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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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The 2011 Tour of Britain route
The eighth edition of the UCI 2.1 Tour of Britain, beginning September 11 looms large with many riders using the event as a final tune-up prior to the Road World Championships in Copenhagen. The eight day, nine stage event is the largest of its kind in Britain with a parcours stretching from Peebles in the Scottish Borders, to Welshpool and on to London where the Tour will reach its conclusion over an individual time trial and circuit race.
A strong contingent of British riders along with a host of international big names pepper the 16 team line-up with Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) taking his place in the event for the first time since 2007, and reigning World Champion Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) the headline acts. Among the ProTour teams will be five British Continental outfits – Rapha Condor Sharp, Endura Racing, Motorpoint Pro Cycling, Sigma Sport – Specialized, and Team Raleigh while US-based United Healthcare Pro Cycling take their place capitalising on their association with Chris Boardman. Home favourites Team Sky head into the race with a strong contingent of local riders with Geraint Thomas, Ben Swift, Peter Kennaugh and Alex Dowset joined by Australians Michael Rogers and Mat Hayman.
The winner will be following in the footsteps of Michael Albasini, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Geoffroy Lequatre, Romain Feillu, Martin Pedersen, Nick Nuyens, and Mauricio Ardila who took out the revamped event in 2004.
A closer look at the parcours
The opening 170.3 kilometre stage of the Tour of Britain kicks off in Peebles with Scotland playing host for the stage's entireity for the first time. Heading along the Tweed Valley along the crest of the Southern Uplands, a break is likely to form before the roads get narrow. However, it should be gruppo compacto just after the third and final climb of the day as the peloton reaches peak speed heading to the finish at Dumfries.
The Tour heads south for stage 2, a short, punchy 137.7 kilometre ride from the centre of Kendal with the Blackpool Tower on the horizon throughout acting as a constant beacon. The last two winners in Blackpool have been Andre Greipel and Edvald Boasson Hagen so expect a rider of similar ilk to succeed again.
Stage 3, the Stoke-On-Trent stage is likely to provide some indication of who will be in the mix come the finale in London so the peloton will be on high alert throughout the day's 140 kilometres. This should also be the day where the first real time gaps appear in the general classification and with an uphill dash to the finish, the stage winner is likely to feature on the final podium.
Leaving from the heart of mid-Wales, stage 4 sees the Tour of Britain reach its highest point atop the Skoda King of the Mountains climb of the Brecon Beacons at 439 metres after a long seven kilometre climb. However it's the menacing Caerphilly Mountain with five kilometres left to race, that should have the most bearing on the day's result.
Stage 5 takes place in Devon with the peloton largely heading uphill from race start in Exeter with three climbs, beginning with Haytor Rocks (Cat. 1) before the slightly less tough but just as important Coffin Stone where the battle will be on to stay in touch with the group. The third categorised climb of the day Huccaby Tor comes shortly after with an undulating ride to the finish that will no doubt, prove energy sapping.
Stage 6 in Somerset takes on a reputation for being a stage of two halves with the first mainly flat as the race makes its way across the Somerset levels, punctuated only by a couple of short climbs. Some of the biggest crowds of the Tour are expected to descend on Cheddar Gorge, just after the mid-point of the stage. A daring escape coming off Old Bristol Hill has the possibility of succeeding to the finish in Wells.
At 199.7 kilometres, stage 7 is the longest in the Tour's history since 2004 and a perfect day for anyone planning to be on the money in Copenhagen one week later. The day will be punctuated by winds but really it's the perfect day for Mark Cavendish, and look for the Manxman to make a statement at the finish in Sandringham.
Two stages will be run over the final day as the Tour descends on London for an 8.8 kilometre individual time trial followed by a 10-lap circuit of the same course. It's hoped that the fight for overall honours will come down to the time trial which begins at Whitehall, before heading to Trafalgar Square and then to the Thames. Riders then head onto the Embankment before the push towards Tower Hill and then begin the final drive towards the finish back at Whitehall.
A look at previous winners of the final stage - Tom Boonen, Alessandro Petacchi, Andre Greipel - proves that this will be one for the true fast men.