Sir Bradley Wiggins lines up for the start of the Tour of Britain in Liverpool on Sunday, bidding to defend the title he won 12 months ago in a race which has been more competitive each year.
Team Sky’s Wiggins has the opportunity to show himself on home roads after missing out on selection for a Tour de France which began in Yorkshire, although his priorities are gradually shifting to the track ahead of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016.
If Wiggins, the 2012 Tour de France winner, can stay in contention over The Tumble on Tuesday’s third stage, the lumpy fifth Devon stage and the penultimate day’s route to Brighton, which includes the brutal ascent of Ditchling Beacon, the gold jersey could be his once more.
The split final day’s first test – an 8.8-kilometre time-trial in London – is not entirely to Wiggins’ strengths, but he is a fine exponent against the clock and could gain time.
Other contenders include the Wirral’s Steve Cummings (BMC Racing), Essex’s Alex Dowsett (Movistar), the Commonwealth Games time-trial champion, Irishman Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo), Dutchman Lars Boom (Belkin)and New Zealander Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp) in a race which offers few opportunities for the sprinters.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), who is still recovering following his Tour de France-ending crash in Harrogate, will go head to head with rival Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) in Liverpool and London, on September 14, in the circuit races which bookend the 1376.7km, eight-day race.
“Realistically you have to say that I am not in my best condition after the last few months I’ve had,” Cavendish said on tourofbritain.co.uk after requiring shoulder surgery following his crash in Yorkshire.
“I’m racing this week because this is my national Tour, Britain’s big race, and I always want to support it when I can.
“It’s always a treat racing on home soil in front of big British crowds. I’m just going to enjoy myself and see what the week brings.”
The Manxman is a prolific winner but will end 2014 without a Grand Tour stage success for the first time since his first year as a professional in 2007.
Just as it is difficult to predict his own prospects, Cavendish knows the race is wide open and tough to call.
“It’s a really strong field at the Tour of Britain this year, the best ever,” he said.
“It’s going to make for really intense racing but I don’t think it will change the nature of the race.
“Looking at the route it seems to be bookended by the two sure-fire sprints but after that almost anything can happen and that keeps a lot of riders interested.
“A lot of scenarios are possible.”