The 2010 edition of the Tour of Britain took in some of the country’s finest scenery – the Brecon Becons, Exmoor, Dartmoor, the Norfolk Broads – but Saturday’s final stage left a lot to the imagination.
The 12km circuit of Newham in east London finished with HTC-Columbia’s Andre Greipel sprinting to his third stage victory, while team-mate Michael Albasini secured overall victory.
But while the scenery may not have matched that of the previous seven stages, the racing was relentless – a credit to this year’s Tour.
The pace has come at a cost for some riders – large swathes of the peloton have complained about the difficulty of this year’s race, at least the early stages.
After all, the Tour of Britain is traditionally an end-of-season filler before the World Championships, this year in Australia next month.
But Team Sky’s Russell Downing described stage four, a lumpy 171.3km slog from Minehead to Teignmouth as “absolute carnage”.
The gritted teeth and grimacing faces were more akin to a summit finish – think Alpe d’Huez or the Col du Tourmalet rather than the seaside town of Teignmouth.
Still, while Great Britain may be without the Alpine passes of the continent, the relentless short, sharp gradients on offer are enough to test the mettle of any rider.
The final blast up the rain-soaked cobbles of Constitution Hill – ramping up to nearly 30 per cent – on stage three in Swansea was pure drama and Albasini’s late attack to win a master class in aggressive riding.
And it is credit to the race organisers that the Tour of Britain, in its seventh year after being resurrected in 2004, is now an event worthy of the high-class riders who are arriving in larger numbers.
Our home Tour has long been considered a sprinters race – Edvald Boasson Hagen, then at HTC-Columbia, won four consecutive stages last year on the way to overall victory.
And officials still have work to do to shake off that image. It’s a shame that after the drama of the first five stages, the final three finished as nailed-on sprints, with little hope of a change in the General Classification.
With stages largely funded by local councils and regional development agencies, that’s an unavoidable pitfall which also leads to long transfers – the distance between the end of stage five, Glastonbury, and the start of stage six, King’s Lynn, was just shy of 400km.
But the racing has been superb – and that, after all, is what it’s all about. Crowds have turned out in large numbers, ITV4’s highlights coverage has been well received and British riders have been well represented.
Domestic focus has been on Team Sky and Dave Brailsford’s forlorn troops have rescued some creditability after a debut season fraught with disappointment – Bradley Wiggins’ 24th place finish at the Tour de France an ever-present shadow – and hit by tragedy following the death of soigneur Txema González.
Wiggins threw caution to the wind in his pursuit for a stage win in Glastonbury but was edged out by Marco Frapporti, although Kiwi sprinter Greg Henderson had already saved face with victory on stage two three days earlier and went on to claim the points jersey and a third place finish overall.
For many, the British teams away from Sky are a sideshow but the presence of five other domestic outfits in the peloton – Endura Racing, Rapha Condor Sharp, Sigma Sport-Specialized, Team Raleigh and Motorola-Marshalls Pasta – represents something of a road racing renaissance.
That, the unpredictable beast that is British weather, a tough course and unrelenting action from an ever-improving line-up led to top racing and a Tour to be proud of.