Full low­down on the 2017 Tour of Bri­tain

Yet another edi­tion of the Tour of Bri­tain passed with­out a win for Bri­tain’s do­mes­tic Con­ti­nen­tal teams — can they ever make a break­through?

Cycling Weekly - - Contents - Chris Mar­shall-bell

There were three things you could pre­dict with con­fi­dence ahead of this year’s Tour of Bri­tain: that a sprinter would win all of the road stages; that each day’s break­away would con­tain a rider from a Bri­tish Con­ti­nen­tal out­fit; and that no rider from one of those four UK Con­ti­nen­tal teams — the third di­vi­sion of pro­fes­sional cy­cling — would win a stage.

That last may sound un­duly harsh but no rider from a Bri­tish Con­ti­nen­tal team has won a stage since the mod­ern race’s in­cep­tion in 2004. That’s 107 stages with­out a vic­tory.

Jonathan Tier­nan-locke, rid­ing for Bri­tish Con­ti­nen­tal team En­dura Rac­ing, won the race over­all in 2012, but failed to win a stage; re­gard­less, his win was ret­ro­spec­tively wiped off the record books af­ter he was later banned for anom­alies in his bi­o­log­i­cal pass­port.

This year, the teams at­tempt­ing to re­verse that 14-year bar­ren run were Jlt-con­dor, Madis­ongen­e­sis, Bike Chan­nel-canyon and One Pro Cy­cling.

Their odds of win­ning a stage were lengthy, some longer than oth­ers. John Herety, team man­ager of Jlt-con­dor, of­fers up his hon­est, can­did opin­ion as to why their chances were slim.

“We have a slightly skewed per­cep­tion of how good we are in the UK. We are nowhere near as good as the other teams, or as good as we think we are,” he says.

Herety isn’t be­ing de­featist, he is just merely point­ing out the facts. The Tour of Bri­tain for Bri­tish rid­ers in cy­cling’s third di­vi­sion is, to use a foot­ball anal­ogy, the FA Cup fi­nal. It’s what their sea­son is geared up to­wards; it’s what prompts their non-cy­cling friends to stand at the road­side to catch a glimpse of their mate.

The level be­tween them­selves and the Worldtour pelo­ton — there were 27 Grand Tour stage win­ners on the start­line in Ed­in­burgh — is sig­nif­i­cant, but in ev­ery sport, once in a while, an un­der­dog tri­umphs.

While Sam Ben­nett won for An Post Chain Re­ac­tion in 2013, they are Ir­ish-reg­is­tered.

There have been seven sec­ond­places and 10 third places for the UK Conti teams, the last of which came on stage seven of this year’s race via Brenton Jones of Jlt-con­dor. But why no win? Why no Le­ices­ter City mo­ment?

Wrong race prep

In the ab­sence of Kris­tian House, who would have made a record 12th ap­pear­ance in the race had he been se­lected by One Pro Cy­cling, Rob Par­tridge of Bike Chan­nel-canyon was the race’s grand­fa­ther this year, mak­ing his 11th start.

When asked if he can fore­see a time when a Conti team will win a stage, he is ab­so­lute in his pre­dic­tion. “Yeah, def­i­nitely. We’re not far off — you’re talk­ing frac­tions.”

But to do so, Par­tridge is adamant that who­ever the suc­cess­ful team will be, they will al­most cer­tainly have had a big Euro­pean cal­en­dar and not pre­dom­i­nantly rac­ing the UK do­mes­tic pro­gramme, which is cri­terium-heavy and in­cludes just eight Na­tional Se­ries road races, all of which (ex­cept the Tour of the Reser­voir) are sin­gle-day events.

The UK scene, he be­lieves, is detri­men­tal to the teams’ prospects. “It’s all down to race pro­gramme,” he ex­plains.

“You look back to En­dura in 2012 with Tier­nan-locke, and then to 2010 when I was with En­dura. We had a brilliant pro­gramme then, we hardly raced in the UK, and I fin­ished eighth over­all in the Tour of Bri­tain. Ev­ery time I came back from Europe I won a Pre­mier Cal­en­dar, won this or won that.

“It shows that with the pro­gramme, you’re con­stantly at that strong level, con­stantly im­prov­ing and you are go­ing to be com­pet­i­tive.

“At the mo­ment it’s hard for us to pre­pare for a race like this do­ing the Tour Se­ries. We pre­pared for this race with five races in seven days in Europe, which was great and a big work­load. If you had that con­sis­tently through­out the year, the level would just go up across the board.

“If you want to pre­pare for this race in the UK, it’s not pos­si­ble, you have to go else­where.”

A Pro-con­ti­nen­tal team last sea­son, One Pro Cy­cling had a more com­plete Euro­pean pro­gramme, which saw them com­pete at the Tour of Poland, their first and only Worldtour race.

“When we were do­ing stage races last year, there were a lot of stages over 200km, so when it came to this race, it didn’t feel like a step up,” Peter Wil­liams, rid­ing his ninth na­tional tour, ob­serves.

“This year, with us not do­ing those races, it does feel like a step up and the race run-ins be­come a lot quicker than usual. Last year it felt like the norm as you had adapted to that.”

In­deed, Wil­liams ar­gues that it is no co­in­ci­dence that Jones recorded a third-place fin­ish and four fur­ther top 10s at this year’s race. “Look at their cal­en­dar — they do a lot of Euro­pean and stage rac­ing,” he says.

Wait­ing for a break

Rid­ers and man­agers are united in their be­lief that one day, one of them will have a David ver­sus Go­liath mo­ment. They are split, how­ever, on the method.

It seems log­i­cal to as­sume that should a third-tier rider cross the fin­ish line first, they will do so hav­ing been part of a break­away.

Since 2011, six breaks that formed at the stage’s start have suc­ceeded, with two oc­cur­ring in 2016. But the flat­ter par­cours this year nul­li­fied each break’s chances: where there were usu­ally hills to at­tack on and dis­tance rid­ers, this year there was just flat road fol­lowed by yet more of the same.

Richard Han­d­ley was one

“At the mo­ment it’s hard for us to a pre­pare for a race like this do­ing the Tour Se­ries”

of two Madi­son-ge­n­e­sis rid­ers along­side Alex Blain in a five-man break on stage four, a break that was widely ac­cepted in the pelo­ton as be­ing the strong­est of the week.

With 20km to go they still had 2.20 to the chas­ing pelo­ton, and with 10km re­main­ing they rode 75 sec­onds ahead of the en­croach­ing pack. They were caught be­fore the fin­ish, but it was the clos­est the day’s break came to suc­ceed­ing all week.

“We knew that the ma­jor­ity of the fin­ish was a tail­wind, so we just had to press on and hope that some­thing came from it,” he says.

“You couldn’t pre­dict how it was go­ing to go. At 10km, it was 1.15, which looks good, but I think at that time we needed two min­utes. There’s more chance of a win com­ing from a break.”

Herety dis­agrees, though: “I can’t see the break­away hap­pen­ing. It’s the way the race is rid­den with the Worldtour guys. They dic­tate how it is rid­den and as a con­se­quence it’s very rare that a break stays away un­til the end.

“Our guys ask what they should do and if the time is com­ing down. But they can’t press on any more. It’s not a case of if you can stay away, it’s a case of whether they want to catch you.

“It will take a mis­cal­cu­la­tion on the pelo­ton’s part, or if they de­cide that they don’t want to bring it back be­cause of, say, time bonuses.”

His rider Rus­sell Down­ing, who has chalked up six se­cond and third places in the race, con­curs: “If the big guys want to bring that break back, they will. If you are at 10 min­utes, they will still bring it back, un­less they get a cal­cu­la­tion wrong. That’s the only way.

“They’re use to it. Day in, day out, they’re work­ing it out and bring­ing breaks back for their sprint­ers or to the bot­tom of the climb. They’re so use to it that they don’t mess up.”

The Worldtour teams may have a stran­gle­hold on how they want each stage to even­tu­ate, but the com­po­si­tion of the break is also paramount to their chances. Down­ing adds: “Stage four’s went re­ally well be­cause they all stuck to­gether, com­mu­ni­cated well and said, ‘Right, let’s go deep as a unit,’ whereas the day be­fore [Ian] Bibby and [Harry] Tan­field were at­tack­ing each other for how­ever long and you’re not go­ing to make it like that. If you have a few good mates in there, it helps.”

“You need strong lads who can put the power out and you need to trust each other,” of­fers Wil­iams, a vet­eran of TOB breaks. “If you are go­ing to get to the fin­ish every­one has to work well to­gether. You can’t have guys

pulling zero turns and mak­ing it hard for every­one.”

Par­tridge had ex­pe­ri­ence of just that on stage one. “I was in the break with Worldtour, Pro-conti and Conti guys. When some were get­ting a bit gassed, and the bunch be­hind was split­ting in the cross­winds, some were wait­ing for the group of 50 to catch us and were gob­bing off.

“I said to them that just be­cause you’re on how­ever many tens of thou­sands and have done this and that, it doesn’t mean you can be dis­re­spect­ful to other rid­ers. In the end I just said to one of them, ‘We’re not team-mates, so do one.’

“Most Worldtour rid­ers are nor­mal guys and don’t look down on you, but you do get a cou­ple. And you think, we’re just as com­pet­i­tive as you, we are stick­ing our noses in the wind, beat­ing our­selves up for our team and spon­sors, so if you miss a turn, you’ll get a mouthful.”

The way to break the duck, then, could be in a bunch fin­ish, whether it be on a climb or a sprint.

Herety ad­mits that his team had gone into this year’s race tar­get­ing a stage win with Jones. In re­cent years, they had hoped for sim­i­lar for­tunes from Chris Law­less. “We’ve only been en­cour­aged by this week that one day we can do it,” he says.

But rid­ers like Jones and Law­less are not stan­dard Cont rid­ers. They are rid­ers des­tined for higher plains: “The thing is, the Conti rid­ers who are that good, aren’t Conti rid­ers for very long.” See Jones, who is mov­ing back to Pro-conti level in 2018 with Delko­mar­seille Provence KTM.

The race for Con­ti­nen­tal teams is as much about test­ing a rider’s abil­ity against a large se­lec­tion of the world’s best, as it is giv­ing spon­sors brand ex­po­sure, and for some like Jones, a shop win­dow.

Claim­ing a clas­si­fi­ca­tion jersey pleases spon­sors — it is why they

were mostly oc­cu­pied by Conti teams through­out the week — but the golden ticket that could se­cure a move up cy­cling’s di­vi­sions or se­cure a team’s fu­ture for another year, re­mains elu­sive. Four­teen years and counting.

Another break suc­cumbs to the well-oiled Worldtour ma­chine

The Conti teams were joined by no less than 27 Grand Tour stage win­ners

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