, Moreno is a fine climber in his own right. He won stage four at the Vuelta last year, and has twice finished just outside the top ten (11th in 2009, 12th in 2008). 2012 has arguably been his finest year, with overall victory and two stages at the Vuelta a Burgos and two wins at the Critérium du Dauphiné, plus the GP Miguel Indurain and a stage of the Vuelta a Andalucia.

5th: Chris Anker Sorensen, Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank (28). The Danish climber has twice finished in the top 20 at the Giro, and was 14th at this year’s Tour, where he also won the overall combativity prize. He also took the mountains jersey at the Volta a Catalunya, and can boast stage wins at both the Giro (2010) and the Dauphiné (2008).

16th: Alexandre Vinokourov, Astana (39). Vino delivered a fairy-tale ending to his long career by winning the Olympic road race in London, to add to a palmares which includes Liège-Bastogne-Liège (twice), Amstel Gold and four Tour de France stages, as well as overall victories at the 2008 Vuelta a España, Paris-Nice (twice), the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse.

Cunego turns 31 this month (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

17th: Jens Voigt, RadioShack-Nissan (41). The Jensie won’t be telling his legs to shut up for at least one more year, having already signed on with RadioShack for 2013. He is the prototypical super-domestique, constantly putting in the hard kilometres on the front of the peloton or in breakaways. He’s a winner too, with five titles at the Critérium International and four Grand Tour stages to his name.

19th: Damiano Cunego, Lampre-ISD (31). Il Piccolo Principe (The Little Prince) has struggled in recent years to match his prolific early successes: overall victory at the 2004 Giro d’Italia, as well as three wins each at the Giro del Trentino stage race and the autumn one-day Classic Giro di Lombardia. Outside of Italy, his most notable success was a win at the 2008 Amstel Gold.

24th: Daniele Bennati, RadioShack-Nissan (32). The Italian sprinter has won 12 Grand Tour stages. In 2008, he won three stages at the Giro and the points competition, and then followed that up with an individual stage and victory in the team time trial at the Vuelta. The only notable gap in his palmares is a Classics win, having come close at Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Tours.

25th: Michele Scarponi, Lampre-ISD (33). Giro champion in 2011 and fourth this year, the veteran climber can also count the 2009 Tirreno-Adriatico and 2011 Volta a Catalunya among his victories. He has several top ten finishes in the spring Classics without ever achieving a podium position – fourth places at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche-Wallonne being his best results, in addition to a second place at the Giro di Lombardia in 2010.

30th: Gert Steegmans, Omega Pharma-Quick Step (32). The Belgian sprinter is one of the best lead-out men in the business, having worked for both Robbie McEwen and Tom Boonen, but he is no mean finisher himself. He has two career Tour stage wins, including the Champs-Élysées in 2008, as well as a brace at Paris-Nice.

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