As the sun begins to fade on another season of overseas success for British cycling, the Tour of Britain returns on Sunday, and promises to be the best one yet. With visits to the Lake District, Snowdonia, and Dartmoor awaiting, organisers have assembled a course which takes in some of the most picturesque and challenging cycling landscapes in the country.
Britain’s premier tour has grown in stature over the past few years, and an impressive rider line-up should ensure the racing matches the scenery. With a field littered with big names from home and abroad, and with four jerseys up for grabs – general classification, mountain, points, sprints – there will be plenty to look out for over the eight stage race.
Sidelined by fatigue, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke of Team Sky will relinquish the title he won for Endura last September. In his absence several household names will be competing for the gold jersey.
Media and crowd attention will no doubt centre on Bradley Wiggins, who spearheads the six-man campaign for Team Sky. After his groundbreaking feats of 2012, Wiggins has endured a season ravaged by illness and injury. The Tour of Britain offers an ideal opportunity for the Olympic champion to reignite his form and build fitness ahead of the World Time Trial Championships at the end of the month.
With support from compatriots Ian Stannard and Josh Edmondson, plus the experience of Bernard Eisel, Matthew Hayman and David Lopez, Wiggins will be confident of fulfilling the expectations of the home support.
Colombian starlet Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is a good bet for prizes. After his King of the Mountains and Young Rider victories at the Tour de France, the twenty-three year old should impress on the more modest British terrain. Quintana’s team mate Alex Dowsett is another to watch, the twenty-four year old British time-trial champion will be targetting the third stage in particular as he also prepares for the Worlds.
Another popular rider will be Dan Martin (Garmin Sharp). The Irishman was forced to withdraw from La Vuelta with injury, but will be looking to recover form here could mount a challenge on the hillier stages. Amongst his support will be Nathan Haas, the 2012 Tour of Britain runner-up. Thomas Löfkvist of IAM Cycling also has the potential to challenge for the general classification. The Swedish all-rounder won the Tour of the Mediterranean earlier this year.
Two-time Tour of Britain points winner Mark Cavendish (Omega-Pharma Quickstep) will also be out to capitalize on the frenetic home support. With veteran Alessandro Petacchi installed as his lead-out man, the Manx Missile will be confident of taking stage wins.
Stage 1: Peebles to Drumlanrig Castle – 209.9km
The tour kicks off with a day in the Scottish Lowlands. After departing Peebles the course heads south, passing the categorised climbs of Black Castle Hill and Lime Kiln Edge. The pack should then regroup as the course flattens, skirting the English border and the Solway Firth, before cutting north west via Dumfries. The third category Dunscore climb will offer a late opportunity for attack before the stage ends with a circuit around the grand Drumlanrig Castle.
Stage 2: Carlisle to Kendal – 186.6km
A scenic day and a jagged stage profile awaits as the tour visits the Lake District. After heading south-west from Carlisle, three intermediate sprints await as the course takes the coastal road between Maryport and Whitehaven. After heading inland the inclines begin to build up, before reaching the big climb of the day – the short but steep first category climb of Honister Pass. Cheshunt Hill outside Keswick offers another chance for climbers to attack before a fifty kilometre chase towards Beast Banks in Kendal.
Stage 3: Knowsley – Individual Time-Trial – 16.1km
Knowsley Safari Park provides the setting for this short time-trial. The flat course features several straights broken up by sharp-angled bends. Keep an eye on those time-trial specialists looking to build form ahead of the World Championships – Britain’s Bradley Wiggins and Alex Rowsett amongst them.
Stage 4: Stoke-on-Trent to Llanberis – 188.4km
After leaving the Staffordshire Potteries the course heads north west into Wales. Three intermediate sprints await before two second category climbs at Groes and Llansannan with fifty kilometres to go. The course will then enter Snowdonia, and the long climb of Pen-y-Pass, which tops out at 360m above sea, will offer mountain specialists a chance to shine before the descent into Llanberis.
Stage 5: Machynlleth to Caerphilly – 177.1km
Four category one climbs await on Thursday as the course heads south through Wales via the Brecon Beacons.
Stage 6: Sidmouth to Haytor – 137km
A short but bumpy stage as the tour visits south west England. After heading inland from seaside town of Sidmouth, the course swings south from Tiverton before passing a short category two hill into Exeter. Another second category climb of Mamhead should split the pack, but the business end of the course begins twenty kilometres from the line. After a long ascent of Six Mile Hill into Dartmoor National Park, the stage concludes with a first category climb of Haytor.
Stage 7: Epsom to Guildford – 150.4km
A series of three categorised climbs in the opening third of this penultimate stage could go some way to deciding the general classification of the tour. After crossing the M25 the course winds through the hills of Surrey and via the North Downs before concluding on Guildford High Street.
Stage 8: London – 88km
With the gold jersey decided, ten laps along the pan-flat north bank of the Thames bring the tour to a fast-paced conclusion. Expect a bumper crowd as the big sprinters – including Mark Cavendish – gun for glory on Whitehall.
Bike blog: most interesting cycling races of 2014 | Trevor Ward bit.ly/1fEeJYD