This year’s Tour of Britain (September 7-14) looks set to be a redemption story of two British riders out to make amends for early season disappointments.
First there’s Bradley Wiggins (Sky), who, despite seeming increasingly disillusioned with road cycling, returns to the race he won last year with the committed intention of defending the title.
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Then there’s Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), who will go head to head in the bunch sprints against arch nemesis Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), who dominated the flat stages at the Tour de France after Cavendish crashed out in stage one.
It’s been a season of highs and lows for Wiggins. He surprised many by finishing as high as ninth at Paris-Roubaix, his first major target of the season, and looked on great form in May when he won the Tour of California.
But then came the saga of his non-selection for his next big target, the Tour de France, during which he also failed to finish the Tour de Suisse. Since then he’s won the British time trial championship and a silver medal on the track in the Commonwealth Games team pursuit, and he’ll be seeking to extend that run of success on home roads at the Tour of Britain.
Despite being selected, Cavendish ultimately experienced only one more day at the Tour than Wiggins, but has since got back on the bike and has started winning races again at the Tour du Poitou Charentes.
It has been a relatively lacklustre season for Cavendish, who has failed to win a grand tour stage for the first time since 2007, but the Tour of Britain at least offers him the possibility of winning in front of home fans.
He may initially have been confident of pulling off a few wins – that is, until learning that Marcel Kittel intended to race too. Over the past few years Kittel has usurped the Manx Missile as the most feared sprinter in the peloton. Since July 2013 he has won eight Tour stages and two Giro stages, while Cavendish – who until recently would collect similar hauls – has only managed two Tour stages.
The pair have largely avoided each other all year, only facing off at the Vattenfall Cyclassics last week and the Tirreno-Adriatico and Dubai Tour back at the start of the season, so Cav will be eager to reassert his status as the fastest sprinter.
However, there isn’t likely to be many stages that end in bunch sprints in this year’s hilly Tour of Britain. The opening and closing stages – circuits of Liverpool and London, respectively – are nailed on sprint finishes, but in between are plenty of challenging parcours that may prove too much for the fastmen.
Stages two, four, five and six are all likely to be too difficult for sprinters teams to control yet not difficult enough to force gaps between the favourites, leaving opportunistic puncheurs as the most probable benefactors.
The race’s key stage for the general classification occurs as early as stage three, where the riders will tackle The Tumble, a new mountain to finish for the race which looks like the most difficult ever included in its 11-year history.
Besides that, stage seven features plenty of hills likely to disrupt the race, while stage eight’s 8.8km effort against the clock provides time trial specialists like Wiggins a chance to gain time.
Tour of Britain 2014: The stages
Stage 1, Sun Sept 7, Liverpool circuit, 130km, Preview>>
Stage 2, Mon Sept 8, Knowsley to Llandudno, 197km, Preview>>
Stage 3, Tue Sept 9, Newton to Tumble, 150km, Preview>>
Stage 4, Wed Sept 10, Worcester to Bristol, 182km, Preview>>
Stage 5, Thu Sept 11, Exmouth to Exeter, 171km, Preview>>
Stage 6, Fri Sept 12, Bath to Hemel Hempstead, 203km, Preview>>
Stage 7, Sat Sept 13, Camberley to Brighton, 220km, Preview>>
Stage 8a, Sun Sept 14, London ITT, 8.8km, Preview>>
Stage 8b, Sun Sept 14, London circuit, 88km, Preview>>
Tour of Britain 2014: Teams
Tour of Britain 2014 start list, with race numbers>>
An Post Chain Reaction
Giordana Racing Team
Rapha Condor JLT
Tour of Britain: The jerseys
The Friends Life Yellow Jersey – overall classification leader
Chain Reaction Cycles Points Jersey – points classification leader
SKODA King of the Mountains Jersey – mountains classification leader
Tour of Britain: TV Coverage
The Tour of Britain will be broadcast live each day on British Eurosport and ITV4, except for stage one, which will be on British Eurosport and ITV1.
Tour of Britain: Recent winners
2013: Bradley Wiggins
2012: Nathan Haas
2011: Lars Boom
2010: Michael Albasini
2009: Edvald Boasson Hagen
2008: Geoffroy Lequatre
2007: Romain Feillu
2006: Martin Pedersen
2005: Nick Nuyens
Tour of Britain: Last year’s top ten (2013)
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky, 29:45:21
2. Martin Elmiger (Swi) IAM Cycling at 26secs
3. Simon Yates (GBr) Great Britain at 1:03
4. David Lopez (Spa) Team Sky at 1:08
5. Jack Bauer (NZl) Garmin-Sharp at 1:14
6. Sergio Pardilla (Spa) MTN-Qhubeka at 1:16
7. Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky at 1:34
8. Sebastien Reichenbach (Swi) IAM Cycling at 1:42
9. Michal Golas (Pol) Omega Pharma–QuickStep at 1:46
10. Marcel Wyss (Swi) IAM Cycling at 1:57
Full list of teams and riders for the 2014 Tour of Britain, September 7-14
2013 winner looking to become first rider to retain modern title.