Tomorrow sees the Tour of Britain set off from Glasgow to Castle Douglas on the first of eight stages that cross Scotland, the Lake District, Cheshire, Wales, South West England and a finale on the streets of the Capital on 11th September. No less than eight medalists from Rio’s Olympics are taking part, 21 teams, 11 of which are UCI outfits: this is now a highly rated, prestigious and important race in its own right that attracts some of the best cyclists in the world.
It’s come a long way from its humble origins when, in 1945, a group of disgruntled cyclists who’d been banned by the National Cyclists Union set up the Victory Cycling Marathon to celebrate the end of the war. A stage race from Brighton to Glasgow, it was, by all accounts, a disorganised shambles with riders sleeping in barns and sheds in between stages. That first race was very much a French affair: 6 of the top ten finishers were Frenchmen as was its winner, Robert Batot. But it was also hugely popular with as many as 20,000 spectators watching the race set off.
Undergoing various incarnations as The Milk Race, The Kelloggs Tour and then the Pru Race, this tour has had many ups and downs. As the Milk Race it generated a huge amount of publicity for the Milk Marketing Board and produced some exciting racing with big names tempted across the Channel to take part. Interestingly, former Team GB coach Shane Sutton was a former winner. But it wasn’t until its rebirth as The Tour of Britain in 2004, as a UCI recognized event, that it grew into a true international race.
Tomorrow sees some of the big stars of the peloton limber up, many of whom have their eyes on the World Championships in Qatar next month and will be using this as a bit of a warm up. It consists of seven flat and one climbing stage as well as an Individual Time Trial. The flat stages are definitely rolling however, and this race looks to suit an all rounder rather than an out and out sprinter.
Having said that the class of sprinters taking part is of the highest calibre. Mark Cavendish who has won 10 Tour of Britain stages, more than anyone else, will be matched up against his adversary in the Olympic points race on the track, Gold Medalist Elia Viviani. André Greipel will be looking to prove a point or two and the exciting talent of Australian Caleb Ewan could set things alight.
Of course, national treasure, Sir Bradley Wiggins will be taking part although we’d be surprised to see him on the podium as he winds down his professional career. Owain Doull, soon to move to Team Sky, will be riding alongside him as part of Team Wiggins, on bottle duty he claims. Speaking to the Guardian he said, “It’s always a good laugh with Wiggins, it feels a bit lads on tour.” Don’t be fooled though, he’ll be taking this race seriously.
Tom Dumoulin looks to be one of the strongest contenders. An Olympic silver medalist last month in the Time Trial, he has the all round ability to compete on the rolling hills and climbing stages too. Steve Cummings, our very own Wirral wonder, is sure to spring a surprise or two. He won a magnificent stage in the Tour de France, and we could well see some heroics on British roads. Wout Poels, who came second last year is an excellent climber as well as an accomplished time trialist. Meanwhile, the Irishman by way of Birmingham, Dan Martin could build on the strong showing he produced in this year’s Tour.
ITV will be broadcasting three hours of live coverage each day as well as a one hour highlights programe in the evening. Watch out for Wednesday’s stage 4 which sees the peloton tackle 217km from Denbigh to Builth Wells and over 4,000 m of climbing.