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Tour of Britain preview and VDS smack talk

The Tour of Britain starts this Sunday in Peebles in the Scottish Borders. The race can trace it's history back to 1945 and can count some pretty decent riders as its winner over the years: Hennie Kuiper, Robert Millar, Phil Anderson, Maurizio Fondriest, Stuey O'Grady.

It was resurrected in 2004 after a five year absence and his been growing in ambition and stature since. So what does the 2011 have in store? Who might win? And who's on you VDS team? Find out on the flip.

The course

This year the race manages to be a proper tour of Britain taking in Scotland, Wales and England. However due to the way it's funded it tends to race in one region than move to another rather than properly traverse the country, pissing off the riders with long transfers and missing opportunities for exciting cross-border stages. But that said there should still be some exciting riding and racing (and some of the best-named climbs, e.g. the Devil's Beef Tub on stage 1), here's what's in store:

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The outcome of the first stage in the Scottish Borders will almost certainly be a sprint unless the peloton can't be arsed and let's a break go. With Cav racing and eager to catch up on World Champs preparation that however seems unlikely.
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If stage 1 was highly likely to be a sprint for stage 2 it's almost a certainty as the Blackpool Promenade is made for it. It'll be pretty getting there though starting on the edge of the Lake District and dipping into the Yorkshire Dales and Forest of Bowland on the way. Pity the same can't be said of the finish town...
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Stage 3 comes to the Midlands for a rolling stage starting and finishing in Stoke-on-Trent  a federation of six towns famous. Notable locals include Robbie Williams and Lemmy. Possibly a stage for a break to get away or whittled-down peloton to make it to the finish - particularly if the weather's bad on the Staffordshire Moors - but still I'd guess a sprint if the peloton wants it though a slightly trickier one as the finish kicks up slightly.
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It's into Wales for stage 4 another up-and-down day with nary a flat stretch of road to be seen. The climb over the Brecon Beacons caused chaos last year as the race broke apart in the fog and Caerphilly mountain is short, sharp (12%) and less than 5km to the finish. Probably the least likely to be a sprint of the stages.
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Yes, a sprint - this time in Devon famous for cream teas and funny accents. The trip over Dartmoor could be interesting if the weather's bad but there's plenty of time for the peloton to regroup and fight it out at the finish.
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I hate to say it but this will probably be a sprint too with the riders being glad of the short transfer to nearby by Somerset for stage 6. The non-British riders will still be bemused by the accents though sadly will have to give the cider a miss.
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I'll eat my hat if this isn't a sprint. Somehow the organisers have managed to find two categorised climbs in flat, flat East Anglia and upped the glamour by finishing in Her Majesty's back garden but there's nothing to seriously trouble the peloton. Unless that is the winds blowing in which case we may get some echelon fun. Or maybe not as the riders will be knackered after a transfer across England from the previous afternoon.

Stage 8a and 8b - London
These are so flat they don't even bother with a profile. The stages share an 8.9km course starting in Westminster heading east along the Thames to the City and back the way they came having made the turn at the Tower. Stage 8a in the morning is a time trial and stage 8b being a 10 lap circult race. Guess what? It'll be a sprint...

So there you have it, the ToB route in all it's sprinter-friendly glory. But if I take off the cynical hat for a moment, there are chances for riders to get time on some of the lumpier stages particularly if the weather's bad (and it's been a miserable few days here recently). Six man teams will make it harder to control the race too, so fingers-crossed we'll see some good racing.

The contenders

It's hard to predict who'll do well in the ToB: apart from Sky and the domestic squads it's no-one's big objective; and a lucky break can rule most riders out of contention. Nonetheless here are some names to watch:

  • Mark Cavendish will be hoping to take home at least one stage and two or three seems possible. With a short time trial and bonus seconds at the finish the overall isn't out of the question either particularly with a strong HTC team to support him (Eisel, Renshaw, Bak, Rasmussen and Brammeier)
  • Sky are bringing a strong squad too bigging up Geraint Thomas and Ben Swift in particular but also  bringing Alex Dowsett, Pete Kennaugh, Matt Hayman and Mick Rogers. I'm not sure quite what there tactics will be other than to ride hard.
  • Thor Hushovd seems made for this kind of parcours to me - he's tough enough that he'll make the finish in the main group whatever happens and still do something there provided the likes of Cav have been dropped. He can do a short TT as well. So I guess Garmin will riding hard alongside Sky and with the likes of David Millar, Roger Hammond and Martijn Maaskant their will equipped to do so.
  • Crazy Thomas de Gendt likes racing in Britain based on the amount of attacking he's done in previous editions. If he can restrain his kamikaze tendencies the punchy course might suit him - perhaps not for the overall but perhaps a stage or the King of the (ahem) Mountains jersey
  • Jens! will be here for Leopard-Trek assuming they haven't imploded by the weekend. Another punchy rouleur who'll hopefull animate a stage or two
  • Rapha-Condor Sharp are arguably the best domestic British squad and will be really hoping for a stage win. If I had to guess Kristian House is their best bet. He's shown he can school the continental pros with savvy racing such as at the 2009 National Championships and he'll no doubt be eager here.

Other teams racing are An Post - Sean Kelly, Endura, Europcar, Motorpoint, NetApp, Rabobank, Raleigh, Sigma Sport - Specialized, Topsport Vlaanderen and UnitedHealthcare. The best startlist I've been able to find is at Cycling Weekly.

The citrus army is sending Alex Dowsett and Thomas de Gendt and desperately hoping for a stage win. Who you got?

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