“Looking at the map, you would be forgiven for thinking it’s an Ardennes Classic.”
Course director Andy Hawes is making no apologies for the severity of the Tour of Britain’s second stage from Clitheroe to Colne, one likely to appeal to the specialists who each season target Amstel Gold, La Fléche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“This is definitely a strong man’s stage,” Hawes continues. “They’re going to be at the front driving it. It’s a heavy road surface; a grippy parcours. I wouldn’t imagine a sprint finish - maybe a breakaway with a handful of seconds lead - but it’s certainly going to be a tough finish because it’s uphill.”
The presence of just three categorised climbs barely tells the story. The stage profile reveals a relentlessly undulating course, which of itself is enough to justify Hawes’ evocation of the Ardennes, but closer inspection of the map reveals a further similarity: the tightly coiled parcours, a shade over 159km, is contained within a radius of about 180km. The upshot? Plenty of opportunity to see the race pass on multiple occasions for those suitably equipped.
“It’s very condensed,” Hawes agrees. “If you’re clever, and you’re on your bike or a motorbike, I reckon you will be able to see the race in at least four different locations, including eight KOMs, the start, the sprint and the finish.”
Riders within the Tour of Britain peloton that also raced in Italy in May could find themselves reminded more of the Giro’s Queen Stage than of the Ardennes, with the ascent of the first category Nick O’Pendle reached before even 2.5km of the stage has been completed.
The Giro’s 16th stage, from Pinzolo to Aprica, you might recall, sent the riders back to the summit of the Madonna di Campiglio from kilometre zero: a day after ending stage 15 on the same climb. The Nick O’Pendle does not carry the same status as the Campiglio, but will offer a similar test to cold legs.
“This stage pretty much starts straight after the finish of the finish of the neutralised zone. Within 1.1km, they’re heading skywards,” Hawes says.
“I know Ribble Valley [local authority] is looking at having a complete road closure for the Nick O’Pendle, so it will be an amazing feeling up there on that morning, because there’ll be no other traffic. It’s the full closed road experience, so we’re expecting spectators aplenty up on the 'Nick'.”
With arguably the most feared climb of the race done, the riders might be forgiven for anticipating some respite over the remaining 133km, but there is none. The sawtooth profile indicates a severe day ahead.
“There are plenty of climbs on this stage and we could have catgeorised many of them. In particular, there’s quite a tough climb out of Sladburn, but we can only categorise three climbs per stage. There are many climbs that will test them.”
The two remaining categorised ascents are first category Brear Moor, reached after nearly 105km of racing, and the similarly ferocious Pendle Big End, a category two ramp.
If picturesque surroundings can numb the effort, the riders will find plenty to relieve them, in particular the villages of Dunsopp Bridge and Barnoldswick.
A rising finish on Colne’s Church Street will offer a final test to those with ambitions for the stage win.