Tour of Britain 2015: stage eight - preview
London calling: a 6.2km circuit in the centre of Westminster promises a high-profile finale to the twelfth edition of the modern tour
The queen stage of a race is typically the most mountainous but the epithet would be apt for today’s encounter, which offers the riders a high-speed tour of London’s best-known landmarks.
A 6.2km, clockwise circuit that takes in Piccadilly Circus, Haymarket, Pall Mall, Trafalgar Square, and Whitehall among others is the sort of course that F1 has been talking about for years but failed to realise.
“We’re right in the heart of the City of Westminster,” says course director Andy Hawes. “We’ve pretty much got all of the iconic London landmarks within a 6.2km circuit.”
The race has been forced to abandon the Victoria Embankment, home to most of the recent editions by the development of the new east-west cycle superhighway scheme, but is unlikely to be the worse for it, given the course Hawes has planned with colleague Steve Baxter.
“We have a 6.2km clockwise circuit that goes from Regent Street St James," he says. "There’s a dead right turn at Conduit Street that goes back down Regent Street, through Piccadilly Circus, down Haymarket, along Pall Mall East, takes the bottom corner of Trafalgar Square, out along the Strand, all the way up to the Aldwych, where it turns right into Melbourne Place.
“It then retraces back along The Strand, back into Trafalgar Square, left into Whitehall, before a turn into Parliament Street, Whitehall, Cockspur Street, Pall Mall, Waterloo Place and back up to Regent Street St James, so there are plenty of places to see the action.”
Fourteen laps of the circuit will give the crowds and television helicopters plenty of opportunity to soak up the sights of the capital, but for the riders, and for the sprinters in particular, there will be no time for sight-seeing.
Any of the quick men still empty-handed by this final stage will be feeling the pressure. Sprint opportunities have been few and far between in this climb-laden race, one that has become increasingly hard over the 12 editions of its modern incarnation.
Many of the broad, flat roads in the heart of the capital terminate in tight corners, which will test the bike handling skills of the peloton and may play to the strengths of the home riders, for whom crit racing represents a significant part of the season.
Previous Tours of Britain have been decided on the final stage, thanks to the inclusion an individual time trial, but the absence of any timed test this year means that overall victory is likely already to have been grasped. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibilty, however, that the race’s greatest prize might still be up for grabs.
“At Piccadilly Circus, you can see the riders twice per lap, as you can at Pall Mall and Pall Mall East. At Trafalgar Square, you’ll get to see the riders three times a lap, and with 14 laps to be covered, you’ll see the riders a number of times,” Hawes continues.
To arrange a final stage in the centre of one of the world’s major capitals is some achievement, and for Hawes and Baxter is the culmination of a task begun nearly a year earlier. They made their first drive around the entire race route in February, and have covered each section by car at least three times, and, in some cases, twice that.
When some of the world’s best cyclists hurtle around the streets of Westminster, SweetSpot’s route masters will still be on duty. They are unlikely to share the podium today with the successful riders, but should be congratulated in any case.
The image above is one of a series by Will Barras, offered exclusively in the Rouleur shop.