Brit-hop: Tour of Britain Preview
European-based pros will soon be hopping across the English Channel for the Five-Day Tour of Britain that starts on Wednesday. The race will take riders all over the country allowing them to take in great British landmarks such as Blackpool Tower, the Houses of Parliament and Bakewell (birthplace of the legendary Bakewell tart)…
Story by Tom Underhill
With top European teams T-Mobile, Credit Agricole, Quickstep, Lotto-Domo and CSC all sending six man squads, top-notch racing is on the cards. US riders will be well represented with the Navigators Insurance team riding in addition to the boys in blue and red; the number one ranked US Postal-Berry Floor team.
The race opens with two hilly road stages in the North of England before heading south for stages in the Midlands and South Wales. The final day will see riders racing past the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and along the banks of the River Thames in a London criterium is bound to draw big Sunday crowds to witness fast racing at close quarters.
Um, if it’s the Tour of Britain, where the heck is Scotland on the parcours?
The Tour of Britain sees a welcome return of top-flight international stage racing to British shores after a five-year absence. Anyone remember the “Pru-Tour”? – the final stage was won by George Hincapie. George won’t be riding this year but his US Postal team will be sending, amongst others, TdF top 5 finisher Jose Azevedo and super domestique Jose Luis Rubiera, both capable of mounting a challenge for yellow.
Predicting the winner of this already wide-open race is made all the more difficult as many teams have yet to confirm their line-ups! Potential winners include Michele Bartoli, (CSC) Bronze Road Race Medallist Axel Merckx (Lotto-Domo) or Colombian Santiago Botero (T-Mobile). A good all rounder such as the Irish rider Ciaran Power (Navigators), a former winner of Ireland’s national tour, could steal the show. Kiwi, Julian Dean (Credit Agricole) is also going well and has one stages of this race in the past.
British interests will focus on 2005 Discovery Channel signing and Paris-Roubaix podium finisher, Roger Hammond (Mr. Bookmaker.com-Palmans) and Bradley Wiggins (Credit Agicole) fresh back from Athens where he picked up a medal of every colour and sure to receive a rapturous homecoming. Charly Wegeluis heads up a six man GB composite squad.
Tom Boonen (Quick Step-Davitamon) looks set to clean up on the sprints as by far and away the best sprinter on paper but with national teams from Great Britain, Wales, Scotland and Ireland all looking to impress Division One team bosses, competition for stage finishes, hotspot sprints and hill-top points promises to be fierce.
With teams of only six riders, controlling the race will be difficult. The hilliest racing is early on in the tour – in fact two of the race’s four first cat climbs feature within the opening 50kms of stage one. The second day is likely to be the toughest; big crowds are expected to line the two first cat and two second category climbs of the 172km stage. With Snake Pass coming just 40 km before the stage finish in Sheffield and Holme Moss just after half distance the stage is unlikely to end in a mass gallop and offers potential for an opportunistic rider to gain an early lead and then look to defend it once the terrain calms down.
Spikier than the hair at the local skateboard park, Stage 2 should put the hurt on those looking for a stroll in the country
In the absence of a big split early on and without much to split the riders in the latter stages of the race time bonuses could be important factor in defining the final result. Whatever the outcome, PEZ will be there bringing you all the roadside action.
Chocolade Jacques Wincor-Nixdorf BELGIUM
Crйdit Agricole FRANCE
Team CSC – DENMARK
Navigators Insurance Cycling Team USA
Ceramiche Panaria ITALY
T-Mobile Team GERMANY
Team Barloworld-Androni Giacattoli UK
US Postal Service-Berry Floor USA
Plus National Teams from IRELAND, SCOTLAND, WALES and GREAT BRITAIN.