AJ Bell Tour of Britain: Preview

The rescheduled 17th edition of the modern reincarnation of the Tour of Britain will take place over eight stages and feature racing in all three countries of mainland Great Britain. The race was relaunched in 2004 following a five-year absence from the racing calendar and this year, just as in previous years, the race will feature a spread of World Tour. Pro and British Continental teams, with many riders looking to use it as a springboard for the World Championships in Flanders later this month.

History

First held in 2004, the Tour of Britain was a five-stage race for its first year, increasing to six for the next two. It extended into its current eight stage format in 2007 and has maintained that ever since.

London has hosted the most stages in the Tour’s history, with a circuit of the capital the traditional setting for the final stage of the race, but it does not feature on this year’s route.

Mark Cavendish leads the record number of stage wins in the race, with ten to his name. His team, Deceuninck Quick-Step, also lead the number of stage wins with 22 overall. The Netherlands has the most overall winners of the race though, with four, just ahead of France who have had three winners.

The race was not run in 2020 due to the covid-19 pandemic. The reigning champion from 2019, Mathieu van der Poel, will not defend his title; he was due to take part in the Benelux Tour instead however he has withdrawn from road racing due to a back issue.

Last 10 winners:

2019: Mathieu van der Poel

2018: Julian Alaphilippe

2017: Lars Boom

2016: Steve Cummings

2015: Edvald Boassen Hagen

2014: Dylan van Baarle

2013: Sir Bradley Wiggins

2012: Nathan Haas (following Jonathan Tiernan Lock’s disqualification due to doping)

2011: Lars Boom

2010: Michael Albasini

THE COURSE

Stage 1

Beginning on the coast in the far south-west of England, Cornwall plays host to this year’s Grand Depart and the first stage of the race begins in Penzance, before travelling 180.8km north-west through the stunning Cornish landscape, taking in three cat 3 climbs along the way, before a likely bunch sprint finish into Bodmin.

Stage 2

The race departs from Sherford in Devon and works its way through Dartmoor National Park before finishing in the university town of Exeter. The route features three cat 2 climbs in addition to a significant amount of uncategorised climbing along its 183.9km distance, but with a flat finish, the likelihood is another sprint, possibly contested by a reduced bunch or between whatever is left of the day’s breakaway.

Stage 3

The race moves to Wales on stage 3, and the backdrop for the first team time trial in the race since 2018, and only the second one since its modern inception, is the picture postcard Carmarthenshire town of Llandeilo. The 18.2km time trial course is mostly flat with a small climb at the end as the riders head towards the National Botanic Garden of Wales. All eyes will be on British conti team Ribble Weldtite, who count among their number time trial specialist Dan Bigham, along with Team Jumbo Visma who won the last team time trial at a grand tour in the 2019 Tour de France and feature some brilliant time trial specialists in Tobias Foss and Wout van Aert.

Stage 4

Stage 4, the Queen stage and the longest of the tour at 210km, takes the race from the south all the way to the north of Wales. Beginning in the seaside town of Aberaeron, the route takes in four categorised climbs, including the 9.4km cat 1 ascent up to Ffynnon Eidda (Eidda’s Well), before heading to the breath-taking headland of Great Orme in Llandudno for an incredible uphill finish which will test the leaders, whether they come from a breakaway or represent the GC.

Stage 5

A punchy day in the North-West, stage 5 has the possibility of ending in a sprint in Warrington, but in all likelihood will be a day for the breakaway, as the race tackles three categorised climbs on its way from Alderley Park in Cheshire through the picturesque countryside, including the memorably named ‘Bottom of the Oven’ climb just outside of Macclesfield. It doesn’t get much more British than that.

Stage 6

Traversing the North of England from west to east, stage 6 is a beast, coming in at just under 200km and featuring three category 1 climbs in quick succession, including the notorious Hartside Pass and Killhope Cross, the latter of which can claim to be the highest paved pass in all of England. With Burtree Fell not long after, the three tough climbs represent a huge challenge for the riders in what is arguably the toughest stage of the race, and will undoubtedly stretch out the field as it heads for Gateshead, and an uphill finish to the Angel of the North.

Stage 7

The first of two stages in Scotland, stage 7 begins in Hawick and spends much of the day going up and down, with three second category climbs along with a whole host of uncategorised climbing. The finish in Edinburgh city centre may well be a sprint but is not guaranteed to be a bunch sprint given the tough nature of the route which again clocks in at just under 200km.

Stage 8

The final stage of the race takes place further North than the race has ever travelled in its short history. Beginning in the pretty harbour town of Stonehaven and working its way inland, before returning to the final destination on the race’s route, the city of Aberdeen. It’s another day for the puncheurs, with an early cat 1 climb and a couple of cat 3s, before a descent into the finish in Aberdeen to crown the 17th champion of the Tour of Britain.

The Contenders

The field for this year’s Tour of Britain is one of the strongest in its history. 108 riders have been provisionally announced including representation from World Tour, Pro and British Continental teams.

Team Jumbo Visma send a strong team to Britain, and with Belgian national champion Wout van Aert the sole leader they will have an excellent chance at both the overall win, as well as potential stage victories. The course will suit van Aert’s varied skillset, with a number of chances to sprint along with some tough, punchy climbing, and will be the ideal build-up to the World Championships, where he will lead a strong Belgian contingent on home soil. In support he has two more national champions, Norwegian Tobias Foss and Kiwi George Bennett, in what is likely to be his final stage race in support of the Dutch team.

Deceuninck Quick-Step arguably more than match Jumbo Visma in their firepower. Current World Champion and 2018 winner Julian Alaphillippe will be one of the favourites the take the overall victory as he looks to hone his form prior to defending his World title in Flanderes. The peloton will likely be bossed by El Tractor, Tim Declercq, and supported by climber Mikel Honore and time trial specialist Yves Lampaert the Belgian team could prove to be the strongest in the race.

Out to rain on their parade, the INEOS Grenadiers will lead with Ethan Hayter. The young Brit has had an incredible season, winning Olympic silver in the madison and taking victories in the Tour of Norway GC along with two stages of the Ruta del Sol. He too is a great all-rounder and could challenge for the general classification with a strong INEOS team behind him, comprising the experience of Richie Porte, Rohan Dennis and Michal Kwiatkowski along with promising Spanish newcomer Carlos Rodriguez.

Israel Start-Up Nation’s Dan Martin and Michael Woods will aim to use the climbs to add to their teams’ hopes, while Movistar’s Marc Soler and Arkea Samsic’s British rider Connor Swift will also hope to challenge for the leadership of the race.

Mark Cavendish is the overall leader in terms of individual stage victories at the race, with ten, and he will look to add to that total with a few possible chances at a bunch sprint. He won’t have it all his own way though, with veteran German Andre Greipel in the mix, along with van Aert, Hayter and Team DSM’s Max Kanter amongst the sprint competition.

writebikerepeat’s STAR RATINGS

5 stars: Wout van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe, Ethan Hayter

4 stars: Michael Woods, Tobias Foss, Mikel Honore

3 stars: Marc Soler, Connor Swift, Richie Porte

2 stars: Rohan Dennis, Michal Kwiatkowski, David Ballerini

1 star: Dan Martin, James Shaw

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