Tour de of Britain. Stage 1, Edinburgh to Kelso.

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The wiggins MOBILE will be missing from this years race.

It’s jolly good to be back at the Tour de of Britain after two years. I had a smashing time riding for, and alongside, Bradley Wiggins-Sir in the 2015 race and after taking some time out of the sport to do some research for a book I will be bringing out with someone going by the name of Bikegob Glasgow I thought it was time to get back to racing and get back to the Tour.

But crikey! I nearly never got here at all! The chaps I ride for, TEAM wiggins, have been in a competition this year between six British teams to qualify for the tournament, with only four going through (Team Skye had already gained a spot as top seeds). Me and the rest of the TEAM wiggins riders found the going tough in the qualifying races. We had lost some of our best riders, including Mr Wiggins-Sir at the end of last season and I thought at times that perhaps we weren’t able to handle the pressure. And blimey there was a lot of pressure! Entry to the Tour de of Britain was the top objective of the year for the team. If I won the final qualifying race we would have got there but I didn’t. I felt I let the team down, I was in great shape, the other riders rode well, the support staff looked after me well, they even kept asking me if I was absolutely sure that I didn’t have hay fever. But forget about them, I have made it to the race after being selected to ride for the United Kingdoms of Great Britain team.

The whole thing kicked off today in Edinburgh which is the second largest city in Scotland behind the countries capital Glasgow. And crikey! the starting point was outside my namesake, St Giles Cathedral! Seriously though, we went along the royal mile, Scottish for royal kilometer, out of Edinburgh and down towards the boarders and eventually ended up in Kelso beside another religious erection, Kelso Abbey. There were three KOM climbs along the route including the feared Dingleton known as ‘The Severe Judge Of The Boarders’. The last time the race had a stage finish in the town two years ago we ended up outside Floors Castle who now co-sponsor the Quick-Step team.

One of the best things about riding in the Tour de of Britain is getting to meet some of the worlds top riders. I was able to chat to the Polish rider who’s name is MichaƂ Kwiatkowski. The super-domestique has recently helped Team Skye to successfully defend the Tour de France so I was expecting to find him in fine fettle but his mood was rather morose. During our chin-wag he explained to me that while he has had a great summer his mind is occupied with the coming spring where his team will force him to win some of the most prestigious one day races in the world.

Caleb Ewan of Austria won the stage and leads the Oxo Tour de of Britain. 

 

Tour de Past, Stage 1. 2006, Thor Hushovd gets a paper cut.

 

First published July 2016.

Today the Tour de France starts with what can only be described as a sprint stage. The route from Mont-Saint-Michel to Utah Beach is similar to many first days of the race. But as well as sprint stages kicking off the Tour in recent years there have also been time trials and short hilly finishes meaning the first yellow jersey of each edition of the race has been worn by different types of riders ranging from Marcel Kittel to Alejandro Valverde.

Remember the good old days though? A time when the Tour used to follow a set formula for the first few days. Start with a prologue then a couple or three days for the sprinters. “I like what I know and I know what I like” was the order of the day. Except some people of the “variety is the spice of life” persuasion didn’t like it and found the format too boring and predictable meaning we’ll probably have a stage 1 finish atop the Galibier before long.

I loved these stages. The usually technical prologue could often catch out some big names and the sprints were hotly contested between many riders. They were different to the sprints of today. Lead out trains were smaller, the front of the peleton wasn’t an arrow head, I have memories of a mad gallop to the line, riders strung right across the road, wide boulevards. Ah the memories.

In 2006 Thor Hushovd had won the prologue, as expected, so was in yellow as the peleton raced into Strasbourg on stage 1 proper. Being one of the top sprinters of the time he was expected to be in contention for the stage alongside the likes of Erik Zabel, Daniele Bennati and Robbie McEwan, who Paul Sherwen kept reminding us had the nickname ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’. The end of this sprint seems fairly routine. You can see Hushovd next to the barriers and he hardly gets going, probably too boxed in and he rolls over the line in 9th as Jimmy Casper wins. The French are delighted with the victory and everyone breaths a sigh of relief as the sprint ends without a crash.

Bizarrely though the camera is soon on the big Norwegian and he is lying on the road with his yellow jersey covered in blood. After he is led away in the ambulance it becomes clear from video replays that as he was racing towards the line he brushes against one of those stupid cardboard hand things giving him a massive cut. Embarrassingly for the organisers these green hands were handed out by one of there sponsors PMU. To add insult to injury, as well as losing a lot of blood, Hushovd lot the yellow jersey as George Hincapie gained some bonus seconds in some of the intermediate sprints.Thankfully in the end the injury wasn’t too serious and Hushovd was able to continue in the race.

One of the other bizzare things of the day is Bernard Eisel finishing in 8th place riding for……FDJ.