The Tour of Britain is back in the North East
This September two stages will be racing through Northumberland
You know when you’re planning your weekend, and you think you might go on a bike ride, but you’re not really sure which route to choose? Well imagine that you’ve got to do that, but you’re organising a bike ride for the world’s best cyclists, and it’s got to go around the whole of Britain. That’s what Andy Hawes, Route Director for the Tour of Britain has to do, and wonderfully he’s chosen to have two stages of this year’s race in Northumberland.
If you’re not quite sure what the Tour of Britain is, it was formerly known as the Milk Race, then called a few different things, then had a five-year hiatus before being relaunched in 2004. Now named the Tour of Britain, it’s the top road cycling event in the UK, with the world’s best teams taking part, featuring cyclists that include Olympic and World Champions and Tour de France stage winners, and it’s all broadcast live on ITV4.
Among the six-man teams taking part will be Team Sky (no Chris Froome unfortunately, but some of the team’s other stars will be there), Etixx Quick-Step (hopes are high that Mark Cavendish will be taking part), and Team Wiggins (fingers crossed that Bradley Wiggins might be among the competitors). The final line-up of riders won’t be confirmed until 72 hours before the race starts, but there will be champions among them.
The eight-stage race starts in North Wales and then travels around the country between 6th and 13th September. The Northumberland stages will be taking place on Wednesday 9th and Thursday 10th September – the first will be Stage Four, which starts in Edinburgh and will make its way down through Northumberland, initially inland then along the coast.
Route Director Andy, the man who decided that the Tour would have two of its eight stages in Northumberland, explains how it ended up here: ‘Northumberland County Council were approached to see if they would be interested in holding a stage of the Tour of Britain, and they came back with open arms and said, “Yes, what can we do?”’
Once the council had shown interest, they put forward some suggestions for where the stages could take place. Andy visited a few sites (Morpeth was another contender for the Stage Four finish), then started planning the route and examining risks. He knew a bit about Northumberland, but also drove along the route several times to find out more.
The route he chose will see riders competing in a mountain challenge in Ford, tearing through Alnwick town centre, flying past Warkworth Castle, then heading along Northumberland’s heritage coast before finishing in a whirl of celebration at Blyth. It should all look lovely for the ITV cameras; it’ll be slightly less lovely for the riders.
‘What we think might be easy can then be completely turned on its head by the weather conditions,’ explains Andy. ‘Obviously if they get strong wind blowing off the North Sea, then Stage Four down into Blyth could be quite a tough stage, because it is open and exposed.’
The following morning the Tour will get underway again for Stage Five, travelling from Prudhoe then winding its way along the Tyne Valley to a sprint in Hexham, a mountain climb from Haydon Bridge to Hadrian’s Wall, then across the Pennines into Cumbria for a summit finish on Hartside Fell. Hadrian’s Wall should be one of the most iconic images of the whole Tour.
‘It became a bit of a no-brainer to take the route up there,’ Andy tells us. ‘With the route planning process I try to keep away from the trunk roads, and obviously the A69 is a major trunk road up there, but we had a fairly easy route across it at Haydon Bridge just the other side of Brampton so actually it fitted in very, very well.
‘I’ve driven along Hadrian’s Wall a couple of times and it adds something. You know, it is a cycle race first and foremost, but it is also an advertising vehicle, because the TV coverage alone goes to 125 countries around the world, so it’s a great chance for Northumberland and Cumbria to get Hadrian’s Wall out there.’
To add to the celebrations, Northumberland County Council are asking for people to donate unusable bikes so that they can be decorated in Northumbrian red and yellow, adding colour to the route, and there are events being planned for both stages (see www.nlandtob.com for more details). Chances are, this’ll be the North East’s best bike ride ever.
Take a Tour
Every stage of the Tour of Britain
Stage 1 - Sunday 6th Sept
Beaumaris to Wrexham, 177.7km
Stage 2 - Monday 7th Sept
Clitheroe to Colne, 159.3km
Stage 3 - Tuesday 8th Sept
Cockermouth to Kelso, 216km
Stage 4 - Wednesday 9th Sept
Edinburgh to Blyth, 217.4km
Stage 5 - Thursday 10th Sept
Prudhoe to Hartside, 166.2km
Stage 6 - Friday 11th Sept
Stoke to Nottingham, 192.8km
Stage 7 - Saturday 12th Sept
Fakenham to Ipswich, 227.4km
Stage 8 - Sunday 13th Sept