Taking place from September 6 to 13, the Aviva Tour of Britain is the nation's biggest annual stage race for cyclists and attracts some of the biggest teams and most-famous riders in the sport of road racing.
Nine World Tour teams will be lining up alongside three Pro Continental outfits (the second tier of competition in road cycling) and a further six British Continental-level teams. Team Sky, Movistar, BMC and Etixx-Quick-Step will be among the big-name teams – and there is usually a good smattering of the UK's top international cycle talent, including sprint maestro Mark Cavendish.
Where is it happening then?
Although it's called the Tour of Britain, the race usually focuses on one end of the country each year for logistical reasons – mainly so that riders and support staff don't spend too much spare time travelling between stages. The 2015 event is taking place over eight stages – starting in North Wales before moving to North West England, Scotland and East Anglia, with a final criterium (closed loop) stage in London.
The stages are as follows...
Stage 1 – Sun, Sep 6, Beaumaris, Anglesey to Wrexham, 177km
Stage 2 – Mon, Sep 7, Clitheroe to Colne, 162km
Stage 3 – Tues, Sep 8, Cockermouth to Floors Castle, Kelso, 216km
Stage 4 – Weds, Sep 9, Edinburgh to Blyth, 218km
Stage 5 – Thurs, Sep 10, Prudhoe to Hartside Pass, 171km
Stage 6 – Fri, Sep 11, Stoke-on-Trent to Nottingham, 189km
Stage 7 – Sat, Sep 12, Fakenham to Ipswich, 225km
Stage 8 – Sun, Sept 13, London criterium, 93km
What will they be like?
Although the first stage takes in some meaty climbs in Snowdonia, they are early enough in the day that they are unlikely to affect the win – and a bunch sprint is expected in Wrexham town centre. Stage two is made up of lots of medium-sized hills on the rolling roads of Lancashire – and could see the peloton split if ambitious riders succeed in breaking away. As this stage wriggles around the Ribble Valley in a loop, it could be possible to see the action in several locations.
Stage three starts out in Cumbria but avoids the fells of the Lake District as it skirts the coast and heads north to Kelso in the Scottish borders. Although it's being held over rolling terrain, a sprinter is expected to take the win. Beginning in the splendour of the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, stage four quickly leaves the city behind and dives down the quiet Northumberland coast to Blyth. This one could go to a breakaway or a sprinter. Much of the anticipation and excitement among cycling fans has been for stage five – the race's only summit finish on Hartside Fell in Cumbria – after a journey through Northumberland alongside Hadrians Wall. It is hoped that we could see a duel between the race's general classification (overall) contenders at this point.
Stage six begins in Stoke-on-Trent and detours via some rather lumpy bits of the Peak District before a finish in Nottingham. There will probably be a breakaway, but will the peloton have time to reel it in? Running from Norfolk to Suffolk, you'd be foolish to expect any hills in stage seven – but the winds and narrow roads can allow a breakaway to triumph if the bunch is inattentive. Stage seven runs on a three-legged "loop" in the West End of London – and will this year feature a slightly uphill finish, just to spice things up a bit.
Where is it best to watch?
There will be good vantage points on all the stages and fans choose their locations depending on what they want to see. To get the longest view of the riders it's common for fans to position themselves beside the road on notable climbs. Especially in the later sections of each stage when the riders are more likely to be going hard for the win and the peloton could be broken up. Others prefer to wait by the finish line in anticipation of a thrilling bunch sprint or a stirring breakaway victory. The most dedicated look for opportunities to hop between vantage points by a more-direct route than the racers are taking – in order to see their heroes twice or more.
What if I can't make it in person?
Never fear, there will be daily free-to-air coverage on ITV4 – along with a nightly highlights package. Stages start at 1pm each day – apart from London which is 3pm.
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