Tour of Britain 2016 supplied yet more of the aggressive, exciting and unpredictable racing that is fast becoming the hallmark of the event. The route seems to be carving itself into a recognizable shape, featuring key stages and set-pieces drawn from the UK’s wealth of relentless, begging-to-be-raced-upon terrain.
This year, Ciclissimo! threw its hand in with Caja Rural–Seguros RGA, the combative, youth-development focused Pro-Conti outfit from Pamplona. The squad had enjoyed a tapas-sized bite of racing in the UK at the 2016 RideLondon-Surrey Classic and eagerly returned back to British shores for the full eight course meal that the Tour of Britain serves up.
Outside of the constant aggression from the men in green & white – driving the breaks throughout the week and a brace of highly creditable bunch-kick placings in the face of stiff World Tour competition for squad-sprinter Carlos Barbero’s (stage 4, just off the podium in 4th and stage 7b, 5th) – there was much to enjoy in this year’s race. Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka’s Steve Cummings’ vicious yet measured assault over Lakeland’s wonderfully named ‘The Struggle’ (laying the keystone in his eventual, hugely popular, win) on stage two; the Ian Stannard Shut-Out on stage 3 for Team Sky; the masterclass in aggression and souplesse from Cannondale-Drapac’s Jack Bauer to just hold off the clinical (but ultimately not quite clinical enough – I considered working out the percentage short-fall in meters from the full race distance but.. well, you know) pursuit of the charging peloton on stage five.
Over here at Chez Ciclissimo! the highlights of the week were the arrival, finally, at Lotto-Soudal’s top table of James Shaw who ground the peloton into the asphalt at the whim of Andre Greipel and the fight and panache of Caja’s indefatigable escape-artist, Miguel Ángel Benito Díez.
Not since Thomas De Gendt’s fledgling tour de force in the 2009 edition of the race has so certain a bet been available as to who would be out in the day’s escape in an attempt to break the race wide open. Benito’s never-say-die spirit and happy disposition (that heart-warming moment when he skipped his breakaway pace-line turn to drift roadside and hand up his bidon to a wide-eyed young lad among the most enduring images of the race) has won him big fans right here.
Photographer Andrew Peat took up position with his various lenses to bring us these images from the race’s final three days as the team rolled the dice at every opportunity in the breaks – often long after time had been called upon escapees in the eyes of almost everyone – and then fought out the sprints on the days when the peloton got it right in their efforts to bring the fugitives back to heel.
I myself caught up with DS Josemi Miguel Fernandez and the baroudeur Benito under the shadow of Big Ben as they prepared to pull down the visor and tilt at all comers one final time in the race’s finale around the iconic streets of London to get their feelings and thoughts on the race and also their time with rising British star, Hugh Carthy, who has just inked a World Tour contract with Cannondale-Drapac after a stellar season with the Spanish squad.
Miguel Ángel Benito Díez: “It’s fun a race, I rate the race. it’s a long race; it’s not usual to race eight days, usually on the eighth day we’re finished – usually we riders are on our way home and very tired… only not this time! But, we are loving racing here in the UK – we’d like stay and go riding for a week more here but we have to go as we have some more racing to do over in Italy and France”
“Which was my favourite day? Hmm… The first day! The easiest day, when Greipel won! (laughter) An easy day in the bunch, eating, speaking with friends, drinking! (more laughter!) But now, we look to today. The plan today is to be in the breakaway if we can, but if we can’t – Carlos; Carlos Barbero is our fast man so, if we are not able to breakaway, the plan is to be with him to take him into pole position for the sprint. He’s already had a fourth and a fifth; he is in good fitness. He can do it if he finds the good feelings today…”
Directeur Sportif Josemi M. Fernandez “I really like the race, it’s a great race due to every day being quite different in character so it makes for good racing. And the crowds – The crowds! I was really surprised with the sheer numbers of people out supporting the race: Yesterday, in Bristol, it was very impressive – at the level of the best races in the world! “
“Yes, we’ve been good. I feel we have been main characters in the race, we have each day tried to get ourselves out on the attack and break the race: Benito – he is a fighter everyday. So I am happy; but, of course, as always, you want to achieve a better placing as a team in that competition and also in GC…”
“Hugh Carthy? He’s great, he’s been really good addition to the team this year – he learned to speak Spanish really quickly – as you can see, this is really important on this team! He’s off to Cannondale-Drapac and and we really do wish him the very best with that move. We are going to miss him, a great rider and team-mate, but we will be meeting him again at the races – maybe in a slightly different way out on the road, but we look forward to that too!”
Image Credits: AP Sports Photography