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Tour of Britain 2021: Race Preview

Julian Alaphilippe won the 2018 Tour of Britain
(Image credit: Getty Images)

After a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19 the Tour of Britain returns with eight days of racing that visit some of the best cycling terrain that England, Wales and Scotland have to offer.

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and world champion Julian Alaphillipe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) headline the race for obvious reasons but there is genuine depth to this year’s field. Several WorldTour teams are absent from the official startlist but important ProTeam as well as the British domestic teams head to the race with hopes of competing against some of the biggest names in the sport.

The race runs from September 5 to September 12 and incorporates at least three days for the sprinters, a decisive team time trial on stage 3 and several brutally demanding stages that will shape and decide the final overall standings in Aberdeen. 

While many riders will inevitably be using the Tour of Britain to fine-tune their form for the World Championships in Flanders, the course and the strong line-up has the potential to create an excellent short stage race.

The contenders

VALKENBURG, THE NETHERLANDS - APRIL 18 : during the UCI WorldTour 55th Amstel Gold Race cycling race with start and finish in Valkenburg on April 18, 2021 in Valkenburg, The Netherlands, 18/04/2021 ( Motordriver Kenny Verfaillie - Photo by Nico Vereecken / Photo News

Regular rivals Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma) at the front of the pack at the Amstel Gold Race (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Despite having one eye on the World Championships later in September the dynamic duo of Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma) and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) will both start as prime contenders for the overall title. 

Both riders head into the race with the needed skillsets to triumph on the demanding course, while their squads should more than hold their own in the team time trial. 

Alaphilippe – the 2018 winner – and Van Aert – currently the most complete rider in the WorldTour – will face stern opposition with Ineos Grenadiers sending a talented team comprising of Rohan Dennis, Michal Kwiatkowski, Richie Porte and the highly-rated youngsters Ethan Hayter and Carlos Rodriguez.

Movistar sends a clutch of high calibre riders in Marc Soler and Matteo Jorgenson, while Israel Start-Up Nation arrives with Dan Martin, Michael Woods and Alex Dowsett to lead the line.

Trinity Racing includes several promising riders in their roster with Thomas Gloag, WorldTour bound Ben Healy, and Luke Lamperti among their contingent. Ribble brings a revitalised James Shaw, as well as true depth, while Rally Cycling, Team DSM, Alpecin-Fenix, and the Great Britain Nation team all send squads packed with depth and riders to watch.

The sprinters

FOUGERES FRANCE JUNE 29 Mark Cavendish of The United Kingdom and Team Deceuninck QuickStep stage winner celebrates at arrival during the 108th Tour de France 2021 Stage 4 a 1504km stage from Redon to Fougres LeTour TDF2021 on June 29 2021 in Fougeres France Photo by Guillaume Horcajuelo PoolGetty Images

Mark Cavendish celebrates a win at the Tour de France 2021 (Image credit: Guillaume Horcajuelo/Getty Images)

Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) may not have won since his incredible Tour de France but he heads to the Tour of Britain as the rider to beat in the sprints. 

The British rider has won more Tour of Britain stages than any other rider in the race’s history with ten victories in total, and although he lacks his Tour de France leadout man Michael Mørkøv, there’s more than enough power in the Deceuninck-QuickStep team to set him up. 

Veteran Andre Greipel (Israel Start–Up Nation) continues his final season with a return to the race in which he has taken seven stage wins over the years, while Greg Van Avermaet’s (AG2R Citroën) overall versatility will ensure that he could potentially compete for every stage. 

Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) and Dan McLay (Team Arkea-Samsic) lead the line for the rest of the British riders while Max Kanter (Team DSM) and Colin Joyce (Rally Cycling) – who recently won a stage in the Tour of Denmark – could also be in contention.

The Route

tour of britain 2021 map

(Image credit: SweetSpot)

The 2021 Tour of Britain follows a long south to north route and commences with a 180km stage from Penzance to Bodmin with the peloton taking in some of the most picturesque of Cornwall’s countryside. 

The scenery will be of little consideration to the riders, especially with an uphill start and two third category climbs positioned in the first hour of racing. There are two intermediate sprints and a further third category climb to come but this could be a decisive day for the overall, and if the weather worsens the stage could provide some genuine definition within the overall standings. 

The finale is especially tough with a 500-metre long climb with pitches at 13 per cent set to ensure that the pure sprinters are distanced. If the right break goes early this stage could decide the race.

Stage 2 of the race starts in the village of Sherford and takes the race 183.9km north to Exeter. With three tough second category climbs on the menu, it’s a day for a break to establish a sizeable lead – especially with KOM points up for grabs – but the sprinters' teams will aim to control proceedings with the last categorised climb peaking out at 150km into the stage. There are still two more decent inclines before the finish but a reduced bunch should contest the win.

After taking in Cornwall and Devon during the first two stages the race heads into Wouth Wales with the crucial team time trial between Llandeilo and the National Botanic Garden of Wales. 

At 18.2km the course will favour the most dialled-in teams and several of the domestic teams will target this particular day with greater emphasis and precision. 

The stage itself starts out flat and keeps that format before a gentle rise after roughly 12km. After a short descent the road kicks up for a second time with a longer and most sustained effort before a final descent and a flat run-in.

Tour of Britain 2021 stage 4 profile

Tour of Britain stage 4 profile (Image credit: Tour of Britain)

Stage 4 is the Queen stage and another true GC day that’s littered with climbing. 

The race starts in Aberaeron and heads directly north for a finish in Great Orme, Llandudno. The 210km stage heads through the Snowdonia National Park with the first category climb of Eidda’s Well. That ascent will split the race but there should be a general re-grouping, though the penultimate climb and then the last ascent to the line in Orme will split the race to pieces. The final climb is 1.9km in length and averages 9.8 per cent so the time gaps could be significant.

Stage 5 sees the race spin in the direction of the sprinters but in true Tour of Britain fashion, the fastmen will have to work for their rewards with the organisers sticking three categorised climbs into the middle portion of the 152.2km stage between Alderley Park and Warrington. The run-in is flat and given that the previous four days were built towards the break and GC, this could possible be the first bunch sprint of the entire race.

After the sprinter’s chance to shine on stage 5 the race heads back into the hills with the Pennines playing host to a demanding 198km stage between Carlisle and Gateshead. 

There’s rarely a meter of flat but the three first category ascents in the middle of the stage will stretch an already weary peloton before the race ventures further east and towards an iconic finish by the Angel of the North. It’s another uphill finish with stage 6 representing the last finish on English soil before the race dips into Scotland for the remaining stages.

Harwick makes its Tour of Britain debut on stage 7 with the race heading to Edinburgh for its first stage finish. There are three sprints and three classified climbs but the sprinters are likely to decide the outcome of the stage with a flat run-in.

The final stage from Stonehaven to Aberdeen takes the race as far north as it has ever been with another tough and undulating day in the saddle as the race ticks off the final 173km of 2021 edition. 

Depending on the lie of the land in the overall standings heading into the stage this could see a final flourish from the GC riders but another sprint is the most likely outcome before the curtain comes down on the Tour of Britain for another year.

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