The sea bridges on the Zeeland coast caused a race-defining split in the Tour de France peloton as early as stage two. A similarly impressive structure might set the tone of the Tour of Britain on its opening stage.
Even for a race as successful as Britain's revived national tour, one that since its re-emergence in 2004 has risen to 2.HC status and now routinely attracts a world-class field, the appearance of a world heritage site within the first 40km of racing is a statement of intent.
Thomas Telford’s magnificent Menai Suspension Bridge, towering nearly 100ft above the Menai Strait, will offer any escapees an early opportunity to scamper clear of the peloton on its exit from Anglesey.
Both Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali lost precious time on the second stage of the Tour, while those alert to the danger of crosswinds and a suddenly condensed peloton emerged with a shot at victory, notably, stage winner André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), who will be among those rolling out of Beaumaris on Sunday.
“There’s every opportunity to have a breakaway before we even get off of Anglesey,” route director Andy Hawes told me. “It could be three or four riders on their own at this point. But only about 20km later, they’re straight up the Pen-y-Pass.”
Not content with inflicting a suspension bridge on a peloton still adjusting to grippy Welsh roads, Hawes and fellow route master Steve Baxter will send the riders on to a first category climb before the race is 70km old. The pass offers one of the best viewpoints of the opening stage, Hawes reveals: one which sends the riders into the very heart of the Snowdonia National Park.
Spectators of recent Tours of Britain will recall a harum-scarum descent of the Pen-y-Pass into Llanberis in 2013, but this year the peloton will approach this high point of the Llanberis Pass from the opposite direction.
Respite will be limited. Less than 30km further on, the peloton will begin its second four-kilometre climb of the day: this time, the category two of ascent of Nant-y-Glyn. “It’s a bit steeper, this one,” Hawes says. “A bit of a sting in the tail. Then we’re up and down on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park; literally, this race is up or down. There’s very, very little flat until we get to the back end of the race.”
Hawes would know, of course, and we might take him at his word, but the jagged profile of the remaining 84 kilometres of the opening stage confirms as much. After a sharp descent into Denbigh, the peloton will ascend the final categorised climb of the day: a second category ramp to Bwlch.
From there, the riders will descend into Mold for a sprint prime likely to set the tempo for a high-speed entrance to a flat finish in Wrexham.
“I would imagine that it will be our domestic pros showing themselves at the beginning of today’s stage,” Hawes predicts. “Then I would envisage it coming back together, probably within the last 30km to 40km, for a big sprint finish in Wrexham.”
Either outcome is likely to suit the thousands expected to line the route in North Wales. A home win is sure to find favour with a partisan crowd, and the start list is not short of big-name sprinters to contest Hawes’ predicted big sprint finish.
Greipel? Mark Cavendish? Gerald Ciolek or his MTN-Qhubeka team-mate Edvald Boasson Hagen? Expect fireworks.