Tour of Britain ready for kickoff

Crystal Palace start for Britain's main stage race

The Tour of Britain is in its fourth edition this year after being relaunched in 2004. Formerly known as the Milk Race, the Kellogg's Tour and the Pru Tour, the ToB has enjoyed a high profile in recent years thanks to the presence of a number of top professional teams.

This year's race kicks off with a 2.5km time trial around London's Crystal Palace Park on Sunday, September 9th. It's the first time that the ToB has started with a prologue, and the 96 riders will race around the former motor racing circuit for the right to wear the first yellow jersey.

Stage 1 will see the riders head south between Reading and Southampton on the tour's first open road stage. It's a rolling 139km course with a couple of categorised climbs at Whitehill (25.1km) and Kent's Oak (71.5km). The finish is at Hoglands Park in the centre of Southampton.

Stage 2 will be a tough 169km between Yeovilton and Taunton, deep in Britain's south west. The stage starts out fairly flat but after 88km the riders hit the brutal Porlock Hill, climbing 400m in 3.2km with gradients hitting 25% on some of the hairpins. Then it's back down to sea level with a steep descent into Lynmouth, before climbing to Watersmeet (109.3km). The final 60km of the stage is relentlessly up and down, with another categorised climb up to Wheddon Cross (132.8km) thrown in for good measure. The spectacular scenery on Exmoor may help to alleviate the suffering.

The third stage takes the riders up through the West Midlands between Worcester and Wolverhampton. It's another 153km of rolling terrain, with three climbs (Malvern Hills, 21.6km, Ankardine Hill, 53.2km, and Sutton Bank, 126.4km) followed by an uphill finish in Wolverhampton.

Stage 4 goes further north, starting in Rotherham and heading through Yorkshire to finish in Bradford. The main obstacle in the 163km stage is the Cow & Calf, which comes with 20km to go. This may be where the winning move goes, as the descent into Bradford is quite fast.

The fifth stage starts in Liverpool and winds its way along the west coast to Preston. It continues north to the finish in Kendal after 170 km, with three category 2 climbs en route. The climbs up to Old Town (154km) and Blease Hill (159km) will provide another opportunity for strong riders to attack for the stage win.

The last stage of the Tour of Britain is a Scottish affair, starting in Dumfries and finishing in Glasgow. There are a couple of climbs early in the stage, but this one should be for the sprinters.

The riders

This year's race will feature two ProTour teams, T-Mobile and CSC. The former will be bringing its British stars Mark Cavendish and Roger Hammond to the race, with stagiaire Ian Stannard hoping to learn from them. Tour de France yellow jersey wearer Linus Gerdemann, Paris-Roubaix winner Servais Knaven and Frantisek Rabon will make up the rest of the six man team.

CSC won the race last year with Martin Pedersen. The young Dane will be back this year, with sprinter Juan José Haedo, all rounder Lars Bak, Aussies Luke Roberts and Matt Goss, and Anders Lund comprising the rest of the squad.

Apart from these two teams, the ToB will also feature pro continental squads Barloworld and Agritubel. Both of these raced the last Tour de France, with Barloworld taking two stage wins and the King of the Mountains jersey. Britain's other main pro continental team, DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed, will be at the start and eager to do well with plenty of home grown talent in its ranks.

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