Team UK Youth, one of six domestic teams taking on the big guns of the WorldTour in the 2012 Tour of Britain, have enjoyed an eventful opening two stages.
Road captain, Magnus Backstedt, a rider who spent the majority of his career at cycling’s elite level, a powerful sprinter and Classics rider, former lead out man to sprint legend, Mario Cipollini, and winner of the 2004 Paris-Roubaix, has been in the thick of the action on both days of a race billed as the toughest ever edition of Britain’s national tour.
The Swede was in an early breakaway on today’s 180.7km stage from Nottingham to Knowsley Safari Park, and when he was caught, found himself at the heart of the action in a tactical switch that saw him and teammate, Chris Opie, focusing on sprints. With about two kilometres remaining, the pair were joined by teammates, Niklas Gustavsson and Yanto Barker.
“I expended a lot of energy getting myself in a very good position where I was right on the Garmin guys, but unfortunately the last time I rode at this level was the Tour of Britain 2008, so I’m still coming up,” said Backstedt. “I’m a little bit short, but I feel much more comfortable coming into the sprint and I’m feeling stronger.”
Morale in the Team UK Youth camp is high. The team, owned by 1992 Formula One world champion, Nigel Mansell, has been in the thick of the action on both stages, and placed four riders in the top 20 of stage one to finish fourth in the team classification.
Backstedt was in close proximity to Mark Cavendish on the opening stage when the world road race champion crashed with less than two kilometres to go. A professional since 1996, Backstedt told RoadCyclingUK that such crashes were inevitable when 96 riders, each with a chance of claiming the race leader’s jersey by winning the opening stage, are placed on a technical run in. Backstedt compared the narrow byways to Flandrian roads (“just wide enough”) but added that riders made the race.
“On the first day of the stage race, everyone wants the opportunity to wear the yellow jersey, the teams are going to take big risks of course. It’s only a question of time before there’s a big crash,” he said.
“On that narrow section turning onto a very technical finish where Cav went down, they could have a slightly wider road, but at the same time it’s the riders who make the race and the riders who take the risks. It’s bike racing at the end of the day.”
He said today’s second stage was raced on similar roads, requiring debilitating levels of concentration. “You had to keep yourself at the front all them time, concentrating, and making sure you keep yourself out of trouble. These are mentally draining stages,” he said.
The Maxifuel-backed rider said the unseasonably warm conditions of the opening stage had made trips to the team car for bottles more frequent, but cautioned against ingesting too much fluid, bloating, and being unable to eat. In today’s cooler conditions, much of Backstedt’s fueling came in the form of energy bars, he said, and energy gels “at the back end of the day”. He added that fueling was a matter of personal preference. “Some guys prefer to go almost purely on gels each day, other riders prefer solid food,” he said.
Tomorrow, the race will enter Scotland on a 152.6km run from Jedburgh to Dumfries. The rolling parcours includes three climbs over 300 metres, and a steep climb and subsequent descent within the final 30km. Backstedt predicted a similar day’s racing to today. “You’re looking at a breakaway that’s going to go relatively early. It’s very much like today with the smaller teams and anyone who’s not got anything to do with the general classification is going to want to put themselves in the breakaway. With that, Sky and Endura are very happy to help each other out and control this and I think that’s what we’re going to see,” he said.
Magnus Backstedt is a Maxifuel ambassador. Maxifuel is used by each member of the Team UK Youth squad.