With the Vuelta a España becoming increasingly mountainous and demanding in recent years, Britain has been able to offer a slightly different challenge for those who don’t want to risk burning out so close to the Worlds.
“In 2014 we saw Michal Kwiatkowski, Sir Bradley Wiggins and the BMC Racing Team all go on to win World titles immediately after the race and are sure that this year's Tour will provide an equal platform for riders going on to target the World Championships,” said Bennett when unveiling the 2015 edition at Wembley Stadium in March.
The route, more undulating and tougher than in recent years, seems well designed to reflect the full-on racing we can expect at the upcoming Worlds in Richmond, Virgina. However, with the events getting underway in the USA just 10 days after the final stage in London, the Tour of Britain field will feel the absence of those reluctant to cross the Atlantic and the various time zones with so little time to spare.
That said, there are still a number of marquee names ready to help showcase the best of what Britain has to offer across England, Wales and Scotland.
There are nine WorldTour teams – Sky, Cannondale-Garmin, IAM, Etixx-QuickStep, BMC, LottoNL-Jumbo, Tinkoff-Saxo, Movistar, and Lotto-Soudal – and three Pro Continental outfits in MTN-Qhubeka, Cult Energy, and Novo Nordisk. They are joined by An Post Chain Reaction, a Great Britain squad, and a string of British Continental teams: Maidson-Genesis, NFTO, Wiggins, One Pro, JLT Condor, and Raleigh GAC.
"Our hope and intention is to again encourage eight days of aggressive, uninhibited racing, the sort of action that we hope is becoming the trademark of the race. We want our national tour to reflect the tough terrain which is part and parcel of our cycling scene in the UK,” says Bennett.
The eight stages do seem tougher on paper than in recent years, with a great deal of undulating terrain that should make for selective and aggressive racing.
The race starts on the island of Anglesey with a 177km stage that takes in all six regions of North Wales before a likely sprint finish in Wrexham. The riders may have to wait until day four, which finishes on the Scottish coast in Blyth, for a proper bunch sprint, with stages 2 and 3 long and hilly affairs.
Stage 2 takes place in Lancashire and features an early ascent of the first-category Nick O’Pendle climb, with two more categorised climbs in the latter portion of the race. Stage 3, which takes the race into Scotland, starts out flat but features three second-category climbs towards the end before a fast and furious downhill run-in to the finish in the grounds of Floors Castle at Kelso.
Stage 5 is set to be the showpiece and features what the organisers have described as "the highest and toughest summit finish in the modern Tour of Britain's history”. The 171km stage heads into the Lake District and finishes atop Hartside Fell, a five-mile climb with an average gradient of over five per cent that reaches 1,904 feet.
That’s where the general classification should be shaped most considerably, but there are still plenty of hills on a grueling stage 6 through the Peak District to Nottingham. A long but relatively flat 225km stage in the east of England precedes the ceremonial London finale, featuring a new 6.2km circuit that starts and finishes on Regent Street, where a bunch sprint is almost an inevitability.
The presence of Bradley Wiggins anywhere always seems to work the British public into a frenzy and the knight of the realm will be lapping up the support as part of his Wiggins team. Though he’s likely to be mobbed at every turn, Wiggins should have a pretty quiet race given his focus is now squarely on the track and given the lack of a time trial in this year’s route.
One Brit who will be similarly in the spotlight but likely to play a much more prominent role is Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep). The Manxman is a 10-time stage winner at his home race and will be keen to put a gloss on what has been a bountiful season, but one in which he managed just the sole Tour de France victory. You could forgive Cavendish for feeling a degree of trepidation when he saw the name of André Greipel on the startlist. The German throroughly upstaged him in July with four stage wins and has looked far and away the strongest sprinter in recent months.
The duo will face competition from the likes of Sky's Ben Swift and Elia Viviani, Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN), Juan José Lobato and others, not to mention Cavendish's own stagiaire teammate Fernando Gaviria, who has upstaged him already this year at the Tour de San Luis.
Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale-Garmin) returns to defend his overall title and the GC should once again go to a decent all-rounder who can strike out in parts and race consistently everywhere else. Sebastian Henao will be fancying the summit finish up Hartside fell, but there are plenty of candidates for the undulating stages that are unlikely to end in a bunch kick. Taylor Phinney has shown surprisingly good form in his comeback from a career-threatening injury, and Zdenek Stybar always enjoys the tough, Classics-flavoured parcours, as do the Belgians and Dutchmen on both Lotto teams' rosters, but there should be plenty of ambition across the board to make the breaks and trigger the stage-winning moves.
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