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Tour of Britain - 2.3
Great Britain, September 1-5, 2004
By Shane Stokes
Five years after the last edition of the Prutour was held, top class pro racing returns to the roads of the UK with the 2004 Tour of Britain taking place this week. Although this represents the first running of the race's current incarnation, an impressive field has been gathered for the five stage, 2.3 ranked Tour, with some of the sport's biggest teams signed up to take part.
Leading the charge will be the T-Mobile squad of Andreas Klöden, the German rider who finished a surprise second in this year's Tour de France but, if on form, certainly has the class to win this race. Klöden will be backed by a strong team with Rolf Aldag, Sergi Ivanov, Mario Aerts and Daniele Nardello each proven winners in their own right.
Lance Armstrong may have all but hung up his racing wheels for this season but his US Postal team will be squaring up against T-Mobile as it did in the Tour de France in July. The boys in blue will take on the men in magenta once again, with Jose Azevedo - an excellent fifth in the Tour, despite his strength-sapping work for Armstrong - one of the strongmen on the squad. Benjamin Noval, Pavel Padrnos and Jose Luis Rubiera were also on that Tour-winning team and they too will be lining out at the race start in Manchester on Wednesday.
Fresh from his two stage wins in the Tour, Belgian wunderkind Tom Boonen will lead the Quick.Step-Davitamon charge. He's been in fine form this season, taking Ghent-Wevelgem, the Grote Scheldeprijs and the Tour of Picardie plus those successes in July, and will be aiming to add to his palmares this week. Also sure to be sprinting well is Ceramiche Panaria's Graeme Brown, who will be psyched after his gold medal in the Olympic Madison.
The MrBookmaker.com team features not one but two British riders who will be aiming for success on home soil. Roger Hammond was a fine seventh in the Athens road race and can certainly turn the pedals quickly at the end of a day's racing. However this rare opportunity to shine back home will encourage him to set his sights a little higher than a stage win, with the double British road race champion well capable of a strong ride in the overall standings. Team galloper Jeremy Hunt will also be keen to show what he can do.
Credit Agricole's Bradley Wiggins will be similarly motivated to ride strongly on home ground, particularly after his excellent showing in Athens. Wiggins took gold in the pursuit, silver in the team pursuit and bronze in the Madison to become the first British triple medallist since athlete Mary Rand in 1964. His prowess against the clock means that he would have welcomed a time trial in this the Tour of Britain but will instead have to make do with a good ride on one or more of the road stages this week.
Three more British Olympians will be taking part in the race - Chris Newton and Paul Manning, who have both previously tasted stage race success across the pond in the Irish FBD Milk Rás, and De Nardi professional Charly Wegelius. The latter strained his wrist in a fall during the Olympic road race but will do his utmost to ride strongly in his first race as a pro on British roads. Newton, Manning and Wegelius will be lining out on the GB national squad this week.
Local hero Sean Yates will be managing the CSC squad from the team car and will be willing the boys in red and white on to great things. Michele Bartoli is the biggest name on that team, but there are several strings to the Danish bow with teammates such as Kurt Asle Arvesen and Nicki Sřrensen sure to go on the attack. Factor in Yates' local knowledge and Team CSC should be one of the big contenders for stage wins and the overall honours.
Yates will not be the only former pro to bark orders down team radio this week, with Walter Planckaert, Denis Roux, Hendrik Redant and Alberto Elli giving a guiding hand to the riders on the Chocolade Jacques, Credit Agricole, Lotto-Domo and Team Barloworld squads respectively. Lotto-Domo's Axel Merckx is the biggest name from these four squads and will be psyched after his bronze medal in the Olympic road race, but the other riders on these teams will also be keen to strut their stuff if the legs are good.
Another ex-pro, Herman Frison, manages the Bodysol-Brustor squad in the race and will be hoping that their big-name rider Nico Mattan can pull out another big performance somewhere between Manchester and London.
That final stage in the British capital will certainly be one targeted by the Navigators team, given their experience of criterium racing on the US Pro circuit. Despite the team's limited experience racing in Europe, riders such as Kirk O'Bee and Ciaran Power should be amongst those scrapping it out for a stage win. The latter will be particularly motivated after his excellent 13th place in the Olympic road race, a result the Irishman hopes is just the beginning of bigger things to come.
Power will be just one of seven Irishmen in the race as the national squad is also taking part. FBD Milk Rás champion David McCann, national champion David O'Loughlin and Tommy Evans are three experienced internationals, while Philip Deignan, Tim Cassidy and Paidi O'Brien are espoir riders hoping to benefit from competing with the big guns in advance of the world championships this year. Deignan will be joining fellow Irishman Mark Scanlon in the Ag2R Prevoyance team next season and is currently fifth in the Under 23 world rankings.
Two more national squads complete the lineup; former British champion and ex-fakta professional Julian Winn is the most experienced of the Wales team, having finished the Tour of Italy in 2003, while Alex Coutts, Evan Oliphant and Duncan Urquhart are part of a Scottish squad which is keen to learn from lining out against established professionals this week.