Tour of Britain 2015: stage five - preview
Prudhoe to Hartside. "Such is the unpredictable nature of the Tour of Britain that it’s impossible to say that the race might be won here, but it can certainly be lost."
A summit finish to today’s 166km stage from Prudhoe to Hartside is likely to shake up the GC and offer a platform to the riders who hope to win the race overall.
The testing, 8km climb, which peaks at over 450m, will offer an incentive to the men of the Grand Tours, while those seeking to spring a surprise in this most unpredictable of races will focus on limiting their losses.
Observers are likely to focus on the two first category climbs - the aforementioned summit finish and the steep ascent of Haydon Bridge, reached after just 28.9km – but for course director Andy Hawes, the miles of undulating terrain that separate them should not provide any serious challenge.
“On paper, this stage looks very, very hard, but in practice, there are a couple of short, sharp climbs - the last climb up to Hartside will certainly get their legs stinging - but in between it’s a very rolling stage, with some stunning scenery, running alongside Hadrian’s Wall, both in Northumberland and Cumbria.”
The television networks have not been starved of scenic highlights by this twelfth edition of the modern Tour – the Menai Suspension Bridge on the opening stage, and almost the entirety of stage two, for example – but this fifth stage, running through Northumberland and into the Lake District, may cap them all.
Hawes identifies Ullswater among the natural highlights. The riders will progess alongside its waters for several kilometres, before the course heads north west again to Hartside.
It is here that the racing is likely to develop a new intensity. An 8km climb at an average gradient of five per cent is likely to demand the focus even of the Grand Tour specialists. Team Sky already have two stage wins, courtesy of sprinter Elia Viviani, but if they are seeking overall victory, Wout Poels might be the man to back today. British champion Peter Kennaugh, another key mountain domestique for Chris Froome, and winner of last year’s Tour of Austria, might also command the team's support.
Whoever is in the mix, they can expect encouragement from the roadside. This Tour of Britain has already been well supported and Hawes believes Cumbria and Northumberland will be out in force, too. “We’re expecting some great numbers,” he says.
For those blessed with local knowledge and appropriate transport, the course offers the chance to see the riders pass more than once.
“You're going to be able to see the stage in a couple of different locations," Hawes continues. "You can watch it come through tiny villages like Kirkoswald or Lazonby, and then nip across other country lanes and get straight to Melmerby and the climb of the last eight kilometres.”
Those who line the climb of Hartside can expect fireworks. Such is the nature of the Tour of Britain that it’s impossible to say that the race might be won here, but it can certainly be lost.
The image above is one of a series by Will Barras, offered exclusively in the Rouleur shop.