The 2008 Tour of Britain was launched at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden on Thursday, 3 April. The fifth edition of the race will include eight stages, making it the longest UCI category 2.1 race in Europe.
So, how hard will riders find the next incarnation of Britain's national tour? It's difficult to say at the moment because apart from the naming of the start and finish venues, details of the route were sketchy and no towns or major climbs en-route were mentioned. A decisive hill-top finish looks unlikely, which could lead to a repeat of last year where the race was a dead heat at the finish until Frenchman Romain Feillu was declared the winner on count back, his superior position in the opening prologue giving him the win.
Wales is a good place to find big climbs but, once again, the land of the dragon has been left out of the equation as it has been since its only inclusion in 2004. Various reasons were given to try and placate the understandably angry Welsh but, in simple terms, it seems that they didn't cough up enough money to warrant a visit from this prestigious event.
Race director, Mick Bennett, did admit that, "I do get odd emails from Welsh Nationalists."
Despite the past safety issues of this race and the threats of big teams like Quick Step and CSC not to return, this year's event is already oversubscribed with 25 teams vying for the 16 six-rider slots on offer. The event organisers have apparently received a letter from team Slipstream requesting a place, so we could see David Millar in action. The only teams so far announced are all British: Rapha-Condor-Recycling, team Great Britain, Plowman Craven and Pinarello RT. The full team listings will not be announced until six weeks before the start.
Stage 1, 7 September: London – 53 miles
This is the only route that has been fully confirmed so far, but it does look pretty impressive. Sponsored by Transport for London the opening stage will see 10 laps of an 5.3 mile closed road route that goes from Big Ben to the Tower of London via Victoria Embankment. The route includes the circuit around Whitehall that was used as the finishing stage for the 2005 Tour of Britain and features part of the 2007 Tour de France prologue route.
This stage also has the only categorised climb that has been announced so far, although most Londoners know it as "a slight drag" that takes you up to Traitors Gate at the Tower of London. This KoM shouldn't bother even the fattest rouleur.
Stage 2, 8 September: Milton Keynes to Newbury – 90 miles
Going from the new town in Buckinghamshire and heading south to the equestrian town Berkshire, this stage could take in the Chilterns which has a few lumps, so it might be interesting.
Stage 3, 9 September: Chard to Burnham-on-Sea – 113 miles
Like last year, Somerset will host the longest stage and, like last year, the hilly terrain will probably do more damage than any other stage. The difference this year is that the race will also go into Devon, well known for its short sharp climbs, making it even tougher. This will be a very scenic stage and will once again be the jewel in the crown of the Tour of Britain.
Stage 4, 10 September: Worcester to Stoke-on-Trent – 94 miles
Worcester was a start town last year when the race ended in Wolverhampton. This year the race heads further north, finishing in Stoke-on-Trent, birth place of former Milk Race winner Les West. There are some testing climbs on the way that might be included.
Stage 5, 11 September: Kingston upon Hull to Dalby Forest – 105 miles
The second longest day of the race, the Yorkshire stage will be made hard by the wind rather than the climbs as it travels up the east coast. The finish, in Dalby Forest, is an area better known to mountain bikers than roadies. The riders on the Tour of Britain will race the last ten miles on a closed road and the narrow, twisting parcours has been likened to sections of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. There will, however, be no La Redoute to break the field up.
Stage 6, 12 September: Darlington to Newcastle Gateshead – 100 miles
Starts in the Cycling Demonstration Town of Darlington and ends alongside the Millennium Bridge. Could be a few hills here.
Stage 7, 13 September: Glasgow to Dumfries and Galloway – 95 miles
The penultimate stage starts in last year's finish of Glasgow, where Paul Manning took a courageous win. The finish town has not been announced but as it finishes in Dumfries and Galloway it will probably use a parcours similar to previous years which can be windy but with no real climbs.
Stage 8, 14 September: Blackpool to Liverpool – 75 miles
Apart from the opening stage this is the shortest day in the saddle and goes from the capital of candy floss and kiss me quick hats to the 2008 European city of culture. A long flat run-in is likely and although you will be able to see both the start and the finish, don't hang around too much. The final stage of the Tour of Britain will end on a three mile closed road circuit around the city.
Total Distance: 730 miles
All mileages are approximate
The Tour of Britain will be shown on television every night between 7pm and 8pm on ITV 4.