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Universally described by riders and pundits alike as the toughest Tour of Britain in the 10 year history of the modern race, the 2013 route pulls no punches, venturing onto the kind of challenging roads that earlier incarnations of the nation’s tour once plied.
With eight stages over nearly 1200 kilometres, the route will be one for the million-plus spectators to savour and the world class field to treat with the utmost respect.
Stage one from Peebles to Drumlanrig Castle in the Scottish borders will set the tone for what’s to come, with the second category climb of Lime Kiln Bank the first real test for the climbers in the peloton. Despite the hilly terrain of the borders, a bunch sprint may be on the cards as the race circumnavigates the picturesque Drumlanrig estate, and with it a chance for British road champion Mark Cavendish to add to his tally of seven Tour of Britain stage victories.
However, stage one’s undulations are just a warm-up for stage two in the Lake District. Starting in Carlisle, stage two heads south west to the Cumbrian coast before making for the Western Lakes, surmounting the formidable category one Honister Pass before a final chase from Keswick past Thirlmere, Grasmere and Windermere before finishing in Kendal.
The ascent of Honister will be the perfect playground for 2013 Tour de France polka dot and white jersey winner Nairo Quintana to show his talents. The long valley floor run-in may favour a regrouping before a lumpy finish, as the route turns off the Windermere road at Bowness – perhaps prompting a late attack.
Time trial decider?
A transfer south to Merseyside and chance for the time trial specialists is next on stage three, with the race’s 16-kilometre timed effort starting and finishing in Knowsley Safari Park. Thankfully eschewing the road through the lion enclosure, the route plies the flatlands on the outskirts of Liverpool and will be a chance for British crowds to witness Olympic time trial champion Sir Bradley Wiggins and Giro d’Italia time trial winner Alex Dowsett in full flight.
Stage four begins in Stoke-on-Trent and heads west to the Welsh hills, traversing the backbone of the Clywdian range and the high plateau of the Denbigh moors before a final climb of Pen y Pass in the shadow of Wales’ highest peak, Snowdon. If the bunch is still together following the category two climbs of Groes and Llansannon, the race’s overall contenders are likely to splinter the pack on the long climb to Pen Y Pass and have enough firepower to stay away on the descent into Llanberis.
The hardest day?
The race stays in Wales for stage five, beginning in the picturesque town of Machynlleth in mid Wales, heading south on what is undoubtedly the race’s most gruelling parcours. Riders will face four category one climbs, taking on the remote beauty of the Brecon Beacons and a double ascent of Caerphilly Mountain before the finish in the shadow of Caerphilly Castle.
Once again the general classification contenders will take centre stage and with the double category one climb close to the end it may be a small and exclusive group that crosses the line first in the Welsh town.
The climbing continues on stage six which begins near Sidmouth on the Devon coast before heading towards its finale with a mountain top finish at Haytor on the rugged and remote Dartmoor. Stage six is a chance for British fans to admire the singular talents of Movistar’s Nairo Quintana in his natural habitat and for the Colombian to possibly snatch a stage victory.
Surrey is the scene for the penultimate stage, with riders skirting the south of the capital from Epsom to Guildford. With the Lakes, Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons and Dartmoor behind them, the casual viewer would be forgiven for thinking that the climbing is at an end. However, stage seven, though lacking in altitude, features three categorised climbs including a category one ramp at Barnhatch Lane before the finish in Guildford.
The Surrey stage might favour a breakaway, a final chance perhaps for the domestic squads to wrest some honours from the international big hitters.
The race ends with a spectacular stage in London and few would bet against a Mark Cavendish victory. The finale will be contested over 10 laps of an 8.8-kilometre circuit, starting and finishing in Whitehall and taking in some of the capital’s world famous sights including the Palace of Westminster and the Tower of London – a fitting end to a Tour of Britain which showcases the most scenic and challenging areas of the country.
In terms of overall general classification honours, predictably two names stand head and shoulders above the rest. With 2012 Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins and 2013 polka dot and white jersey winner Nairo Quintana in attendance, it will be likely that one of this elite pair walking away with the gold jersey in London.
The question of which one is the intriguing one. While the ultra-steep climbs will suit Quintana, the race only features one mountain top finish, meaning the diminutive Colombian’s chances of gaining GC time will be limited.
The time trial may well be the deciding factor and provided that Wiggins makes it through the first two stages in good shape, few would wager against him taking the lead after the his effort against the clock in Knowsley and with the help of his team, controlling proceedings there on in.
Following his departure from the Giro d’Italia in May, Wiggins‘ form is the topic of much debate. Yet with the world championship time trial a major target for the British rider later this month, the 2012 Tour de France winner is sure to be close to his best.
Jon Tiernan Locke, winner of the 2012 Tour of Britain, is absent from the line-up supporting Team Sky leader Wiggins, with neo-pro Josh Edmondson and Ian Stannard providing the British nucleus of Sky outfit. Tiernan Locke’s performances at in 2011 a put the rider on the map, Tiernan Locke winning the king of the mountains prize, a jersey that Quintana is odds-on to claim in 2013, along with the young rider’s prize.
Which leaves the points jersey, an arena for Cavendish to demonstrate his prowess in front of an appreciative home crowd. With the sprinting honours split between the intermediate sprints jersey and the points classification for stage wins, Cavendish is sure to be hot favourite for the latter.
However, in terms of the intermediate sprints competition, the 2013 Tour of Britain’s relentlessly hilly profile will undoubtedly favour an all rounder.
The Tour of Britain begins on Sunday 15 September in Peebles, with live blogging throughout every stage on the British Cycling website at www.britishcycling.org.uk/toblive and daily live TV coverage on ITV4.