Dylan Van Baarle might have surprised himself when he won the Tour of Britain last year, but he returns to defend his title this weekend with a greater understanding of the race and of his own potential and ambitions.
The 23-year-old, now in his second season at WorldTour level with Cannondale-Garmin, is looking forward to revisiting the scene of the biggest win of his career to date.
"It was a really big win for me and still the best result of my career,” the Dutchman told the Tour of Britain website. “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.”
Few predicted Van Baarle would emerge as the overall winner last year, and he was surprised as anyone, having known next to nothing about the nature of the race going into it. He made the most of his aggressive approach to make it into the break on the long stage 7 to Brighton before defending his lead on the final-day split stage, which required him to hold off the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Michal Kwiatkowski against the clock.
"I didn't ever set out with the target of winning the race as such but the team raced aggressively and I kept my nose towards the front most days and quickly realised that it was actually a race in which almost anything could happen,” said Van Baarle.
"I arrived knowing little of the terrain but had mistakenly believed it would be mainly sprints so I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the stages were like one-day Classics, which played into my strength. I didn't suffer too badly on the main climb in Wales and then on that last long stage into Brighton the cards fell my way and I found myself in yellow.”
Van Baarle may not have tasted victory since that day in London but he feels he is moving in the right direction at this still early and formative stage in his career. He was third this year at Dwars door Vlaanderen and runner-up on stage 5 of the Eneco Tour – as well as riding a debut Tour de France – and is keen to develop himself as a Classics rider.
The Tour of Britain offers the parcours to do that, as well as being ideal preparation, in the eyes of Van Baarle, for the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, later in September.
"It could be that one of our other riders eventually has the best chance to win so we must be open that possibility but I will be riding aggressively on terrain I enjoy. I have also been selected for the World Championships in the USA and this is the perfect lead in," he said.
"The Worlds course seems in the balance to me. It could be a sprint finish or it could be one for the Classics type riders. In the Dutch team we don't really have a big sprint card to play so we probably need to make it a hard-ridden, Classics type race and to give ourselves a chance of somebody coming through. We will need to be super fit and ride aggressively and the Tour of Britain suits me perfectly as a preparation for that. It will be good to be back.”