This week’s Tour of Britain has a star-studded field and a toughened course

This week's Tour of Britain features a star-studded field and a more challenging route than previous editions. Steve Thomas handicaps the favorites.

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2009 Tour of Britain winner Edvald Boasson Hagen
2009 Tour of Britain winner Edvald Boasson Hagen

September is always a strange and tense time in pro road racing; it’s the time of year when riders are making a last stab to get contracts for the following season, often trying to salvage a poor year, building for the impending world championships, of simply fading into fall hybernation.

This always make it a competitive time, especially for races like the Tour of Britain, which pitch the cream of the pro peleton against smaller continental and national teams. Add in the fact that the stages are not too long, and that the terrain is not ultra tough and you get an exciting and very aggressive and open race.

(Related: 2010 Tour of Britain start list; 2011 Tour of Britain to start in Scotland.)

In past years the race has been more or less decided by a few seconds, often hung over from sprints and small opportunist escapes, but things do look tougher this year thanks to a few hilly stages.

Britain may not be renown for its marathon-length climbs, but it certainly packs a whole lot of small punches, which are often much steeper than the riders anticipate, and a lot more frequent too.

With a short and hilly opener to Blackpool it’s unlikely that an escape will be permitted to stay away, as the sprinters will want to take a firm grasp from the start. The second stage is a real rollercoaster, and open to gusty winds, and is ideal for a small breakaway. It could well set the stage for the rest of the race. Look out for the Meyer brothers, and Dan Martin of Garmin.

The Welsh stage of the race (stage 3) will be tough, and has a big and open climb late in the day, but the real action can be expected to come in the final, with a cobbled climb of the short and steep Constitution Hill. This should shred the lead group by a few bike lengths. It’s well suited to strong punchy riders, like Geraint Thomas and Dean Downing of Sky.

Heading to the deep southwest and stage 4 there are lots of small hills during the stage. This could be open to a breakaway group, but staying away in the final 10km will be tough. A strong sprinter like Heinrich Hausler could be a man to watch. There is a short climb two miles from the line, a potential opportunists’ springboard.

2009 Tour of Britain, stage 3
2009 Tour of Britain, stage 3

Heading back inland to Glastonbury and the rollercoaster ride continues, although it’s going to be hard to get rid of the stronger sprinters on this fifth stage. It is the last real chance for vital GC seconds to be gained, so it’ll be a fight all of the way.

Stages 6 and 7 run through East Anglia, and are both pan-flat, with a dose of North Sea wind thrown in. These should be well-controlled stages by the strong GC and sprinters teams. By now the GC quest should be about done — unless it’s down to a handful of seconds, making the final London criterium stage a free-for-all, and a last gap chance to get seen on TV by the smaller teams.

The stages:

Stage 1 – Sept. 11, Rochdale-Blackpool, 82.2 miles
Stage 2 – Sept. 12, Stoke-on-Trent loop, 100 miles
Stage 3 – Sept. 13, Newtown – Swansea, 93 miles
Stage 4 – Sept. 14, Minehead –Teignmouth, 106 miles
Stage 5 – Sept. 15, Tavistock – Galstonbury, 110.8 miles
Stage 6 – Sept. 16, Long’s Llyn – Great Yarmouth, 118.2 miles
Stage 7 – Sept. 17, Bury St Edmunds – Colchester, 94.7 miles
Stage 8 – Sept. 18, London criterium, 52 miles

This year’s racing will surely be exciting, and aggressive. With the home team Sky holding so many great cards, this could well provide Britain with it’s first ever winner of the race.

The Tour of Britain’s history

Although this is the seventh running of the Tour of Britain in this format, there has been a Tour of Britain of some sort (on and off) way back since 1945. From the late 50’s-70’s it was known as the Milk Race, and was a major amateur race.

Through the 80’s and 90’s Britain had the Milk Race, the Kelloggs, and then the Pru-Tour of Britain; a boom time for British racing, but in 1999 it all came to an end

It wasn’t until 2004 that the latest incarnation came around. This version carries a UCI 2.1 ranking, and attracts many major teams and riders to Britain.

Past winners of the Tour of Britain

2004 – Mauricio Ardila (Chocolade Jaques -Col)
2005 – Nick Nuynens (Quick Step – Bel)
2006 – Martin Pedersen (CSC –Den)
2007 – Romain Feillu (Agritubel – Fra)
2008 – Geoffroy Lequatre (Agritubel – Fra)
2009Edvald Boasson Hagen (HTC-Columbia – Nor)

Some GC favorites for the 2010 Tour of Britain:

The Magnificent Seven:

Geraint Thomas (Gbr), Team Sky – British road champion Thomas has had a blistering season, and is on great form as he prepares for the Commonwealth Games. He has exactly what it takes to win this race.

Dan Martin (Irl), Garmin-Transitions – A class act, and on great form for this race. He also has the strong team backup necessary.

Heinrich Haussler (Aus), Cervelo TestTeam – The Aussie has the fast finish and punchy ability to win.

Tony Martin, (Ger), HTC-Columbia – If he gets into a break (which he will surely try) then he’ll be hard to beat. He has great form for this kind of race.

The long shots:
Russell Downing (Gbr), Team Sky – Home grown, punchy, fast finishing, and a great wild card for Team Sky.

Alex Rasmussen (Den), Team Saxo Bank – Perhaps Saxo bank’s best GC contender. The powerful Dane is a complete rider, with a liking for this rapid-fire racing style.

Bradley Wiggins (Gbr), Team Sky – Never discount such a classy rider on home turf, especially when he has a season to salvage.

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