As the majority of the peloton set their sights on the World Championships in Bergen, the Tour of Britain provides perfect preparation to do some last minute form tuning…
Analysis of OVO Energy Tour of Britain route by InsideThePeloton Editor, Will Newton, and BMC rider, Ben Hermans.
Despite dominating the Grand Tour scene over the past half decade, Britain are still yet to attract the peloton’s top names with a wealth of WT races. So far, only three events attract the biggest teams in the pro peloton; we’ve had the Tour de Yorkshire and Ride London, now it’s time for the main event, the OVO Energy Tour of Britain…
In the past, this race has been used as a preparation event for the mid September world championships, a chance to hone the form and practice on the characteristically unforgiving roads of the UK countryside. Infamous British climbs have lined the route and often produced a well rounded winner come the finale.
However, the 2017 edition of this race is experimenting with a totally new flavour; 6 potential bunch sprint stages, 1 ITT and 1 chaotic punchy finish. With a route devoid of altitude, and the added 10 second time bonus for each stage winner, it isn’t inconceivable that a sprinter takes overall honours in Cardiff.
Not only will the race be graced by top WT riders, Mark Cavendish, Philippe Gilbert, Fernando Gaviria and Michal Kwiatkowski, but we’ll also be treated to a wealth of homegrown British riders, all trying to mix it with some of the best in the world.
With the teams limited to only 6 riders per roster, this has the potential to be one chaotic race…
The 2016 Edition
The 2016 edition of the race was one thrilling edition, none more so because we finally saw a British victor for the first time since 2013 and only the second in the race’s 10 year history.
Cummings sneaked into a decisive move on stage 2’s adventure through the Lake District. Alongside Julian Vermote, the pair took close to a minute on the peloton behind, a dangerous margin given the Brit’s TT and climbing credentials.
He then backed up this strong performance with a consistent string of results, top tens on both the mountainous stage 6 and ITT on stage 7a. He eventually took the overall by 26 seconds over Rohan Dennis, his closest competitor and also bested Giro winner, Tom Dumoulin, into third place.
Unfortunately the 2017 edition won’t see Cummings return to defend his title, instead he’s left the mantle to Scott Thwaites to pick up; a strong all rounder and thoroughbred Yorkshire man, the young Brit is the perfect candidate to succeed Cummings as the Dimension Data leader.
The 2017 Route
For only the second time in the race’s history, the 2017 route will omit a trip to London and instead head to the Welsh capital to host it’s final stage. Also lacking in this year’s route is a summit finish, no iconic scamper up the Dartmoor wall…
With no visits to the North West, the race skips the entire Pennines mountain range, instead opting for all the flat-lands around it. Make no mistake, this race is a sprinter’s paradise, do not be surprised if one of the fastmen secure a a step on the podium.
Time for a ‘brief’ analysis of the upcoming eight stages; we’ve brought along BMC rider and 2017 OVO Energy Tour of Britain participant, Ben Hermans, to offer up some professional insight…
Stage One: Edinurgh –> Kelso
Starting in Scotland, the weather for the first stage isn’t expected to be sunshine and rainbows. Instead, the riders will find themselves battling against gusty winds and showers as they head towards Kelso.
Despite featuring few catergorised climbs, the race gets the climbing underway from the first stage with a total of 2525m altitude gain by the time the riders reach Kelso. A large part of the altitude gain comes in the first half of the stage up the infamous Redstone Rigg, a testing climb but too far from the finish to cause any real upsets.
A duo of punchy climbs just 24km before the finish could potentially cause a few splits, but with so many top level sprinters on the startline, the race will come under a tight leash from many WT teams.
“Ben, stage 1 looks particularly interesting, Redstone Rigg is a tough climb but do you think it will disrupt the race? How do you think the rest of the stage will play out?”
Ben: Redstone Rigg can be a hard climb but I guess it is just too early in the race to prove decisive. It all rests on the weather, wind or rain. If the weather stays reasonable, I expect a bunch sprint tomorrow, there’s a lot of teams with sprinters who could win so they’ll all take control until the finish.
Stage Two: Kielder Water and Forest Park –> Blyth
Stage 2 sees the race tackle the longest day of the race, a 211km rolling test to the flat finish in Blyth. The climbing is conquered before the riders reach the midpoint of the stage which should give the wealth of sprinters teams at the race a large opportunity to start forming their leadout trains.
Being near the Northumberland Coast, the danger of high winds may run rife and could produce one exciting finish; fingers crossed for echelons…
Stage Three: Normanby Hill Country Park –> Scunthorpe
Despite travelling for 178km, the riders will start and finish stage 3 in the same area, the two points only 7km apart.
The route remains flat throughout the majority of the day but a few punchy ramps on the run in to Scunthorpe could potentially throw a few sprinters off. Added to that a slightly uphill finish and we may just see the likes of Philippe Gilbert steal a stage win.
“Stage’s 2, 3 and 4 look set to be big bunch finishes. Who’s the most dangerous rider for these stages and may threaten throughout the week?”
Ben: Stage 3 looks like it won’t exactly be a ‘normal’ sprint as the road goes slightly up for the final 2km. I guess Gaviria will be the man to beat, but Viviani is also in good shape. There are many more sprinters here who could all possibly win a stage, that will make for one tight battle!
Stage Four: Mansfield –> Newark-on-Trent
At 165km, stage 4 is the shortest road stage of this year’s race and looks set to produce some fast paced action on the run in to Newark-on-Trent.
A few bumps in the final 60km and a Cat 3 climb with 40km to go could provide a launchpad for a probing attack, but with flat roads all the way to the finish, will they be able to survive the onslaught from the sprinter’s teams?
Stage Five: The Tendring Stage ITT (Essex)
The gem of the 2017 Tour and the most pivotal stage of the entire race, the 16km ITT is an homage to the iconic 10 mile TT , the bread and butter of the British amateur cycling scene.
Emphasising the tradition even further, the race will be held on the flat lanes around Essex, home of the former 10 mile TT record holder, Alex Dowsett. As expected, the route is pan flat and so suits the home rider’s TT skills to a tee, we should be treated to a British winner come stage 5; after all, we’ve had enough practice at them…
“Stage 5 is the big GC day, a 16km ITT through Essex. Stefan Kung is one of the big favourites and your teammate, how do you fancy his chances for this stage?”
Ben: Kung is, for sure, one of the strongest time trialists here. Together with Thomas, Kwiatkowski and Kiryienka, he will fight for the win. But again, there are even more specialists at the start-list for this stage.
Stage Six: Newmarket –> Aldeburgh
Stage 6 appears to be another day for the sprinters, with close to no climbing all day, the peloton should have a relatively easy time in monitoring the breakaway.
Unless an elite crop of homegrown British riders can escape and use their local knowledge to good effect, there will inevitably be another bunch finish in Aldeburgh.
“Stage 6 looks like yet another sprinter’s stage, but will fatigue play a role at this point? If the sprinters teams take a rest, what’s the chance that a breakaway can win here?”
Ben: It looks like another bunch finish. The sprinter’s that have yet to grab a stage win in the first 5 days will put their teams on the front to control the race and get a bunch sprint. I personally don’t think a breakaway can hold it to the finish on this stage.
Stage Seven: Hemel Hempstead –> Cheltenham
Aside from stage 5’s ITT, stage 7’s lumpy route to Cheltenham is the only other stage that could possibly create some gaps in the GC. A total of 2370m of climbing will certainly sap the strength from a lot of rider’s legs, especially considering how late in the race this stage falls.
As the road undulates in the final 50km, teams eager to punish the sprinters and snatch the leader’s jersey will light up the race, attacking at each available opportunity.
The final climb of Cleeve Hill is a punchy ascent and is crested with just 9km to the finish line; a gutsy attack over the summit could see a rider soon disappear into the mist…
“Stage 7 looks like the key hilly stage. The Cat 2 climb peaks at just 9km before the finish and looks like it will blow up the race. How will the race play out in the final 50km and which teams will target the final climb?”
Ben: For sure the climbers of the field will try to blow up the race and drop the sprinters who are still high on GC. But nobody will just wait for the final climb, there will be a lot of teams who want to make it very hard right from the start of the stage.
Stage Eight: Worcester –> Cardiff
The final stage of this year’s race should follow a similar formula to all previous finale’s on this 10 year Tour, a fast run in to a city centre bunch sprint.
Unless one of the top sprinters is still within touching distance of the overall race lead, the leader’s jersey should be all but sewn up by this point.
For the sprinters, this is the final chance to grab a win and boost in confidence before they head off to Bergen for the World Championships, no pressure…
How will the race pan out?
With a severe lack of climbing and no summit finish, the pure mountain goats are going to find it incredibly difficult to compete for the overall win. Whilst these riders may dominate the three week Grand Tours, they may just find themselves flagging at the back of the bunch on the punishing British roads.
That leaves the door open for the TTers and strong sprinters to compete for a stage race win. This race has become notorious for rewarding hardy riders with strong sprints and a decent ability against the clock; Cummings, Boasson Hagen, Van Baarle and Haas all testament to this.
The GC battle will inevitably come down to stage 5’s ITT test, those riders that find themselves in the top ten will then have to wage war and trade heavy blows on stage 7’s lumpy test to Cheltenham.
With all the finishes in this race ending on flat roads, any attack in search of a stage win and handful of bonus seconds will have to come from far out. Late attackers will cross their fingers for poor weather and discourse in the bunch; it worked for Cummings last year, maybe it could happen again…
The GC Contenders
A wide variety of riders fill the list of main favourites for this race, from pure sprinters and rouleurs, to punchy classics-type riders who can also time trial.
With so many riders also coming to this race to hone form for the upcoming World Championships, there will inevitably be one fierce fight for the overall, possibly one of the most entertaining in years given the calibre of riders on the start-line.
With a time trial on his home turf and childhood playground, Alex Dowsett will be relishing the 2017 route and likely shaking the hand of each and every race organiser. No one knows the route better than Dowsett and not many can match his wattage over 16km; the 10 mile TTs are in his blood…
Looking to challenge Dowsett for the ITT stage and finally take a win in the rainbow stripes is Katusha Alpecin’s Tony Martin. The hardy German has had a tough year but is looking to turn the form around going into World Championship month. As well as being a natural born TTer, he’s also a competent classics rider and can launch devastating solo attacks on his day.
Teammate of Dowsett and possible challenger for the overall is Spaniard, Jonathan Castroviejo. The Movistar rider has signed for Team Sky for 2018 and will be looking to slowly ease his way into the British way of racing. What better way then with a 10 mile TT around the streets of Essex?
Arguably the second strongest prologue rider in the current peloton (behind Rohan Dennis), Stefan Kung comes to this race as one of the main favourites. As well as being a thoroughbred TTer, the young Swiss rider also loves a late attack, his TT talent serving him well in solo escapes.
“This looks like a race for strong TTers with a punchy kick. Who is Kung’s biggest challenger for the overall win?”
Ben: I think Kung has a great chance to fight for the GC win. But we need to see how things work out during those 8 days. Anything can happen and with 6-men squads the race is less under control than the usually 8-man squad races. I would personally say that Geraint Thomas is the man to beat for the GC…
Lotto NL Jumbo come to this race with a trifecta of talent, all three of their riders strong TTers and equally as hardy breakaway riders. Primoz Roglic, Jos Van Emden and Victor Campenaerts may just face more competition from within their own team than the other riders.
Whilst the pure TTers may occupy the majority of the top favourites spots, there is also a wealth of punchy classics specialists gracing the start-line of this race. Michal Kwiatkowski and Philippe Gilbert are two former world champions that have come to this race eager to prepare and hone their form to possibly take another title.
Between the two of them, they have taken almost half of all the top Spring classics this year and are the two most dangerous riders to allow up the road. They can also turn in decent TT performances, Kwiatkowski riding to a second place on the Tour de France ITT.
Kwiatkowski’s Sky teammate and home rider, Geraint Thomas, returns to racing after a summer off through injury. Whilst the Welshman has stressed that his Polish teammate will lead the team, there’s no way that he won’t give it his all on home roads.
Three previous winners of this race return and could all potentially challenge once again. Edvald Boasson Hagen comes to this race eager to peak for the upcoming road race in Bergen and will be targeting stage 7 as his day to stamp the Norwegian flag all over.
Lars Boom had an extremely successful Bink Bank Tour recently and will bring his stellar form to this race. A strong TTer and peloton hard-man, he won’t be far off the podium come Cardiff. Dylan Van Baarle is another former champion that may just surprise; he can TT but his real talent comes in the art of the breakaway.
A wealth of sprinting talent
Six stages that look certain to end in bunch sprints gives an incredible opportunity to whichever sprinter manages to take every sprint win. A total of 60 seconds in time bonuses on these bunch finishes could potentially catapult a few of the peloton’s fast men into the top ten overall come the culmination of this race.
Whilst it would be interesting for one of the sprinters to potentially snatch the victory this way, it looks highly unlikely given the wealth of sprinting talent that has signed up for this race; arguably matching the calibre seen at the Tour de France…
A real mixture of youth and experience have come to this race eager to stamp their authority on the bunch sprints. Many are on top form, whilst others are aiming to use this race to peak for later in the month. Mark Cavendish, Elia Viviani, Fernando Gaviria, Caleb Ewan, Dylan Groenwegen and Alexander Kristoff combine to create one of the fiercest sprinting lineups of all time.
Cavendish has the experience but is still recovering from his severe shoulder injury, Gaviria and Ewan are yet to peak after their incredible Giro debuts and Viviani, Groenewegen and Kristoff are the ‘in-form’ riders coming into this race with the most confidence.
A quick note on the homegrown talent
Whilst races like the Tour of Britain do attract some of the peloton’s biggest names to our shores, they also unfortunately force the British domestic riders into the shadows, relegating them to chasing illusive KOM points and joining futile breakaways.
With Thomas and Dowsett to cheer for in the GC, the Brits are also sporting a wealth of talent in other areas, mostly all from domestic British teams such as Bike Channel Canyon, One Pro Cycling and JLT Condor.
Chris Opie will look to fly the British flag in the bunch sprints and may even challenge Mark Cavendish for the highest placed British finisher in these finishes. His teammate, Harry Tanfield, will look to join each and every breakaway possible; after a successful Tour de Yorkshire chasing the escapes, he surely won’t abandon a ‘crowd winning’ formula.
A mention should also be payed to the veteran Kristian House, the One Pro Cycling rider recently revealing that he will not grace the start-line of this Tour of Britain. A sad sad turn of events for British fans who have grown accustomed to cheering Kristian along in his futile breakaway attempts throughout the entire first week of September.
Finally, a thank you!
This article may not have been possible without the expert insight provided by BMC’s Ben Hermans. BMC go to this race with an extremely strong team, featuring Hermans himself.
“BMC have come to this race with a strong team, will you all be riding for one leader? Or rather attack the race head on and go for stage wins?”
Ben: We will decide stage after stage I guess. We don’t have a clear leader but for sure we will protect the guy that we think is the strongest time trialist. At the moment I expect the race to be mostly decided in the ITT.
The Belgian hill specialist has only recently come back from a serious crash in the Tour de Pologne where he broke multiple bones in his face and nose, a brave choice given the often grim riding conditions experienced throughout the UK…
“You’ve made an incredible recovery to return so soon after your crash in the Tour de Pologne. Will you be taking this race easy? What are your ambitions over the coming week?”
Ben: I asked to start here as the season is almost over and I want to get some nice results to go into the winter with some good feelings. I need this race for sure to get some form for the next races. But I also believe that I can maybe have a good day in this race already. I will make the best of it if I find the chance…
“Finally, what’s your predicted final podium?”
Ben: 1st, Stefan Kung, 2nd Geraint Thomas, 3rd Alex Dowsett.
Thanks so much Ben! InsideThePeloton wishes you the best of luck over the next 8 days and we’ll be cheering you on all the way!
What do you think of this year’s Tour of Britain route? Who do you think is the biggest contender for the overall? Thanks a lot for reading the preview, as ever, any feedback or comments are greatly appreciated; head over to our Twitter or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org