The two biggest names in British road cycling, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, line up today for the start of the Friends Life Tour of Britain in Liverpool as part of the strongest field yet assembled for the race, this year upgraded to UCI HC status, one level beneath the WorldTour.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider Cavendish, who crashed out of the Tour de France at the opening stage in Harrogate, resulting in him needing shoulder surgery, may be back racing but warns he’s not yet back to peak condition. Meanwhile Wiggins, winner of the race 12 months ago, says this is the last time he will target the overall victory in a stage race.
The 29-year-old Cavendish will once again come up against his in-from rival, Marcel Kittel of Giant-Shimano, who went on to take that first stage of the Tour de France and with it the yellow jersey of race leader that Cavendish had made his principal target of the 2014 season.
Cavendish, who has won a dozen stages of the race since his debut in 2006, one of those a prologue at Crystal Palace the following year, said: "I will be flat out but I am not in my best condition. I'm racing because this is my national Tour and I want to support it."
The race begins today with an opening stage that takes in eight laps of a 13.1km circuit in Liverpool and concludes next Sunday with a split time trial and road stage in London.
One of the pivotal stages in terms of the overall comes on Tuesday with an ascent of the Tumble in Monmouthshire. You can find full details of those and all the other stages on the Tour of Britain’s website.
"It's a really strong field at the Tour of Britain this year, the best ever, but you would expect that now the race has earned HC status and it can invite up to 50% of World Tour teams," Cavendish went on.
"It's going to make for really intense racing but I don't think it will change the nature of the race.
"The route seems to be bookended by the two sure-fire sprints but after that almost anything can happen and that keeps a lot of riders interested."
"I'm just going to enjoy myself and see what the week brings," Cavendish continued. continued. "I'm fresh enough but I just haven't got the really high quality racing miles in my legs this season.
"After opting to miss the Giro d'Italia, crashing out of the Tour on day one and not recovering sufficiently for the Vuelta I have ridden just one day on the Grand Tours this season, you just can't ever replicate that racing and the fitness it gives you."
Meanwhile Wiggins, who turned himself from a track and time trial specialist once thought of on the road as mainly a strong rouleur into a stage race contender who in 2012 became the first British rider to win the Tour de France, says that this will be the last time he contests he general classification in such a race.
"Yep, this will be it for GC," the Team Sky rider explained. "When I was at the Tour of California earlier this year I said I would never go for it again - it's quite hard work leading a bike race - but then I thought I would like one more crack it at this one. The plan this winter will be to put on some weight on and I will be training for the track so I guess stage racing to win the GC will be out the window after this.
"I feel fitter than this time last year,” he carried on. “I haven't race a lot but I've been in quite intense training since the Commonwealth Games, in a really controlled environment. I knew at the Commonwealths that I would be doing this so all my preparation has been for this and the Worlds which are ten day after the Tour of Britain this year which is much better than the two days last year.
"I will definitely be racing to try and win whether I can is another matter,” added Wiggins, whose rivals for the overall will include the likes of IAM’s Sylvain Chavanel, and Steve Cummings of BMC Racing.
“If I can just stay close to the big GC guys on the Tumble and not loose time in time bonuses I can be competitive. It's a fast TT I know it quite well, in an ideal scenario I will just be a couple of seconds off the jersey on that final morning.
"I've ridden the Tumble a few times on the PruTour and the Nationals and a couple of times in training I know Ditching Beacon from my childhood and I'm not too concerned about it. We have a good team this year with some strong riders coming out of the Tour de France," he concluded.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.