The world’s top cyclists will line up in Anglesey tomorrow for the start of the Aviva Tour of Britain, the UK’s biggest professional cycle race, which will arrive in Northumberland on Wednesday.
Headlining the 120-rider rider list is a trio of former winners, including UCI Hour Record holder Sir Bradley Wiggins, who triumphed in his home tour in 2013, defending champion Dylan Van Baarle of Team Cannondale Garmin and 2009 winner Edvald Boasson Hagen of the MTN Qhubeka team.
“It was a really big win for me and still the best result of my career,” said Van Baarle, who will wear the number one on Sunday. “The victory earned a lot of coverage at home. Not only was the race watched quite a bit on the TV, but the fact that I ended up ahead of big name riders like Kwiatkowski and Wiggins attracted extra attention. Off the back of that result, I earned a place in the Netherlands team for the World Championships so I have nothing but good memories of the 2014 Tour of Britain.”
Eleven of the riders have previously won stages in the Aviva Tour of Britain, taking a total of 30 victories in British Cycling’s premier road cycling event. Former British and world champion Mark Cavendish leads the way with 10 stage wins in his home tour.
“It’s always something special to ride in front of your national crowd,” said Etixx Quick-Step rider Cavendish. “It’s already my eighth time at the race and year by year I can see how cycling is growing in this nation. We are at the start to try to be successful as we were last year. We have a strong team and we are ready to race.”
Alongside Cavendish will be triple world cyclo-cross champion Zdenek Stybar, who won Stage Six of the Tour de France this summer.
“This is the first time that I ride this race. I’m pretty curious about it,” said Stybar. “My teammates told me that it’s a tough race, without a metre of flat road, designed in great scenarios. The atmosphere will be great, I’m sure. I have never raced on the road in United Kingdom, but I remember the great images of the Olympics and the Grand Depart of the Tour de France last year. It will be nice to be part of this race.”
Stybar’s Etixx Quick-Step teammate Matteo Trentin is also a double stage winner in the Tour de France, while Australian Mark Renshaw has won Tour of Britain stages in Exmouth, and most recently in 2014, Llandundo.
Another former stage winner returning to the race is sprinter Andre Greipel, who took a hat-trick of wins on his only previous appearance in 2010. The Lotto Soudal rider won four stages of the Tour de France this summer, and now turns his attention to the Aviva Tour of Britain.
“I am looking for a very tough intense block of racing – but not too long – and the Tour of Britain works perfectly for me,” said Greipel. “I am interested in the World Championships and we have a strong German team with good possibilities for a number of riders so I was thinking how to prepare best.
“I remember it as a hard race in 2010 and talking to other riders it seems the Tour of Britain has become an even harder race since then, which I welcome. Well this year anyway! The guys say that last year almost every day felt like a Classics day and that is probably what you need before a World Championships. A lot of riders seemed to come out of the Tour of Britain in very good form last year for the Worlds. Hopefully there will be a couple of sprint stages but good hard racing and riding is what I look forward to most of all. I see there are three stages well over 200km which is pretty tough in an eight day race so that is excellent preparation for Richmond.”
Riders from 24 different countries populate the provisional rider list, with Great Britain the best represented nation with 44 riders, including reigning British Road Race champion Peter Kennaugh of Team Sky.
“I’m excited to be making my Tour of Britain debut because this is our national stage race,” says Kennaugh. “I’ve watched it on the TV and seen it grow, but to be honest I’m pretty uncertain about my form. There is no substitute for racing miles in the legs and from what I’ve seen of the Tour of Britain, it’s ridden pretty full gas right from the start so it’s not as if might get a chance to ease myself back in like you might get on a Grand Tour.
“When I look at the route, my gut feeling is that it is the sort of race that should suit me if I was in top form with lots of mixed terrain days, one summit finish and there is no TT, but realistically I think I will be riding for Ben Swift who is probably our best bet for GC (general classification – the overall standings), although you don’t rule anybody out really.”
Teammate Ben Swift won a stage of the race in 2009 and wore the Chain Reaction Cycles Points Jersey during the 2014 Tour.
“It has become one of the stand-out races in the cycling calendar,” he said. “It’s a very special feeling to race in front of your home fans and see the fantastic support that we get every year. Cycling has never been more popular in the UK and the crowds at the Tour of Britain get bigger with each edition of the race, which is great to see. This will be my seventh appearance at this race and I know just how tough the British roads can be, but we have a strong team and we’ll certainly be challenging for stage wins and the overall GC.”
Another British contender for overall victory is Movistar Team’s Alex Dowsett, who led the race in 2014 after a memorable breakaway on Stage Six.
“I’m delighted it’s coming back to East Anglia (Stage Six on Saturday, September 12) and you just know even before its starts that it will be another manically-ridden race. With that big summit finish on Hartside on Day Five, the GC might be out of range this year so I might have to target one or two stages, but let’s not ride the race before it started. Anything can happen in the Tour of Britain and often does. There are frequent and quite unexpected shifts in the GC picture as we saw last year.”
Coverage of tomorrow’s Stage One, a 177-km leg from Beaumaris on Anglesey to Wrexham, will be shown live on ITV from 1pm, with highlights on ITV4 at 10pm. The following seven stages will all be shown live on ITV4 with an hour’s highlights each evening on the same channel.