Ah, Marmeladrome’s home race. The Tour of Britain started today, and what a tour it is. A race set in the last days of the British summer (read: temperamental weather) combined with wildly varying parcours and plucky domestic continental teams always makes for an entertaining and often thrilling watch – exemplified by Dylan Van Baarle’s surprising though deserved victory last year. And let us not forget the joy (or dismay) of seeing your favourite professional riders breeze along and up the roads that you yourself have toiled and sweated over on numerous occasions.
Fast becoming the go-to stage race for the members of the peloton who didn’t make the cut for the Vuelta but still want to be in good form for the impending World Championships, we are greeted with an ever more impressive startlist for each edition; the 2015 Tour is no exception. Boasting such names as Cavendish, Greipel, Dowsett, Sørenson, Stybar, Boasson Hagen and (how we welcome him back with open arms) Taylor Phinney, it’s clear that the pro teams are taking this tour seriously.
Stage one sent the riders on a lumpy 177km ride from Beaumaris on Anglesey to Wrexham. This was the first time the Tour had visited Wales – a shame that neither Luke Rowe nor Geraint Thomas were present in Team Sky’s squad to soak up the atmosphere, but the crowds at the team presentation and start line were excitable enough regardless.
A four-man breakaway formed relatively early on consisting of Peter Williams (ONE), Thomas Stewart (MGT), the young Conor Dunne (SKT) and the evergreen Kristian House (JLT). All four were clearly in the mood for picking up the sprint and KOM points that were on offer throughout the stage, with each intermediate sprint and climb hotly contested. As the stage drew to its exciting climax it was clear that House would be our leader in the KOM competition going into tomorrow, whilst Conor Dunne would be resplendent in the green and red ‘Yodel Sprints’ jersey.
The peloton let the breakaway dangle in front with a gap of around 2 minutes before Team Sky hit the front properly with 12km to go, Ian Stannard taking over from Andy Fenn who had done the lion’s share of the chasing all day. The gap quickly dropped, especially once Etixx and Lotto joined to take turns on the front.
After a spirited late solo attack from House, the race was back together with 1.5km to go. Ettix Quickstep were driving a fierce pace with Stybar, Trentin and Renshaw forming the usual lead-out train for Mark Cavendish, eager to get a win after last year’s tally of zero. The last kilometre was formed of technical, sharp corners but Etixx held their line well and, by the final 500 metres, Cavendish was sat neatly behind Renshaw, Greipel in third wheel and Team Sky’s Elia Viviani neatly tucked in in fourth place. Rounding the final corner, Renshaw peeled away and Cav took aim for the finishing line. Griepel moved up to his right and Cav, unnecessarily sensing danger, slightly changed his line to try and block him off. This would prove his undoing as Viviani was able, in the space now provided by an absent Cavendish, to move up and make a push for the line, edging out Cavendish to take the win by a matter of inches – if not less.
Slamming his hand down onto his handlebars, Cavendish knew he’d been beaten, and that he might have to blame himself this time. And with a undulating stage and uphill finish in tomorrow’s stage, he might have to wait a little longer to get the win he so desperately wants.