A near pan-flat circuit of Liverpool kicks off the 11th Tour of Britain today, with the sprinters looking to advantage of one of the few certain sprint opportunities on this year’s route.
Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) start among the favourites, while Adam Blythe (NFTO) will be one to watch after his RideLondon victory.
But Blythe is far from the only domestic rider looking to test themselves against two of this generation’s greatest sprinters.
Cornish rider Chris Opie (Rapha Condor JLT) will be another to watch if the race comes down to a bunch sprint, and he is relishing the chance to test himself against the WorldTour’s best.
“It’s incredible,” he told RCUK. “It’s really exciting just to see how good I am compared to the best of our generation.
“It’s just exciting. If I’m anywhere near them then that’s fantastic, and I can be really happy. If I’m not, then I know and I’ve got a realistic indicator of how good I am compared to them.
“It’s a win-win situation. To sum up in one word, it’s exciting.”
And Opie is under no illusions as to the task awaiting him as he looks to continue a fine season for the team – which also includes High Carthy’s Tour de Korea win and Kristian House triumphing at the Beaumont Trophy.
Nevertheless, his ambition remains high ahead of the race.
He added: “You have to be realistic. All of a sudden you’re racing against the world’s best riders, which you don’t get to do every day, but you have to be optimistic and aim high.
“There’s no point going to an event like that and thinking, ‘it would be nice just to finish’. I don’t think anyone ever enters competition without a dream or ambition of winning. You never know what’s going to happen on any given day.
“You could get to the start line and have your perfect day. There are realistic chances of a result or a stage win, in my mind anyway. If that doesn’t happen then at least I’ve tried.”
Opie moved to Rapha Condor JLT in the winter from the now-defunct Team UK Youth, but has suffered a season disrupted by illness.
However, after a long recovery he admitted he never gave up on competing at Britain’s biggest race of the year.
Despite being part of such a strong squad – who were also crowned Tour Series champions this year – Opie used the prospect of competing at the Tour of Britain to aid his comeback.
“You look ahead to the Tour of Britain all year. I had a couple of months off earlier in the year through illness and as I was training you need something to look forward to and to build towards.
“You never really let it into your mind that you’re not going to do an event. If you let doubt enter, in my mind, there’s not much point in training hard any longer.
“I’d always hoped and believed I’d be doing but I only found out just before it was released.”
Despite his disrupted season, Opie has no regrets about joining John Herety’s team, however, when Team UK Youth folded in the winter.
“It’s not been a great year for me but that’s not the team’s fault,” he admitted. “I’ve had all the support necessary throughout the illness and I was able to speak to a great doctor the team have and get advice from John Herety.
“The team is great. I feel really well supported and there’s no stone unturned in what they can do to help. It was great going from the best team in the country last year to the best team in the country this year. That’s a nice thing to be able to say to people.
“The biggest difference between Team UK Youth and Rapha Condor JLT is that the sponsors want us to race abroad, whereas last year they didn’t.
“Everyone dreams of racing abroad and it’s nice to have that opportunity. We’ve won the Tour of Korea, been to the Tour of Japan, went to Australia at the start of the year and just come back from America.
“They really have been all over the world and that’s something you dream about as a rider.”
Illness has restricted Opie’s involvement in the stage races, but the Cornish rider explained how stepping up his training programme in the build up to the race means he arrives race-ready for the task ahead.
“There have been quite a few back-to-back days, like a race one day and then a really hard training session the following day, just to get your body in tune for doing it every day,” he said.
“Obviously most of our races throughout the year are one day races. Rapha Condor JLT do compete in stage races, but I’ve only done two earlier in the season.
“The big difference then at this time of year, for training, is that if you have a race on the Sunday, you will be doing long training sessions on the Monday and possibly the Tuesday. Never more than four days back to back though, of hard, long rides.
“I work really closely with Steve Benton my coach, and he comes up with the ideas and gets me through.”
With circuitous routes in Liverpool and London book-ending the Tour, the domestic riders carry the advantage of competing in very similar events throughout the year.
But Opie has played down any gains that will provide for the likes of himself, national criterium champion Blythe or Team Raleigh’s two-time Tour Series round winner Matthieu Boulo.
Opie explained: “I think it will come down to who’s faster on the day. Most riders have ridden all different sorts of races throughout their career, and know how to cope on different type of circuits.
“They are still quite long circuits too – the Liverpool stage is not just a short one to two kilometre stage.
“It would be an advantage when the stages are shorter, because we don’t often race more than 200 kilometres. But you still have to do them – whether it’s RideLondon or some of the stage races we do.
“It will be an advantage that there are shorter stages, but the main advantage is simply that we don’t do eight-day stage races every week.
“Like last year, when they had the time trial, instead of having another five-hour ride it was just a 20-minute effort and then the rest of the day to recover.”
Despite it, however, Opie is relishing the opportunity to tackle the Tour of Britain – admitting the course is one he is looking forward to taking on.
“I think it will be a good race,” he concluded. “Mainly because it’s not going anywhere near the north where the weather will be colder and wetter!
“That’s not just a north-south divide thing, it’s just stating a fact – we’re not going to Scotland, where it will rain, or the Lake District.
“I quite like the route. I think it will be good that the stages are closer together, although as far as transfers go I must be the most accustomed to transfers with living in Cornwall and travelling home every week.
“But I think that will make a big difference to the stress of the route. And I think the route is nice, it’s very picturesque.”