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Tour of Britain's long ride for respect

by Matt Slater (U1647490) 04 May 2007
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Tour of Britain in Blackpool

The Tour of Britain has come along way since Scotland's Ian Steel beat a field that included a young Jimmy Savile to become its first champion in 1951.

In fact, it has come a long way since 2004, when it returned to the sporting calendar after a five-year break following Prudential's decision to end its sponsorship of the race.

This year it is back up to a week in length, travels from south to north and visits nine new venues, including Somersetís Exmoor.

In fact, it feels like it is back to where it was when I first saw it as an 11-year-old in Chelmsford. It was the Milk Race back then and I'm fairly sure Malcolm Elliott won that day as he is the first cyclist I remember liking. I also remember a big crowd and reasonable coverage in the papers the next day.

Elliott, however, was soon usurped in my affections by Robert Millar, largely because of his Tour de France heroics, cool jersey and funny Ready brek advert.

In some ways you could argue that has been the Tour of Britain's problem over the years. It's good but not as good as other countries' races.

Financial mistakes and the dominance of other sports in this country haven't helped but the British race has struggled to get out of the shadow cast by the continent's Grand Tours. Even this year, when the Tour of Britain is bigger and better than ever before, it has to play second fiddle to Le Tour's Grand Depart from London in July.

That's a shame because the Tour of Britain deserves better.

Give or take a wrong turn or two last year, the race is a well run affair, liked by the riders, the sponsors and road racing's loyal band of British fans.

And I think that message is slowly getting out there. Not just in this country but with cycling's powers that be.

Last year's field was pretty strong considering the Tour of Britain was up against the Vuelta and the Tour of Poland, and this year's field is going to be of a "similar strength", according to the organisers.

It has also been given an extra day at a time when the UCI, cycling's governing body, is trying to take days off the overcrowded European calendar. The tour's organisers say this is a reflection of the race's reputation and British cycling's recent successes.

They will ask for another day next year and are hopeful of getting it. From there they will be asking for a step up in category and importance.

As long as they maintain their side of the bargain and look after the riders, keep their media and commercial partners happy and keep an eye on the race's finances, there is absolutely no reason why the Tour of Britain can't become a ProTour-quality event within a few years.

I hope they pull it off. This country merits a national race commensurate with our new-found status in the cycling world.

It would be nice to think that Tour of Britain winners won't be automatically jettisoned for Tour de France stars by impressionable 11-year-olds in the future.

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posted May 4, 2007

What I find most amusing about this article is that in reality the most likely explanation for the Tour of Britain's "problem" was your employer's total apathy towards it! Come on Matt, be realistic - even if Bernard Hinault had ridden the Milk Race the BBC would still have filled our screens with darts or golf.
Is it possible that you are now trying to appease for last year's infamous piece Matt? There are one or two parts of the article above where it almost sounds as if you like Cycling - careful now, us "lycra-clad diehards" can spot a phony a mile off!
Chelmsford eh? Yes, I am also an Essex lad, and yes I did see the Milk Race in Chelmsford that year - it's frightening isn't it? However, you can rest assured that we have never crossed paths at any golf tournament because... well, I can't be rude can I?
The latest humorous suggestion on another forum is that we're hoping you get drug tested after the TdF sportive - we might even find a way to spike your drink!

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posted May 5, 2007

Great article well balanced & forthright for a golfing fan ,keep it coming !
Though the beeb could do better with it's tv couvrage

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comment by ClaudB (U8296466)

posted May 7, 2007

Having been one of the many cyclists who were disgusted by Matt Slater last summer, I have to say that this and other recent cycling articles by him have redressed the balance somewhat.
Irrespective of the ongoing doping issues in the Pro peleton, there are good things happening in British cycling and Matt seems to now be supportive of these in keeping with the notable efforts of the broadcasting side of the BBC. I'm sure there are those who will never forgive him for the worst of last year's output but I am certainly gratefull for his recent positive and supportive articles.

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posted May 8, 2007

I think the Tour of Poland is one of the greatest upcoming races on the Pro Circuit and anyone who has experienced it knows that it has several advantages over the Tour of Britain at the moment.

Firstly the massive cycling market in Eastern Europe makes the Tour of Poland (as the only major Eastern Europe Tour aside from the Czech Tour perhaps) far more commercially attractive than Britain whose national media barely covers the event.

Also the Youth Tour that runs alongside it is a fantastic innovation that really marks the Polish Tour as a superb advert for the sport and provides a more modern style of tour that all other Tours and Classics would do well to imitate.

The Polish terrain and fewer road restrictions in Poland mean it will always be able to come up with more varied and interesting routes.

Finally the push for an American Pro Tour race is far greater and would provide more for the sport than an upgrading of the Tour of Britain. Frankly I think the standing of the race is a fair reflection of the position of British Cycling at the moment.

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posted May 13, 2007

Invigilator - you're getting really tedious. Yup BBC coverage of cycling has been pretty patchy throughout the years, but you can hardly blame the BBC (let alone one reporter) for all of cycling's ills. It was one misguided article. Get over it.

Having read 'another forum' I've discovered you like horse racing. HORSE RACING!! You've instantly ruined all your arguments - it's the most brain-ossifyingly dull sport ever [waaay worse than golf in my in my book].

Anyway, the Tour of Britain - really looking forward to the new Somerset stage, reckon Porlock Hill will be the place to watch to get 'value-for-money' as the field grinds up it.

Surely the biggest threat to the ToB, and what will hold it back from becoming a ProTour-quality event, is the lack of proper road closures for it.

Apart from the safety aspect, it just looks really crummy on telly seeing the riders have to race down an avenue of parked cars, totally reliant on the drivers' patience that they're going to sit for the race to pass and not decide to drive out in front of the race.

Surely better to completely close the road, and publicise the fact, so people can completely avoid it if they want.

So, why aren't the roads completely closed? Is it a legal thing, too expensive, too much hassle for the organisers? Anyone have a authoritative answer?

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posted May 16, 2007

Ho ! You can't do that were British !
Yes why not just close the roads & live daily tv ! Why o why ?

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posted May 17, 2007

The Tour of Britain is a good concept but it will always struggle to match european races imo. It will never reach the stature of the Tour or Giro and will never match the prestige of the Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico or Tour de Suisse, however it could be a very successful 3rd tier race.

The problem that we have is that there is less acceptance of road closures here. The roads are busier and if we want to finish in London then people will have to accept this.

Obviously the Tour wants to go where the majority of the population is ie Glasgow, London or Manchester as there is more money there, however these areas are nowhere near best cycling territory in the UK, there are lots of road furninshers, logistic difficulties and an easy parcours to deal with.

The Tour's best routes could be revolved around mid wales or the scottish highlands. From my experience it is these 2 places along with the peak district which has the toughest terrain in the country to cycle. The Tour uses the Peak district but seems to ignore Wales altogether and the Highlands.

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comment by Sam (U1650299)

posted May 18, 2007

Iím not sure road closures or cycling history are the problem. Itís a chicken and egg situation in this Country really with poor media coverage = low public awareness = low audience figures = poor advertising returns = small race funding = small races = poor media coverage?

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posted May 19, 2007

Then on the other hand ,if it was televised better i.e daily things would change dramaticaly !
For 1 week a year the beeb could do better !

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posted May 30, 2007

It doesn't matter if England or Britain are the best in the world at a sport, if it's not darts, snooker, athletics or football the BBC is not interested. Until the BBC sees fit to get behind something, which it in all fairness it did have a little half heated attempt at track cycling, then there will be no future in the UK.

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