Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) returns to the Tour of Britain with the intention of retaining the overall title he won in 2013 but the former Tour de France winner will face stiff opposition with Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma QuickStep), Leopold Koenig (Netapp Endura), Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff Saxo) and Steve Cummings (BMC Racing) all set to compete over the eight-day race spanning September 7-14.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma QuickStep), who won three stages in the race last year, also returns. The British rider is still feeling his way back into form and will compete against Marcel Kittel (Giant Shimano), Adam Blythe (NFTO) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp).
The race kicks off with a circuit race around the city of Liverpool with eight laps of a 16 kilometre course. Although there’s a classified climb on each lap it will not prove testing enough to split the race with the sprinters given the chance to shine on the shortest day of the race.
Stage two sees the race visit Knowsley, which hosted the individual time trial last year. This year the time trial comes later in the race with the stage from Knowsley to Llandudno offering the chance for splits within the peloton. The three categorised climbs - one of which comes in the final 10 kilometres (Great Orme) - should not see any major GC shake-ups but it provides teams with the opportunity to distance some of the pure sprinters who had their chance to shine on the previous day. The profile of the stage is perfect for a long break, although it could be too soon into the race for a move to succeed.
Stage 3 - the Queen stage – of the race will see the peloton take in the only ‘summit finish’ in the entire race with a final ascent of The Tumble. It’s a beast of a climb considering its relatively short length – 6 kilometres – but it’s the relentless 10 per cent gradient that will do most of the damage. Before the peloton even reach the foot of the climb they must tackle three climbs inside the opening third of the race. These ascents will lay the ground for a break to stretch clear but this is where Team Sky will need to ride at their best if they are to succeed in helping Wiggins to victory. Last year Wiggins kept his rivals in check on the major climb of Haytor and he faces a similar task this time around, although The Tumble is a more difficult proposition.
Stage 4 to Bristol has the potential to see the overall race change once again. It may lack a summit finish – the final climb is inside the last five kilometres – but the undulating nature of the 186.4 kilometre stage will provide a number of launch pads for possible ambushes. Whichever team is leading the race will have their work cut out as they try and defend a lead.
The following stage to Exeter should provide a real opportunity for a break, while any opportunist with an eye on the King of the Mountains jersey will need to break clear as they look to take points on the secondary category climb and then on the ascent of Haytor, where Simon Yates won a stage in 2013. Again, this is a stage that screams long break and the sprinters will be under pressure throughout.
Bath to Hemel Hempstead is the second longest stage of the race with a parcours stretching out to 205.6 kilometres. It’s undulating throughout, with three categorised climbs stacked in the final third of the race. It’s another stage that suits a break but there will be a number of sprinters capable of surviving the climbs should the bunch decide on chasing.
The penultimate day of racing will see the race head towards the south coast of England with a stage finish in Brighton. If the overall fight for the race is still separated by a matter of seconds then this could provide the last opportunity for the climbers to gain time on the time trialists, with two first category climbs (Ditchling Beacon and Bear Road) inside the final 20 kilometres of racing. There’s a fast descent towards the finish where more attacks could follow.
The final day of racing starts with an 8.8 kilometre individual test in London. It’s the final chance to shake up the GC although coming at such a short distance the gaps should be relatively small. That will not stop the likes of Bradley Wiggins hunting for a morale-boosting win ahead of the World Championships.
The curtain comes down with a circuit race in the afternoon, gifting the sprinters the chance to bookend the race with a victory.
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