The key things to look out for at the British stage race in September
Mark Cavendish’s return
2017 has not been kind to Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data). His start of the season was cut abruptly short when glandular fever forced him to stop racing in March having picked up just one win in Abu Dhabi.
The Tour of Britain will be Cavendish’s first race back since that setback, and he’ll be eager to salvage some success after such an interrupted season.
The route offers plenty of opportunities for him, too, with six of the eight stages looking like potential bunch sprints
Some have complications – undulating roads on the opening day to Edinburgh and final day to Cardiff, the threat of crosswinds in Northumberland on stage two, an uphill kick to the finish in Scunthorpe on stage three – but could all come back together for bunch sprints, while the days in Nottinghamshire (stage four) and Suffolk (stage six) look nailed on.
Cavendish will come up against some fearsome opposition, with the recently-crowned European road race champion Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) set to line-up fresh from recently winning on British roads at RideLondon, while Elia Viviani (Sky) also hopes to bring the good form that saw him recently triumph in the last two WorldTour legs, EuroEyes Cyclassics Hamburg and Bretagne Classic.
Geraint Thomas goes for glory
It’s been an especially frustrating season for the Welshman, given the form he showed heading into his major goal, the Giro d’Italia. But the Tour of Britain – a race he hasn’t appeared in since 2011, but one in which he was formerly a regular fixture at – provides a convenient alternative race to target instead.
The course is well-suited to him, with opportunities to gain time on rolling roads and in the key time-trial. He has a strong Sky team committed to helping him win the overall, including super-domestique Michal Kwiatkowski; and the race finishes in Cardiff, the capital of his home country.
One of the quirks that make the Tour of Britain such a great race is that each team is limited to just six riders.
With team leaders able to call upon so few domestiques, the racing is frequently anarchic, as teams find it difficult to control attacks from opportunists.
The parcours of the stages are also generally well-suited to attacking racing. The undulating terrain that characterises so much of the route makes it difficult for the peloton to establish a rhythm, providing plenty of launch-pads for attacks to be unleashed.
With this year’s edition unusually featuring no summit finishes, GC hopefuls will have to gain time by attacking further out from the finish line. They may have a hard time staying out, especially on the flatter sprint stages, but there’s short to be plenty of attempts.
A crucial individual time trial
With no summit finishes to prompt decisive selections, instead it will be the race’s sole time trial – held in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex – that will be the race’s key GC stage.
At 16km, it’s not quite long enough to forge huge gaps between the contenders, but is enough to establish a clear hierarchy, and ensure that specialists against the clock like Thomas and Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) enter the race as overall favourites.
Essex-born Alex Dowsett (Movistar), is a firm favourite for the stage win, as previous British 10-mile time trial record holder.
Other important stages include invitingly placed climbs, most notably an ascent in Dingleton 24km from stage two’s finish, and Cleeve Hill inside the final 9km from the finish in Cheltenham on the penultimate stage.
But any rider who can put in a domineering time here would only have to follow wheels on those stages to potentially seal overall victory.
Less familiar British names
It’s not just household names like Cavendish and Thomas that British fans on the roadside will have to cheer along – there’s a host of other, less recognisable riders hoping to make an impression.
To support Thomas, Team Sky has brought along two of its most talented British youngsters – Olympic team pursuit gold medallist Owain Doull, whose consistent performances here two years ago saw him win the points classification and finish third overall; and 22-year old Tao Geoghegan Hart, who has recently shown hints of becoming a decent GC rider with top-10s at both the Tour of California and Tour de Yorkshire.
As well as Sky, there will be five other British teams, including two with all-British rosters. Bike Channel-Canyon’s will be lead by the experienced Chris Opie, whose third place on the stage to Scarborough at the Tour de Yorkshire earlier this season suggests that he may be capable of winning a bunch sprint.
And, fresh from winning a stage at the Tour de l’Avenir, exciting 21-year old Chris Lawless will lead an assembled Great Britain team with the realistic aim of winning a stage.