By Cass Gilbert and Cara Coolbaugh
On a damp, mist-veiled morning in the Somerset levels, a collection of cyclists gathered, including 2012 Olympic development riders and veteran Colin Lewis, former Tour of Britain stage winner, for the official announcement that the Tour of Britain will come to the county on 11 September, 2007.
Race organisers are keeping tight lipped about exact route details until January, but disclosed that the 120 mile stage would certainly strike out to Exmoor National Park and showcase Somerset’s beautiful countryside and tourist hotspots. It’s the first time a stage has come to the South West but the fact that a five year deal has been settled underlines the county’s commitment to the race.
“Somerset has great riding – some of the best roads in Britain,” enthused Tony Doyle MBE, twice world pursuit champion and Tour of Britain event director. He added that the council’s keen support would undoubtedly be an important element to the stage’s success, and in turn its high profile should boost local interest in cycling. “The tour is a chance to ignite initiatives – commuting by bicycle, reducing congestion and improving the health and state of the nation."
Somerset County Council also anticipates that it will be the ideal catalyst. “We aim to promote cycling as part of the national drive towards an active and healthy lifestyle, while also providing a benefit to the environment and encouraging sustainable transport,” explained Graham Bagley, the Council’s project manager for the Tour of Britain.
Various cycling related projects are being planned for the lead up to the tour, including the development of cycle paths in the community. To encourage residents’ participation, the prize of a Giant SCR3 has been promised in time for Christmas from local retailer the Bicycle Chain, for the best pitch for why the stage should pass through their area. And when the final route details are announced, it’s hoped that the public will even attempt the challenge of riding parts of it themselves.
There were also some loftier goals expressed for the 2012 Olympic development riders. In the global racing arena, Mr Doyle outlined his vision of the Tour of Britain being on par with other more established stage races, showcasing the best of British cycling talent and providing an inspiration to future London Olympians.
With three hilly areas of outstanding natural beauty to choose from - the Quantocks, the Mendips and the Blackdown Hills – as well as Exmoor National Park, the county has all the ingredients for a fantastic stage. Whoever said Somerset was flat…