How the Tour of Britain became an essential part of the development for Continental riders

The Tour of Britain. A remarkable combination of British roads and climbs, stretching across 8 days and integrating various styles of stages, from sprint finishes, to team time trials and beyond.

At the Tour of Britain, the peloton is not only an explosion of colour and nationalities, but an inclusive amalgamation of cyclists across differing levels of the sport.

And race director Mick Bennett of SweetSpot believes that mix is what makes the race what it is.

He said: “Continental teams are an important part of the recipe for success at the Tour of Britain. The combination that they form with the World Tour and Pro Continental teams, as well as the Great Britain national team, makes for the style of racing that we want, and believe encapsulates the Tour of Britain’s character.”

The announcement of popular World Tour riders frequently generates the most publicity for the race, somewhat dominating the Continental level in the process.

An recent exception to this was the involvement of successful British squad Madison Genesis in the event, who boasted a strong lineup that included Connor Swift – the national road race champion.

The announcement of star riders taking to the start list – such as Giro d’Italia winner Chris Froome and Tour de France champion Gerraint Thomas sometimes over-shadows the involvement of Continental division teams.

Despite taking part in a highly competitive level that produces fiercely contested battles across the country, the UK Continental teams do not receive automatic entry to the Tour of Britain.

Their admittance on the start line is based on a system designed by SweetSpot to be as fair as possible.

Entry into the Tour of Britain is a long, and at times challenging,route. There are only four places for Continental teams to compete for at theeight-stage race, with the qualification period stemming from April and running to mid-July.

Points received at the Chorley Grand Prix, CiCLE Classic, East Cleveland Klondike Grand Prix, Tour de Yorkshire, Lincoln Grand Prix, Tour Series, Tour of the Reservoir, Bristol Grand Prix, and the Stockton Grand Prix mean possible inclusion in the Tour of Britain.

Said points are acquired on a finish line placing basis – the winning rider gains the maximum of seven points for their team, as the next highest placed rider from a different team receives six, decreasing in this pattern until one point is awarded. However, there are some events that deviate from this process.

At the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of the Reservoir – both multi-stage races – points are allocated due to positioning in the final general classification. At the eight-round Tour Series, points towards classification are distributed in accordance with the final team standings.   

With such a considerable impact on their season, it is no wonder that the Tour of Britain is marked as one of the most significant races in the Continental calendar.

Frequently witnessed in an attacking role across the differing stages, akey focus for Continental riders involvesmaking the breakaway.

Such an act secures valuable airtime for team sponsors and produces the ability to challenge for the various jerseys available, with the possibility of a stage win in the process.

It is also one of the most important races in terms of development. The peloton in itself boasts 20 teams, each consisting of six riders.

The peloton is a vibrant mix of Continental, Pro Continental, World Tour and national teams with the Great Britain team a staple in the race.

They vary from national level (the Great Britain team), to Continental, Pro Continental and World Tour level. This variability in the field can provide a chance to gain more experience racing alongside riders of a different level, perhaps even learning from them if they establish a break together.

Allez-Allez CC spoke to Canyon Eisberg DS Simon Holt, recently-departed Madison Genesis DS Colin Sturgess, and Bennett to get their thoughts on the importance of the Tour of Britain to the development of Continental riders and their teams.

Sponsorship

The most important aspect in cycling.

Without this, cycling teams would simply cease to exist. Attracting sponsors can take various forms, and at Continental level where money is drastically less than at the World Tour level, that form is consistently seen by riders making the breakaway.

Holt said: “With the Tour of Britain, a race of this level helps the team grow. It attracts sponsors, and that’s why we play to our strengths and go for breakaways. Sponsorship stability for the team means you can sign riders, with a bit of security in multiple year deals.”

Sturgess, who is being replaced at Madison Genesis next year by the returning Roger Hammond, agrees the race– with it’s TV coverage and reputation as a shop window – is hugely important.

A place at the Tour of the Britain is the holy grail for Continental teams because it affords them great exposure both on TV and at the roadside.

He said: “For a Conti team, the race plan – the ‘tactics’ if you will – can seem formulaic: get in an early break, try for a jersey, gain exposure, and hope for stage win or high placing.

“We simply cannot just ‘get round’, as it’s a wasted opportunity. The Tour of Britain gives the riders a chance to put themselves in the eye of other team managers and scouts/agents

Technicality

The Tour of Britain’s all-encompassing design allows Continental riders to sprint, climb, and even time trial against Professional Continental and World Tour teams.

Such an experience differs largely to the one Continental riders undertake through the domestic events of the Spring Cup Series or the Grand Prix Series.

This opportunity to further their knowledge is highly beneficial in developing both themselves as a rider, and their team.

Bennett said: “The quality of the field and of the racing at this year’s Tour of Britain was absolutely first-class and on a par with anything people will have seen throughout this season.

“Every year we want to add new elements to keep the race dynamic and keep the teams on their toes!

The uphill time-trial course in Cumbria on stage five of this year’s ToB is one example of how race director Mick Bennett tries to keep the race fresh.

“This year we had the Team Time Trial on Stage Five, which we are particularly pleased with how it turned out.

“Seeing teams battling for victory on what was a unique course, was testament to the preparation that ourselves and our partners in Cumbria had put in to the stage.”

Watching the World Tour pros at such close quarters is essential for race craft

Holt said: “Racing against the likes of Greipel, the big names, it’s a great opportunity for Continental riders to see how it’s done, and the way to move up.

Rubbing shoulders with the likes of German star Andre Greipel provides an opportunity for young riders to learn from the best.

“For example, with a stage like this, [stage four], do they leave it until the last minute? With a tailwind finish, they have to get a leadout to go that little bit earlier.

“Races like the Tour of Britain can show the Continental riders how things are done slicker, like going back for water bottles, and the way riders can use the cars after bike punctures to get back on. It’s the small, little tricks that are done at the top level. They can see first-hand how it’s done a bit quicker.”

Pace

While in discussion with Holt, the Canyon Eisberg DS covered the concept of the pace being faster at the Tourof Britain.

A notion which makes sense, when you regard the amount of attacking that teams will undertake to ensure thatthey make the breakaway.

In comparison to Grand Tours, which cover a duration of three weeks in contrast to the Tour of Britain’s eight days, a large number of teams need to take every day as an opportunity to distance the peloton.

With such a drive to establish a leading group, it is no wonder that the pace at the beginning of each stage is habitually high. If certain teams do not have a rider in the breakaway, they will often try to catch up with the head of the race.

The pace of the racing at the Tour of Britain is considerably faster, especially for Continental riders.

This produces an all-too-familiar scene, in which the hopeful breakaway will be clawed back by the peloton. Just when spectators are led to believe that the final breakaway of the day has been finalised, and that they are free to leave the room to put the kettle on, more riders will try and join the group up ahead, thus bringing the peloton with them, increasing the pace even higher.

Holt explains: “The speed at the Tour of Britain is faster. It’s a different kind of way that the race is ran. There’s a bit more rhythm, the first half of the race is about getting into the breakaway, making attacks, and then it’ll settle down. The peloton will ride at a tempo, and then the last hour is always full gas.”

Aspiration

The Tour of Britain is an event underlined, highlighted and circled in the calendars of Continental teams, its prominence in the season evident.

The motivation generated throughout the year aides the development ofriders at this level, as they not only try to earn their team a sought after spot on the start line, but themselvestoo.

Bennett explains that that aspiration is what helps the race stay fresh and competitive.

“We want the British Continental teams to aspire to ride in the Tour of Britain and the event to support the domestic calendar, with teams earning the right to ride in the Tour and that being the culmination of their season.

“This is one of the reasons why in 2016, we and British Cycling introduced the qualification process. To have six or seven Continental teams would dilute this and effect the racing, whereas to have four, really well-prepared teams who have supported the British scene, is just right when combined with the World Tour and Pro Continental teams, and I think this year’s racing showed that is right.”

Madison Genesis’ team in this year’s ToB included British national road race champion Connor Swift.

Sturgess concedes that the size of the teams – with the vastly reduced budgets – means the Tour of Britain provides much-needed exposure.

He said: “With the best will in the world it’s still extremely difficult for us, as a domestic Conti team, to run a dual programme which would allow for more exposure at UCI level, so the Tour of Britain is absolutely crucial to our season.

“Madison Genesis race approximately 21 days of UCI racing per year, split over 12 riders with some preference given to those on the Tour of Britain selection; so not all riders get the days they wish for. However, it does give a season-long focus having the Tour of Britain to aim for.”

Sportsmanship

Representatives of the different teams at Continental level customarily work together in breakaways, challenging each other for the various accolades available.

As they have been competing against each other all year throughout domestic races to gain access to the Tour of Britain, this process provides riders the opportunity to ride alongside those that they already know.

Besides allowing for easier communication, the chance arises for televised moments of sportsmanship between the Continental teams – with the latter most frequently witnessed as a handshake after being caught by the peloton.

In a way, this not only helps riders develop themselves as a cyclist, but more importantly, as a person.

Canyon Eisberg’s Alex Paton’s battle for the Eisberg sprint jersey with Madison Genesis’ Matthew Holmes came down to the final stage on the streets of London.

Bennett said: “This year the contest for the Eisberg Sprints jersey, between riders from two of the Continental teams in Madison Genesis and Canyon Eisberg went right down to the final Eisberg Sprint in London, and showed why they deserve their place.

“Plus, the tremendous sportsmanship between Matt Holmes and Alex Paton was a real highlight of the race for me.”

As the chapter closes on yet another exciting cycling season, another one opens.

In the words of Bennett, the team at SweetSpot work hard, all yearround, in preparation for the next Tour of Britain.

Continental riders will be expected to further their development throughoutvarious races in 2019, potentially culminatingin their teams receiving a place on the Tour of Britain start line as a reward.

Bennett concludes: “Over the years, Continental teams have played an important part in the development and growth of the race, and won jerseys in the process.

“That is one of the reasons why we have resisted taking the race to World Tour level, as this would rule out any of the British Continental teams taking part.

“The Continental teams bring both an attacking and aggressive approach to the race, but also an important link back to the domestic calendar and British fans, so that they can see their heroes from major domestic events riding alongside the world’s best on British roads.”

All images are courtesy of SweetSpot/Above Air Media.

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