All photographs courtesy of Trevor Mould (Twitter: @MouldyPix)
The 2016 edition of the Tour of Britain was action packed and dramatic, held together by captivating and numerous narratives: Would Dimension Data’s Steve Cummings maintain his lead of less than a minute by the end of the Stage 7 time trial? Who would be wearing the Chain Reaction Points Jersey on the final podium? Would Mark Cavendish recover from a bout of illness to take a sprint victory in London?
There was laughter as Sir Bradley Wiggins ‘did a Chris Froome’ and ran up a section of the climb aptly named The Struggle, and sadness that this would be his last ever road race. Mark Cavendish – who describes himself as ‘fast talking’ – showed the sharp edge of his tongue to a so-called fan who shouted insults to the sprinter from the road side. And amongst all the drama, there were 8 stages of superb cycling as the race traversed the country.
Each year the Tour of Britain grows in popularity, with road sides packed with spectators, and finish lines ringing with claps and cheers. One rider who has been a staple of the Tour of Britain peloton in recent years is ONE Pro Cycling’s Kristian House. We asked the rider what it is that makes the British tour so special.
“Racing your home tour is always going to be special. It’s hard to put into words what makes it special, but it’s like a sense of pride. We travel all over the world racing in other countries… often racing against the same people in their country… so to have a home tour when they come and race here and see how much support it gets is pretty cool. On top of that, having the opportunity to race on your local roads is something pretty special”.
Racing home roads was something that House was able to do on Stage 3 from Congleton to Tatton. Passing a matter of metres from his own street, the race swept through the village of Middlewich with huge crowds at the road side. To compete the once-in-a-lifetime race experience, House was one of four British riders in the breakaway that day, eventually securing his highest ever Tour of Britain finish as he crossed the line to take third place.
“Racing through the lanes where I train and live, was pretty special. My village was unbelievable in how they came out to support it. The street was lined from before the start of the town to well out of it. Most of the schools came out with all the kids, people took days off work, it was pretty special. The fact I managed to get in the break that day, and stay away for 3rd was pretty special too”.
The crowds continued to provide huge levels of support at the road side as the race Wiggins called the ‘hardest Tour of Britain ever’ travelled down the country from the start line in Glasgow on Day 1. “This year was probably one of the harder ones I’ve done in terms of terrain” explained Kristian. “I was not 100% for most of the tour, so that added to the feeling. What was pretty amazing was that the crowds were even bigger than the years before… and that was something I was pretty surprised about!”
The numbers turning out to watch the race have increased year on year as the Tour has developed from the early years as the Milk Race, through to the 2.1HC categorized race that it is now. Have the riders noticed a change in the way the race is perceived, both within the peloton and by the fans? “Absolutely” says Kristian, “A few years ago, you could tell the riders that came were there mostly because the team had interests in the UK, rather than the riders really wanting to race flat out. You had a mix of riders that were just going through the motions of finishing the year out, and ones that were chasing a contract. Over the last couple of years, the level has stepped up a lot. You’ve got World Tour riders racing aggressively, going for breaks, and actually valuing the quality of the race and the importance of it. Most years it slots in perfectly with preparation for the Worlds as well, so it becomes even more important for a lot of riders. One of the things the riders have noticed is that the crowds over the last few years have gotten huge. I’ve had riders from all over come up to me and say the crowds are better than the Tour de France! It’s pretty amazing how the UK people, and not even fans necessarily, come out and support the racing”.
The popularity of cycling has also impacted upon the standard of domestic racing as a whole, with weekend races having to turn people away due to over subscription. “When I look back to domestic racing back in 2006, there was really only John Herety’s Recyling squad that would go abroad, and had the goal of moving riders on whereas now you have 4 or 5 teams working much closer to that level.” Kristian explains. “Obviously as the sport has become more popular with the public, more money has come into the sport at that level and allowed the teams to grow. I think there’s a couple of reasons for that. The obvious one to me is the success of the Olympic teams over the last 8 years, as well as the Tour de France success with Wiggins, Froome, and Cavendish. British Cycling have also invested a lot of time and money through the lottery funding into grass roots, and so the whole level of riders coming through has been at a higher level. Combine all that with increased TV coverage, not just for World Tour races but also for things like the Tour Series, and it’s really just blown up. In my opinion the Tour Series is perfect for the UK as it is short enough to keep the attention span of a non-cycling fan, but still exciting enough for the people who follow the sport. It’s also easily accessible for locals to come and watch”.
Speaking at the 15th anniversary Cycle Show event in Birmingham this September, Tour of Britain Race Director Mick Bennett compared the current attitudes to the sport to those that were held 30 years ago. “In the 1980s, you had to go cap in hand to the Local Authorities to get them to recognize cycling as upwardly mobile”. Nowadays, it is those same Local Authorities who help to fund the Tour of Britain coming to their region. Manager of the JLT-Condor team John Herety, who lives near Kristian House in Cheshire, explained that the roads in the area were resurfaced as a result of the Tour visit, highlighting a direct benefit to local residents, not to mention the revenue raised through the tourists it attracts.
“We do three route drives with a police officer in preparation for the race” Mick Bennett explains. “Every roundabout, junction and pot hole is logged”. That inspires Local Authorities to provide repairs and high level maintenance to those areas affected – after all, who wants to be known as the Local Authority who didn’t repair the pot hole which felled a World class bike rider? “Some regions are desperate to host the Tour of Britain” Bennett continues, “they bring their maintenance programmes forward as a result”.
The huge popularity of the race has put pressure on the race organisers, as the media and the UCI float the idea of removing the Tour from its current position as part of the UCI Europe Tour programme, to part of the World Tour calendar, which is something the organsiers do not want to see happen. “I think the formula for the race as it is, is absolutely right” explains JLT-Condor Manager John Herety. “The mix of teams – World Tour, Pro Continental, Continental, plus six man teams provides an interesting dynamic” agreed Race Director Mick Bennett. “Eight man teams can make a race predictable”. Herety agrees, noting that shorter stages, such as Stage 7b held in Bristol this year, also provide the race with excitement. “The Bristol stage was the best stage. It was a short stage, with a climb, a good breakaway…I’d advocate shorter stages”.
The Bristol stage was a split stage, with the second half that Herety refers to held in the afternoon. The morning had seen the riders undertake an individual time trial along the same route. “Split days suck to be honest!” states Kristian House. “Even though they are generally shorter stages, they are a long day. On top of that because the road race is much shorter, it tends to be flat out… and in Bristol’s case, very technical. That makes it not just physically tiring, but also mentally. Ironically, despite them being so different to a standard day, your process of preparing doesn’t change much for you as a rider. I think it changes a lot more for the support staff to be honest! In between the stages you generally just chill out on the bus, make sure you eat enough, but not too much, and just recover from the morning efforts. Everyone is different, but I try not to sleep, but just listen to music and relax”.
Whether or not split stages become a feature of the race in years to come,the future for Britain’s very own Tour looks bright. As JLT-Condor’s John Herety declared, the formula for the race is just right, leading to a fantastic event that can only build upon its successes. As the Tour of Britain’s most capped rider, we hope to see Kristian House racing on Britain’s roads next September with the rest of the ONE Pro Cycling Team – the race wouldn’t seem quite right without him!