Following on from last week’s launch of the 2015 Friends Life Tour of Britain, Brendan Gallagher spoke to Race Director Mick Bennett to find out more about this September’s route.

LAST year the Friends Life Tour of Britain spawned two individual World Champions and a soon-to-be Hour World Record holder and Race Director Mick Bennett has unashamedly designed a brutal course this year to again tempt the World's best riders looking for a final blow out before heading to the UCI World Championships in Richmond, Virginia.
 
The 1,451km eight day race, the longest in its modern day history, includes three stages of 215km or above and will also feature its highest ever finish with an 8km climb to Hartside Fell in the Pennines. Meanwhile an early stage in the race (Clitheroe to Colne on day two) could have been plucked straight from the Ardennes Classics with scarcely a flat metre on offer.
 
Factor in the vagaries of the British weather and the difficulty of shutting down such a race with six man teams and another savage week's racing can be expected – last year six different riders wore the Friends Life Yellow Jersey at one stage or another.
 
""With the race finishing two weeks before the men's Individual road race in the USA and ten days before the men’s individual time-trial, the timing would appear perfect with plenty of time to recover and travel. It certainly worked beautifully last year for both Michael Kwiatkowski who finished second on the Friends Life Tour of Britain before taking the World title and Sir Bradley Wiggins (third at the Tour of Britain) who showed supreme form in taking his first World Time-Trial Championship.
 
So at first glance the 2015 Friends Life Tour of Britain seems to tick a lot of boxes for both riders and officialdom. Having been granted HC category by the UCI for the 2014 edition and a five year licence by British Cycling, this is clearly a key stage in its evolution as it looks to both expand and consolidate.
 
There is a limit to the amount of ground you can cover in an eight day stage race but the tough decision, for a short while anyway, not to visit Devon, which in many ways has proved to be the Tour's heartland, has opened up the opportunity to incorporate previously overlooked but glorious nooks and crannies. 
 
Anglesey and North Wales generally will make for a spectacular Grand Depart while the Edinburgh to Blyth stage could be very special from start to finish taking in the glorious Border hills and Northumbria coast. Equally the run up through Cumbria to Kelso on Stage Three could steal the show given half decent weather. Of course the British weather is one of the great unpredictables at the Friends Life Tour of Britain. Last year it was raced in perfect, benign conditions borrowed straight from high summer but Autumnal wind and rain are not unknown. Usually you get a bit of everything which helps make the racing even more unpredictable.
 
There is no time-trial or Prologue this year which will divide opinion a little but the opening stages – especially Stage Two, which could catch some teams by surprise – are more than tough enough and long enough to establish a selection and a make the GC battle a titanic week long struggle. Teams will not have the opportunity- some would say luxury – of a final day time-trial in which to play their trump cards so to speak.
 
The lack of a concluding Time-Trial this year is in fact logistical more than anything. With much of central London undergoing major construction work linked to the new cycling superhighways, the old course based on Whitehall and the Embankment is not available so the Tour organisers have been forced to switch. 
 
The alternative is a spectacular but tight 6.2km circuit based in and around Trafalgar Square, which doesn't easily lend itself to a genuine time-trialling test. What it will offer though is some of the best spectating possible at such a race with the peloton going through or around Trafalgar Square three times a lap for 15 laps. Arrive early, very early, to secure the best spot. 
  
"""We are absolutely delighted with the course and believe it offers something for everybody," says Bennett, right, who has been the man behind all eleven of the modern day incarnations of the Tour since it was re-launched in 2004. "Our hope and intention is to again encourage eight days of aggressive, uninhibited racing, the sort of action we hope is becoming the trademark of the race. There are probably only two pretty much sure-fire sprints, Stage Three into Kelso and the London circuit race on the final day – while on the other days pretty much anything can happen.
 
"There are some really brutal days out there and deliberately so. Firstly we want our national British tour to reflect the tough terrain which is part and parcel of our cycling scene and secondly we have talked informally with the teams in recent years – and increasingly with the big World Tour teams – and they are adamant that they would welcome a couple of really testing long days ahead of the Worlds. 
 
“We are very happy to oblige and it fits in perfectly with our remit of expanding the race. Away from the pure racing we are very pleased to see our first Welsh Depart up by Beaumaris Castle on Anglesey and that first North Wales stage will involve all six North Wales regions for the first time, which is a great example of the team work and co-operation this race is built on.
 
"" "The racing could all ‘go off’ at any stage but I will pick out a few obvious highlights. Stage Two, Clitheroe to Colne, has the potential to kick start the GC battle straight away. It is a little brute, you are constantly going up and down and the action should be fast and furious. It should also be a really good stage for energetic spectators. The race goes through Clitheroe itself twice and with a little bit of careful planning I reckon you could get to watch the race from four or five vantage points.

 
"The following day up into Scotland is a beautiful ride which should end in a sprint and then we have our first stage start from Edinburgh at Holyrood Palace which should herald a pretty special and testing stage, tracking down through the Borders and down the Northumbria coast to Blyth. That will be tough but the challenges will keep coming. 
  
"The following day we move westwards across the top or England, following Hadrian's Wall basically, before heading south and the Hartside Fell finish which at 1,904 feet is comfortably the highest point the modern day tour has ever finished. This is an intriguing stage all-round, you would fancy the peloton to arrive at the foot of the climb pretty much intact unless the wind blows en route in which case it could be split asunder by the time the main challenge presents itself. And wind is not unknown in those parts!
 
"It's a proper 8km climb and although the average gradient is a comparatively modest 5% up at the top there are some nasty 10%  sections and a hairpin that could reward the more aggressive riders. This stage has a real sting in the tail. 

 
""“These summit finishes are beginning to become a feature, they take a lot of organising logistically and we need considerable help from the local authorities but they are worth it. Haytor (right) two years ago was incredible and set the bar very high and the Tumble last summer was another great occasion.
 
"It just keeps coming after that. The Stoke-on-Trent to Nottingham stage will be a very demanding day around the Peak District, which in its own right could shake up the race let alone coming off the back of five hectic days racing. And then comes a very long day in East Anglia from Fakenham into Ipswich which proved such a great Depart venue in 2012. 
 
“It's tempting to say ‘East Anglia, flat, must be a sprint finish' but again wind could make this even tougher and it possibly has the feel of the Bath-Hemel Hempstead stage last year when Alex Dowsett, Matthias Brandle and Tom Stewart got away on that long break. 

 
"It comes at the end of a really gruelling week and as we have seen so many times before it can be really problematical controlling this race and making the calculations with six man teams and that is before you even factor in things like a team losing a rider(s) to illness or a crash.
 
"""Finally the circuit race in London which I am very excited about. Spectator wise this is going to be a treat with the ability for the crowd to get really involved with the entire race developing right there is front of them. It’s a very fast course but quite tough as well. I can assure there is a definite drag up Lower Regent Street to the finish and the riders have got to ride that 15 times."
 
So there you have it. The route has a dynamic feel as it searches out new venues and different challenges. You are never going to please all of the people all of the times but after concentrating largely on the west last year there is a very different geographical emphasis in 2015. 
 
Anglesey and North Wales, Cumbria and the lowlands; Edinburgh and the Borders; Northumbria and Blyth; the roof of England under Hadrian's Wall; Hartside Fell, the Peak District; East Anglia and Central London. It's difficult to see realistically how you could cover more ground in the eight allocated days.