Tour of Britain 2015: stage three - preview
Coast roads, cobbles and still more climbs: GC boys set to come out to play on stage three, says course director Andy Hawes
“This is my favourite stage by far.” - Andy Hawes, Course Director, Tour of Britain
Coastal winds, cobbled secteurs and three categorised climbs make stage three one for the GC contenders, with the peloton’s Grand Tour contingent, 2012 Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins among them, still seeking a moment to take control of the race.
The wind-whipped Zeeland coast caused havoc on the second stage of the Tour de France, and the riders rolling out from Cockermouth for the third stage of the Tour of Britain will be braced for similar geographical hazard.
The opening section of a 216km route across the border to the Scots town of Kelso will take the riders along the Solway Firth. Clear conditions will make for striking television images; inclement weather will provide a further test for a peloton still recovering from a second stage likened to an Ardennes Classic.
“It’s stunning. Literally, within the first 2km of racing, the riders will be right alongside the Solway coast.” Andy Hawes, Tour of Britain course director, is unequivocal on the scenic appeal of the Solway Firth. “If it’s a nice clear day, you’re looking straight into the heart of Dumfries and Galloway and the mountains.”
Hawes’ popularity with the peloton may already have begun to wane by stage three. “Fast Hawesy” will have, by now, sent the riders across the Menai suspension bridge and up the Pen-y-Pass on stage one, and inflicted upon them a savage ascent of the first category Nick ‘O’ Pendle within 2.5km of the start of stage two.
On stage three, the riders can anticipate three more categorised climbs, though the quick men might console themselves with the thought that they are category two ascents and not category one. Little wonder then that Mark Cavendish quipped, “What flat stages?” when asked on Saturday at the team presentation on which day he hoped to pounce.
If the climbs of stage three - in Wauchope after 134.3km, Wilton Hill after 164.7km, and Dingleton after 191.7km - were not enough to rattle the sprinters, two cobbled secteurs certainly will.
“We go up through Siloth, which is going to lend us a 600m section of cobbles, which I’m quite excited about,” Hawes says. “We’ve had cobbles in previous Tours, dotted here and there, but this stage has two. The first is in Siloth - as I say, about 600m worth - and the second is within the final 2km of the stage finish in Kelso, which is exciting.”
Seasoned Tour of Britain observers will recognise the section from Siloth, which heads inland to Carlisle, parallel to the M6 en route to Gretna, where the third stage finished in 2009.
For the next section, however, Hawes and fellow route master Steve Baxter have planned to take the Tour of Britain on to new roads, leading the riders north east through the Scottish Border region and up the aforementioned second category climb at Wauchope.
From here, the race turns sharply, heading North East through Hoik (a regular feature on the Tour of Britain), and on to Selkirk and the second category ascent of Wilton Hill, the day’s penultimate climb.
The final ascent is of greater magnitude: a climb out of Melrose onto Dingleton Moor, before dropping down through St Boswells, from where the peloton will race parallel to the River Tweed en route to the finish in Kelso and the imposing Floors Castle.
“It’ll be a fantastic crossing of the Tweed into Kelso, which should hopefully provide some iconic photos again,” says Hawes. “This is my favourite stage by far.”
Cometh the hour…
The route, of course, holds greater significance to the men hoping to win the Tour of Britain than the scenery, and stage three offers the first real opportunity for the GC contenders to take control of the race, according to Hawes.
“This will be suited to a Grand Tour rider, or someone with hopes of winning this Tour overall,” he says.
“They’re going to make sure they’re positioned well towards the front, and that they have the team around them. Coming off the Solway Coast, we could have strong headwinds.
“The route is very flat, probably for the first 120km, but the final section, from the first KOM, through the remaining 85km is very, very tough.
“Possibly, there’ll be an early breakaway, but this could soon be reeled in. Once they’ve got the first KOM of the day, I would envisage a definite split in the peloton.
“This is going to be quite a hard day for them. Tired legs will be creeping in. I wouldn’t imagine a big bunch sprint, but for people with ideas for the overall, and with the team around them, this could definitely be one for the GC boys. They could certainly do some damage here.”