Wednesday 17 August 2016

World's Top Cyclists' to Race in Lake District Next Month

The worlds top professional cyclists' get around a lot! Last month they were climbing the high mountain passes of the Alps and sprinting down the Champs Elyees in the Tour de France; this month they have been racing for gold along the Copacabana and velodrome track in Rio; but next month, many of the same world class riders will be arriving in the UK for the Aviva Tour of Britain. On 5th September, Stage 2 of this 8 day road race will be hosted entirely within the county of Cumbria, and will pass through the heart of the Lake District National Park, taking in much of the area's spectacular scenery.

In addition to providing free access to the event for the 50,000 spectators likely to watch from the roadside,1 live action and highlights are also due to be broadcast in the UK, Europe, and the rest of the world. This represents a much needed boost to Cumbria and the Lake District in the wake of the storm damage and flooding which devastated the area back in December 2015.  Many people will, for example, remember news images of the A591 road washed away at Dunmail Raise between Keswick and Grasmere2. This, and much of the other storm damage, has now been repaired, and local officials are pleased the coverage will show an international audience the area is very much "open for business".

So who will be riding in this years race?  The actual names of the riders haven't been announced as yet, but the team names have. These include ten of the worlds' top professional teams - for example Team Sky, Movistar Team, BCM Racing Team and Lotto Soudal will be competing.  However, based on the start list of last years Tour of Britain, we may see the home talent of Bradley Wiggins, Ed Clancy, Owain Doull, and Mark Cavendish racing through the streets of Grasmere and Ambleside. Other top international riders we may see include Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR), Mark Renshaw (AUS), Andre Greipel (GER), Taylor Phinney (USA) and Woet Poels (NED).

And how does the race work?  This year's Tour of Britain has 8 stages with each rider's race time carrying over from day to day.  The rider with the quickest accumulated time at the end of a given stage gets to wear the esteemed Yellow Jersey the next day.  The rider with the yellow jersey at the end of the final stage is the overall race winner.  In addition to the Yellow jersey competition there are also points based competitions for climbers (SKODA King of the Mountains Jersey), sprinters (Yodal Sprints Jersey) and consistent stage finishers (Chain Reaction Cycles Points Jersey).  This is where the first 15 riders across a summit, intermediate sprint, or finish line (respectively) receive a certain number of points according to their race position at that part of the days stage.

Kendal sprint from the 2013 Tour of Britain.
(Photo courtesy of SweetSpot).
The Cumbria stage of this years Tour of Britain starts from Carlisle city centre at 11:00am.  It heads south, entering the Lake District National Park near Pooley Bridge at around 12:05.  It crosses the new temporary bridge (which replaces the original storm damaged structure) before following the road alongside the northern end of Ullswater. The race then winds its way through the Lake District, passing through Hesket Newmarket (12:58), Cockermouth (12:35), Keswick (14:04), Grasmere (14:32), Ambleside (14:41), and Bowness-on-Windermere (15:00).  There are three intermediate sprints at Hesket Newmarket, Cockermouth, and Grasmere for the Yodal Sprints Jersey, and three climbs at Whinlatter Pass, Castlerigg, and Ambleside for the SKODA King of the Mountains Jersey. The race finishes at 'Beast Banks', Kendal at around 15:20 (all times are approximate).

For me, the highlight of the race will be the climb out of Ambleside along an appropriately named road called "The Struggle".  This climb rises 394 meters at an average gradient of 8%, joining the Kirkstone Pass near it's summit below the peak of Red Screes.  Then there is a fast treacherous descent down the Kirkstone Pass into Bowness-on-Windermere, just 10 miles from the finish line at Kendal.  This promises to be the most exciting part of the race.

(Above) Dignitaries join professional cyclists' Jack Pullar and James Gullen at the top of "The Struggle"
above Ambleside.  (Photo courtesy of SweetSpot).
If you are thinking of going to the Lake District to watch, Ambleside offers a really good vantage point.  The town is located at the start of  "The Struggle",  and there is going to be a big screen at the Ambleside campus of the University of Cumbria open to the general public.  As well as seeing the race pass by on the roadside, you will also get watch the rest of the action from the day's stage as it unfolds.  Sounds like a great day out!

1. Based on spectator numbers at last years Cumbria stage, which also brought in over £1.5 million to the local economy.
2. The race will pass along this stretch of road, in addition to the newly repaired roads at Cockermouth.

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