Tour of Britain 2012 preview
By John Whitney in Bath, UK
Wednesday, September 5, 2012 12.00pm
Wiggins, Cavendish set for 'hardest ever' edition
The rolling terrain and six-man teams of the Tour of Britain often translates to unpredictable racing Joolze Dymond
The Tour of Britain has been on an upward trajectory ever since its relaunch in 2004 and this year's edition looks set to keep it on course.
A cursory glance at the headline acts tells you all you need to know about just how its moved on from its humble beginnings as a five-stage race eight years ago.
The UCI WorldTour's number one ranked team, Sky, are sending a squad that includes the reigning Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and World Champion Mark Cavendish, while the second-ranked team, Liquigas-Cannondale, will make their race debut, along with two-time Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso.
That 2004 edition saw the newly-crowned Olympic Individual Pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins escape in an ultimately doomed break on the final stage in London. Eight years later, he'll make a triumphant return in team colours on home roads as the reigning champion of the biggest race in the sport.
He'll most likely be there in a purely support capacity to help team mates who've assisted him all year, as well as aiding his preparation for the World Championship road race in Limburg later this month.
Team Sky themselves are keen to put on a good showing at this year's race but will enter it with an open mind on leadership, according to directeur sportif Servais Knaven.
"You only have to see the turnout for the Olympic road race to see how popular cycling is in Britain now and we want to perform the best we can. But it will be very difficult for us to win the race," he told Cycling Plus. "We may not even start with any rider aiming for the general classification - I think we will wait to see how the first couple of stages go.
"With a team of nine riders it's possible to control a road race, but with just six it's hard to control events on the road, even with a a strong team like Sky - just look what happened at the men's Olympic road race for example."
Speaking of the worlds, one of the big reasons for the popularity of the Tour of Britain among the best teams is its place in the calendar. For the those who find the usual sufferfest of the Vuelta a España too much, the British race offers a shorter alternative in the run-up to the prestigious world championships.
With just a week separating its final stage in Guildford with the worlds road race, the often rolling, always challenging terrain affords riders almost perfect conditions to fine-tune their form heading into perhaps the biggest one-day race of the year.
It certainly worked a treat for Mark Cavendish last year, who withdrew early doors at the Vuelta and returned in time for the Tour of Britain. And we all know what happened next.
Outside of the UK's biggest domestic team, the race provides the biggest platform of the year for the other British-based teams and riders to get themselves headlines.
Endura Racing's Jonathan Tiernan-Locke enjoyed a breakthrough race in 2011, taking fifth overall and snagging the King of the Mountains jersey in the process. Superb early season form in 2012 saw him rumoured with a mid-season move to Team Sky, though injury and illness curtailed his promising start.
But he's back firing now and the team's manager Brian Smith says that after several year's of steady improvement, they'll be targeting overall victory this time round.
"We're going in with Tiernan-Locke as the overall team leader and one main sprinter, former British Champion Russell Downing," he says. "The four other riders will be looking for breakaways and stage wins."
Team UK Youth, fronted by F1 legend Nigel Mansell, and starring former Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt and UK racing stalwart Yanto Barker, will also be hoping for a strong showing, while Rapha Condor Sharp, who switched to a more developmental ethos for the 2012 season, will take a young squad led by the experienced Kristian House.
The latter's marketing manager, former team pro Tom Southam, says it's the team's biggest race of the year, and with the success the country has had all year, this year's race is going to be a little bit extra special.
"It's a big race for our riders, but they do have realistic goals," he says. "The ambition is for riders to infiltrate breaks and to make their presence felt in the race. No British-based domestic rider has yet won a stage at the TOB - and it might change this year."
Elsewhere, some of the world's biggest teams - Garmin-Sharp, Orica-GreenEdge and Euskaltel-Euskadi - will be sending strong squads, with the likes of Tyler Farrar, Jack Bobridge and Sam Sanchez all set to line-up for stage one in Ipswich.
BikeRadar's run-down of all eight stages of the Tour of Britain can be found here. while a full rider list, updated daily, is detailed on the Tour of Britain website.