The Tour of Britain is one of the UK’s top cycling events, regularly attracting some of the world’s top riders and the attention of millions of fans from every continent. The Tour will once again set the world of cycling ablaze on its return in September. The event’s history, its noteworthy winners, and its unique quirks are highlighted below.
The Tour of Britain has only been in been in existence in its current guise since 2004. However, its history can be traced back to 1945, more specifically to an argument between the National Cyclists’ Union and the newly-formed British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC).
At the time, there were concerns amongst NCU members that allowing major cycling events to take place on public roads would not only lead to the creation of road safety hazards but in the event of a disaster could also lead to cycling being banned from British roads. It was in 1942 that the BLRC was established by those who held the opposite view and wanted to give the UK the opportunity to hold a race to match the already iconic Tour de France.
In 1945, the BLRC organised the Victory Cycling Marathon to celebrate the end of the Second World War and in recognition of the successes of the Allied Troops. Held between Brighton in the south and Glasgow in the north, the overall winner of the five-stage event was French cyclist Robert Batot.
Intermittently known as the Tour of Britain from 1951 onwards, it was in 1958 that it eventually became known as the Milk Race after a tie-in with the Milk Marketing Board. This persisted until 1987, when commercial sponsorship caused a rival, all-pro race known as the Kellogg’s Tour to spring up in competition. The Milk Race eventually died out, with the final two years of the 1990s seeing the event being called the PruTour.
The consolidation of the Tour of Britain after a five-year absence has helped not only to reinforce its brand but has also made it more consistent as an event.
In 2013, a Briton won the Tour of Britain for the first time despite the event being held in various parts of the country including England, Wales, and Scotland. That first Briton was Bradley Wiggins, later Sir Bradley, who beat stiff international competition to take the first place for Team Sky.
Wiggins may have assured himself a place in cycling history thanks to this victory, but it was another cyclist from the UK, Mark Cavendish, who achieved the highest number of stage wins over the course of the Tour's most recent incarnation.
In total, Cavendish won 10 stages of the event proving that he is an able performer on both, flat long distance slogs and on steep mountain climbs.
Interestingly, Britain is the only country that enters its own team in the tour, thereby tipping the odds in its favour, being the home side. And though several of the country’s most talented cyclists ride for rival teams, the move can hardly be seen as nepotistic on the part of the organisers.
This year’s Tour of Britain will have a total of eight stages, marking a significant increase from the previous five stage event held at the re-launch in 2004. The move can be considered indicative as to how well-established the tour has become with different regions clamouring to play host each year.
In 2016, there are a number of notable facts about the stages, including Denbighshire earning its first appearance as a starting point for stage four.
Stage seven of the tour will include a trial circuit run through a predetermined 15 kilometre route of Bristol city. One of the three stages held in the South West of England, it signals the organisers' willingness to return to this region having neglected it in 2015.
Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway is the only man to have twice won the Tour of Britain in its current form, winning in 2009 and in 2015. His wins placed his country in joint first place in terms of national successes. Before him, Frenchmen Romain Feillu and Geoffroy Lequatre registered wins for their country in 2007 and 2008 respectively.
Cancellations and controversies
The Tour of Britain has not been without its issues over the course of the past 12 years.
In 2011, the organisers decided to cancel stage two of the race due to extreme weather conditions, showing how, even in September, the UK weather can play havoc with outdoor events.
In 2012, the event was hit with controversy after investigators uncovered issues with British rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke’s biological passport, which facilitates performance-enhancing drug testing. The incident led to the withdrawal of his title in 2014, giving Australian rider Nathan Haas victory two years after the race’s conclusion.
The year 2012 was also a tough one for other UK riders as well, with Wiggins having to duck out of proceedings during stage five due to illness.
Even with these occasional hiccups and scandals, the Tour of Britain remains an important cycling event for every fan of the sport.