The Tour of Britain starts on Sunday (9), an edition billed as the toughest yet, and boasting a start list that includes some of the world’s most successful cyclists.
We’ll be bringing you daily updates from heart of the peloton, courtesy of Team UK Youth’s road captain, Magnus Backstedt, winner of the 2004 Paris-Roubaix.
Backstedt, who returned to cycling last year to lead Team UK Youth, a team owned by 1992 Formula One world champion, Nigel Mansell, endured a difficult start to his 2012 campaign after picking up a virus in the early season, but told RCUK three days before the race that he was in good form.
“The last month, I seem to be back on track. The power is back to where it should be. I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
Race organisers, SweetSpot, have designed a challenging course which they claim is the hardest of the modern era of the Tour of Britain. Packed with short punchy ramps, and two stages of sustained climbing, Backstedt readily admits that the course does not suit his riding style, but is confident in his form and that of his teammates, and hopes they will infiltrate breakaways and contest bunch sprints.
Team UK Youth enjoyed a successful Tour Series after a slow start, finishing third overall in the team category behind Endura Racing and Rapha Condor Sharp. Their squad for the Tour of Britain includes Backstedt’s fellow Swede, Niklas Gustavsson, winner of the Redditch round of the Tour Series and third behind Ian Stannard in the London IG Nocturne, and Chris Opie, a top five finisher in four rounds of the 10-round Tour Series, and runner up at the Beaumont Trophy and stage one of the Tour Doon Hame.
“I think it’s looking good. Yanto Barker is looking forward to it. Niklas Gustavsson and David McGowan have been going well out in Belgium. I think we’ve got a strong enough team to challenge and go for individual stages and who knows where it will come down on GC. Because the Tour of Britain has six riders on the line, it becomes a really open race. It’s an interesting stage race where anything can happen,” said Backstedt.
Two exceptionally hard stages could shape the final general classification. “The Devon stage is my dreaded day!” Backstedt joked. “Three thousand metres of altitude – that’s very, very hard.” The stage starts in Barnstaple on a 170.7km run to Dartmouth. The 450 metre climb of Merrivale provides the sternest test.
Stage six in Wales will offer a similar challenge. Starting in Welshpool, the riders will face 10 climbs in the 189.8km stage, including the 450 metre ascent of the Brecon Beacons, a climb they will tackle after nearly 125km.
Backstedt’s Team UK Youth squad is one of six British teams registered as UCI Continental squads who will be taking on the might of some of the biggest squads from cycling’s elite WorldTour peloton. Two-time Giro d’Italia champion, Ivan Basso, will lead Liquigas-Cannondale, Samuel Sanchez, Olympic road race champion in 2008, will lead Euskaltel-Euskadi, and Team Sky have selected Tour de France winner, Bradley Wiggins, and world road race champion, Mark Cavendish.
While the participation of such illustrious competitors may seem daunting to their rivals, Backstedt welcomes the additional prestige conferred upon the race by world, Olympic and Grand Tour champions. Their presence, he argues, may make time in the saddle easier. “The big teams are there to control it. They want to come here and win the overall. For the smaller teams, it’s very good. It’s a little bit more controlled.”
Last year, the race ended with victory for Cavendish, the first of two recorded by the Manxman on The Mall in 2011. This year, perhaps to ease the pressure on the authorities in London after a summer managing the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the race will end in Guildford. After two days of solid climbing in Wales and Devon, the rolling run through Surrey may come as a relief to Backstedt.
“For me, it’s a chance to get myself out there again, mixing it with the likes of Cav, like I used to,” he said.
Magnus Backstedt is a Maxifuel ambassador. Maxifuel is used by each member of the Team UK squad.