PEZ Roadside: Tour of Britain London Final
Just like Ed in Edinburgh, we couldn’t let the Tour of Britain pass through London without sending our local corespondent, Sam Larner, to get in amongst the fans for the final stage 8. As it turned out there was such a big crowd he had difficulty seeing much of the race, but he did soak up the party atmosphere in the English capital.
Tour of Britain Roadside: I watched the first of the new incarnation of the Tour of Britain in 2004 as a 12 year old and I loved it but I could tell that there was a big difference between it and the Tour de France. In the following 11 years I’ve visited at least one stage on all but 2 of the editions but it’s fair to say that I’ve never really been enamoured by the race. Britain has got the terrain and the cycling fans to sustain the week long race every year but it seems that the race organisers are content to create a fairly dull route that suits the money men, the development agencies, at the expense of real cycling fans.
One consistently positive thing about the race is the final stage in London. Previously we’ve been treated to a split stage containing a morning time trial and an afternoon criterium. This year the final day only consisted of the criterium on a re-designed course in central London. The course finished next to Piccadilly Circus and headed west along the famous shopping hub of Regent’s Street before heading back east to the theatre district of Aldwych and the political heart of the city, Whitehall.
After 7 days of racing Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka) held a virtually unassailable 13 second lead over Wouter Poels (Team Sky). Those two were considerably ahead of the other top 5 but the big competition was for the final step on the podium. Going into the final stage Rasmus Guldhammer (Cult Energy) was the incumbent but only by 1 second ahead of the best placed British rider Owain Doull (Team Wiggins).
I’ve been at the Tour for the past 3 years but prior to that I’d had to satiate my cycling appetite on a diet of yearly Tour of Britain trips. I’ve picked up some tips about watching British cycling since then and the keys are to first find a wall to sit on and then find a large screen. Despite arriving only 30 minutes before the start of the stage I was able to find the big screen just 250m to go and a large wall outside a swanky west-end bistro. I was slightly surprised to see a very tight corner with 300m to go and a very tight finishing straight, we’ll come back to this later.
The crowd was very deep for the start of the race with a surprising number of Eritrean fans supporting the lone Eritrean rider Daniel Teklehaimanot in this years race. The early pace making was done by Team Wiggins who knew that Owain Doull was a faster finisher than Guldhammer and would likely be able to overtake the Danish rider at some point at one of the time bonus sprints.
British cycling legend Russell Downing (Cult Energy) took the opening sprint on behalf of his Danish team mate but Doull came second and taking the 2 second bonus and leapfrogging into 3rd place overall. From here until the finish the race settled into the usual pattern of rag tag group of lesser riders going away but never gaining more than 20 seconds who are brought back inside the final lap. I was more than happy to watch this through a slight haze of beer and chocolate. There’s something joyous about eating chocolate and drinking beer whilst watching other people suffer.
Heading into the final lap and the crowd noise was raising, this was helped by Bradley Wiggins sitting on the front and driving the pace. There’s been a habit since 2010 for British cycling fans to wear Sky kit to watch races. It seems to be similar to wearing a Man Utd top or a Yankees cap, whatever happened to Brits loving an underdog? I want to see more Ag2r or Caja Rural jerseys worn by the London hipster elite.
Going into the final kilometer and Etixx had the monopoly of the front of the race as they set up the sprint for Matteo Trentin. Team Wiggins had earlier used up all their men but Doull was still hanging around inside the top 10. Into the final corner the Lotto Soudal team of André Greipel burst past Trentin and the German hit the front never to be seen again. Elia Viviani came home in second. After looking at the replays it was clear that as Greipel had taken the final corner he had drifted across the road and manoeuvred the Italian into the barriers. It was finally decided that Viviani had won just 30 minutes after the stage. Pretty unsatisfactory really.
The Tour of Britain is and remains the biggest race on the British calendar but it also remains a glorified warm up for the World Championships. The Tour de Yorkshire, despite possessing a ridiculous name, is the best placed race to fulfil the excitement quota and I’m very keen to see how they deal with the additional day granted to them in 2016.