While the GC contenders might have today marked as a day of respite, the sprinters’ teams will be on red alert; so too will the peloton’s breakaway specialists.
The Tour of Britain has a fine tradition of attracting the fastest men from the WorldTour, and this year is no different, with Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep), André Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Elia Viviani (Team Sky), and almost the full gamut of MTN-Qhubeka’s sprinting talent on the start list.
“You couldn’t get much flatter if you tried,” course director, Andy Hawes, chuckles. “The KOMs on this stage are token rises.” Welcome to Norfolk and Suffolk.
“This is the sort of stage where we’ll have a long, lone breakaway, or two or three-man breakaway that will be out for most of the day and get caught maybe within the last 10 or 15km as it runs alongside the River Orwell and into Ipswich.”
Recent editions of the Tour of Britain have been characterised by solo efforts to beat the peloton, with Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep) providing a timely reminder that the odds can be upset as recently as stage two.
Unlike at the Grand Tours, where the breakaway is doomed almost as soon as it begins, a combination of grippy roads and six-man teams - too few for any team to control the bunch - increases the chances of the rider prepared to risk a solo effort.
Today’s 227km run from Fakenham to Ipswich is almost featureless - only two, third category climbs represent any deviation from the pan flat - but offers one spectacular opportunity for the television cameras.
The third intermediate sprint will take place on the 2.3km long runway of Wattisham Airfield, home to the UK’s fleet of Apache attack helicopters.
“That’s very much a first for us,” says Hawes. “The Giro did it a couple of years ago, but we’re not aware of anyone else having a race within a current active airbase.”
While a runway is likely to represent the straightest section of road in any race, the stage seven parcous is not without twisting sections, and any breakaway will welcome the opportunity to remain out of sight, and out of mind.
Hawes, however, is expecting a display of might from the sprinters’ teams.
“There’s a category three KOM that comes with 18km to go, and I think they’ll ride over that like it wasn’t there. This has the hallmarks of a stage that will see the sprint trains rolling in. It ends almost at sea level.”
Should the race come back together before the finale on a suitably pan flat finish, expect the sprint trains to be at full speed. Lotto Soudal have become the peloton’s gold standard in recent seasons, and Etixx-QuickStep have despatched Mark Renshaw, Cavendish’s pilot fish, to the British race too.
With Tyler Farrar, Edvald Boasson Hagen, and Gerald Ciolek on the roster, MTN-Qhubeka will hope for a result. And we should not overlook Moreno Hofland, who bagged LottoNL-Jumbo’s first victory on his previous visit to Britain, at the Tour de Yorkshire in May.
Fast, furious, and pan flat. Ipswich might offer excitement, despite the absence of features from the parcours.
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