New sponsors, new tweaks to the format of some stages with the introduction of closing loops and a new look to the final day with an individual time trial past some of London’s best-known landmarks before a circuit race on the same roads – those are some of the key features of the 2011 Tour of Britain, which was launched in London this lunchtime.
This year, with stages in Scotland, England and Wales, the race truly lives up to its name. It’s also a sign of its growing stature not only that some of the world’s top teams now see it as being, together with the Vuelta, key preparation for the World Championships, but also the fact that the race is heavily oversubscribed; for September’s edition, 42 teams applied to become one of just 16 that will start the race.
First in line to apply was none other than Leopard Trek, and they are one of six outfits with top-flight UCI ProTeam status taking part, the others being HTC-Highroad, which in Edvald Boasson Hagen and Michael Albasini supplied the last two overall victors, Garmin-Cervelo, the Dutch teams Vacansoleil and Rabobank, and of course Britain’s own Team Sky.
Joining them will be four Professional Continental squads, Colnago CSF Inox, Europcar, Team NetApp and Topsport Vlaanderen, while the line-up is completed by six Continental teams. Those are Ireland’s AN Post-Sean Kelly and five home outfits – Endura Racing, Motorpoint, Rapha-Condor-Sharp, Sigma Sport-Specialized and Team Raleigh.
Mick Bennett, Race Director, threw down the gauntlet to those five British teams to bring home a stage victory, something that they haven’t managed to do since the race was revived in 2004.
Whether they’ll be able to do that, given what is sure to be some stiff competition from the big teams, remains to be seen, but as last year, we can expect to see them getting in the mix and going on the attack.
We’ll have to wait a while to see whether the inclusion of a time trial might induce Leopard Trek’s Fabian Cancellara to forgo the Vuelta as he prepares to defend his rainbow jersey and ride instead in the city where he won the Tour de France Prologue in 2007.
One rider who is looking forward to it though, is Team Sky’s Alex Dowsett, present at today’s launch, who reckons the distance and flat course will suit him, although he may have competition.
That won’t just come from the likes of HTC-Highroad’s Tony Martin, but also from within his own team should the likes of Bradley Wiggins or Geraint Thomas feature in the line-up, not to mention former World Champion Mick Rogers. A Team Sky clean sweep of the time trial podium in London? It could happen.
One reason for the introduction of the time trial is to seek to keep more riders in contention for the overall title come the final Sunday, but there is also another, more pragmatic reason that sadly reflects the realities of racing on British roads.
Without the luxury of closed roads as featured in the likes of the Tour de France, if a break gets a quarter of an hour or so on the peloton, there is a very real risk that impatient drivers will take to the course with the race still in progress, with obvious implications for safety.
The thinking is that with more riders in with a chance of putting in a decent time trial performance to propel them up the overall standings and perhaps even clinch the gold jersey on the final day, there will be more incentive for teams to chase down breaks during the preceding week and prevent those big gaps to the escapees from developing in the first place.
The Tour of Britain 2011 - route
During the two-hour break in London between the time trial and the circuit race in the afternoon, both run on the familiar route from Whitehall and along the Embankment to Tower Bridge and back, there will be an opportunity for amateur riders to get involved, and not just through London leg of the Prostate Cancer Charity Tour Ride.
IG Markets, sponsor of Team Sky, are sponsoring the race leader’s jersey – gold, not yellow, a reflection of one of the commodities they enable the public to trade in – and are also introducing a Hot Lap challenge, which will see 18 teams of three take to the same 10km time trial course the pros will just have ridden.
Those teams will each comprise three people - a celebrity, plus a male and female rider. The latter will be drawn from invited companies, while famous faces mentioned to date include former Formula 1 world champions Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill, plus skier-turned BBC presenter Graham Bell.
As for the Prostate Cancer Charity Tour Rides, there are five this year – East Anglia on 24 July, Wales on 21 August, Scotland on 4 September, London on 11 September and Stoke-on-Trent on 18 September.
The charity’s involvement with the race is not just about raising funds, it’s also about raising the profile of a condition that it says affects one in nine men during their lifetime but which still remains in large part a taboo subject.
Chief executive Owen Sharp illustrated how cycling could be an ice-breaker in that respect, citing the example of John, a keen cyclist from the West of Scotland who contracted the disease.
Now thankfully in remission, John, who says that the thought of getting back on his bike plus the fitness level he had reached through cycling helped him overcome it, wears his Prostate Cancer Charity Points Jersey whenever he’s out on his bike, and it has proven to be a great conversation starter.
The final jersey sponsor is logistics company Yodel, with the sprints jersey replicating the red and bright green livery of its vans, the tie-in reflecting the company’s own ethos of “speed and teamwork.”
As for the race itself, one new feature this year will be closing loops on two of the seven stages that precede the London finale, specifically Stage 1 from Peebles to Dumfries and Stage 6 from Taunton to Wells.
In between, there will be Stage 2 from Kendal to Blackpool, Stage 3 that starts and finishes in Stoke-on-Trent, Stage 4 from Welshpool to Caerphilly, and Stage 5 that takes the riders on a winding course over Dartmoor, starting in Exeter and finishing in Exmouth.
The longest day in the saddle, at 200km, will be Stage 7, from Bury St Edmunds to Sandringham, included for two chief reasons.
The first is that last year’s East Anglia stage drew the biggest crowds of the race, compared by journalist William Fotheringham to those seen in the Tour de France.
The second follows feedback from professional teams, which specifically requested a stage fitting this profile and distance to help prepare riders for the Worlds.
As last year, a one-hour TV highlights programme will be broadcast on ITV4, while the Daily Telegraph is now the official newspaper of the race and will be publishing a special supplement in the days before it begins.
Speaking of this year’s race, Mick Bennett said: "We are very excited about the route for the 2011 Tour of Britain, particularly with the inclusion of the final day time trial in the very heart of London.
"Anyone who remembers the crowds who flocked to see the Tour de France Prologue in 2007 will know what to expect and look forward to this September. After the success of the 2010 Tour of Britain we are pleased to unveil another tough and demanding route that visits England, Scotland and Wales, making it a true Tour of Britain."
The appeal of race to the riders who actually take part in it was summarised by Team Sky’s Greg Henderson, winner of the Prostate Cancer Charity’s Points Jersey in 2010, who said: "I have raced The Tour of Britain on a few occasions now, and each time I have ridden the race it has grown from strength to strength.
“Not only as a race and calibre of riders taking part, but the professionalism in which the organising committee run the event.
"The Tour of Britain is very much now regarded as one of the two races that can be used as prep for the World Championships, the other being the Vuelta a Espana.
"Personally speaking I can't wait to return to the race as I have tasted success there and enjoyed every experience of the race.
"Professional staff. Well run event. World-class racing."
Let’s hope for more of the same this year.
The Tour of Britain 2011
Sunday 11th September Stage One Peebles to Dumfries
Monday 12th September
Stage Two Kendal to Blackpool
Tuesday 13th September
Stage Three The Stoke-on-Trent Stage
Wednesday 14th September
Stage Four Welshpool to Caerphilly
Thursday 15th September Stage Five Exeter to Exmouth
Friday 16th September
Stage Six Taunton to Wells
Saturday 17th September Stage Seven Bury St Edmunds to Sandringham
Sunday 18th September Stage Eight a The TfL Stage, Individual Time Trial
Stage Eight b The TfL Stage, Circuit Race
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.