So for those of you aren't stage-raced out with the Vuelta, the Tour of Britain starts tomorrow in Ipswich. A week of world-class SSSR follows - think of it was the Eneco Tour but without cobbles...
And for the first time it's going to be live on TV for the last two hours of racing each day. So there may be streams to follow on the interwebs though you'll probably have to put up with Hugh Porter commentary.
More on the course and the contenders on the flip.
As in previous years the route flits about all over the shop, starting in flat Norfolk, a stop in the Midlands, two stages either side of the Scottish-English border, back to the Midlands, into Wales then the West Country before a finale in the Southeast. Riders will be complaining about the transfers and don't even get the pleasure of a London stage with the capital being Olympiced out. So what about the individual stages.
The organisers seem to have been finding lumpier more testing terrain in recent year and with none of the stages being outrageously long there's the possibility of some good racing. It'd be even better if most of the guys targeting the World Champs weren't in Quebec.
So flat the it might as well be in Holland and the only reason to post the profile is to be amazed that somehow they've found three "mountains" to award KOM points on. If it were windy it could get interesting but the forecast is for sunny and calm so it'll be a sprint.
The lumpiness begins. Some genuine climbing through the Peak District which will look stunning if the sun's out. If it's not, it'll be miserable. Probably still a sprint with the run in but though maybe a break will go and the GC will be decided on day 2? Unfortunately they're not running it thorugh the monkey enclosure at the safari park finish. It's what the Giro would do..
The Scottish stage and again more hills. This time there's a bit more up-and-down towards the finish which might break things up and it looks like rain and showers are returning which could make it fun.
Stage 4 hits the Lake District before finishing in Blackpool with its ersatz Eiffel Tower. On the way they pass over Shap Fell a climb that lorries used to struggle over before they built the M6. Cav should manage it though. Last year a stage in a similar part of the world was called off due to high winds and with the long run in that's probably the only thing to make this interesting.
Stoke-on-Trent seems to love the Tour of Britain as this is the fifth time in a row they've hosted a stage. And look, there are more hills - if this is raced hard it could be interesting. And there's a KOM at a glacial boulder for the PdC geology crowd to get excited about.
Croeso y Gymru. The Welsh are laying on the queen stage with some proper climbing - Cwm Owen and the Brecon Beacons climb might (might) be considered a cat 2 by a grand tour. This should be the decider and to make sure the planners have put to ascents up short, steep Caerphilly Mountain in at the finish.
More testing climbing. If the weather's bad and the riders have been going for it hard this could be quite fun particularly with some fun little digs on the run it to Dartmouth. Or it could be a (pretty) snoozefest with nice scenery over Dartmoor.
London is out of bounds so the usual final day circuit race has been replaced with this. The circuit loops over climbs that should have been on the Olympics course (and Staple Lane which was) in a complicated circuit on narrow roads which reminds me a bit of Amstel Gold. None of the climbs are that hard but two - Crocknorth and Barhatch - are steep and could be brutal if taken at pace. And as this is near London the crowds could be awesome.
With lots of lumpy stages and no TT this could two ways: first a breakaway couid get a few minutes and that'll be game over; or a punchy rider will place well on all the stages and pick up bonifications to secure the GC. The first is a crapshot, the second is what's happened in the last few years with Boasson-Hagen, Albasini and Boom taking home glory.
A hugh range of abilities are coming from World Tour juggernauts (Sky, Liquigas, Garmin, Vaconsoleil, Greenedge and even Euskaltel (what did Albertina do to get this to happen?)) through a smattering of Pro Continental teams (UnitedHealthcare, Saur-Sojasun, An Post Sean Kelly) to local Continental whipping boys (Endura, Node4-Giordana, IG Sigma Sport, Rapha Condor, Raleigh-GAC, UK Youth) and GB U23 team. However teams are limited to six riders so the big boys won't be able to boss the race too much and individual talent will matter more. And most of the top riders are in Spain or Quebec. The locals will be cheering Wiggins and Cavendish but here are my picks for who could do well:
- Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura) - he's been on fire this year, is good at hilly courses and won the KOM last year. He'll be looking to do something at the second biggest race in GB this year before he heads to Sky (probably) next season.
- Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel) - basically 'cause he's awesome but also 'cause climby, punchy is what he does
- Sebastian Langeveld (Orica-Greenedge) - just a hunch on my behalf
- Kristian House (Rapha Condor Sharp) - a perennial animator of the race he has to fancy his chances with this year's weaker field
- Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Sharp) - even if he isn't in best form he'll confuse the field by sending doppelgängers up the road