Updated: 2 September 2021
With the details of the 2021 Tour of Britain now announced, we take a closer look at the route.
Taking place between 5th and 12th September, the race returns this year after a Covid-induced hiatus in 2019. Comprising eight stages, the route comes as close to taking in the whole length of Great Britain as it ever has. Starting in Penzance, Cornwall, the race then covers a 1,320-kilometre route through the southwest of England, Wales, crossing from coast to coast in the north of England before two stages in Scotland culminating in an Aberdeen finish.
The race route looks tough throughout, featuring 18,800m of climbing across the eight days of racing and a team time trial. Of the seven road stages, only one – stage five – contains less than 2,000m of elevation.
Importantly for the domestic scene, all five men’s British UCI Continental teams, plus Great Britain, have been selected to ride the Tour this year, offering a much-needed opportunity for home riders to shine in a big UCI race.
|1||Sun 5 Sept||Penzance to Bodmin||180.8 km|
|2||Mon 6 Sept||Sherford to Exeter||184 km|
|3||Tue 7 Sept||Carmarthenshire team time trial||27.5 km|
|4||Wed 8 Sept||Aberaeron to Great Orme, Llandudno||209.7 km|
|5||Thu 9 Sept||Alderley Park to Warrington||152 km|
|6||Fri 10 Sept||Carlisle to Gateshead||192.7 km|
|7||Sat 11 Sept||Hawick to Edinburgh||194.7 km|
|8||Sun 12 Sept||Stonehaven to Aberdeen||173 km|
Stage one is billed by the organisers as “the toughest opening stage in modern race history”. There are ‘only’ three category 3 climbs on the route, which might lead you to think this will be a straightforward sprinters day, but that is misleading.
With 3,014m of climbing and a tricky uphill finish into Bodmin – in which riders will climb for 500 metres up Turf Street and St Nicholas Street, a section that begins with a 13% incline and averages a gradient of 5% – this is far from a gentle start. It means we could see aggressive racing from the very off. It should be picturesque too, with St Just, St Ives, Carbis Bay, Redruth, Falmouth, Truro, Newquay and St Austell all featuring along the route.
The race returns to Devon for stage two, which takes place between the new town of Sherford and Exeter. It’s likely we’ll see the general classification begin to be defined here – if stage one hasn’t already done that job. The constantly undulating route features Dartmouth and the beautiful South Hams for the first time since 2012, before heading into the Dartmoor National Park. The SKODA King of the Mountains climbs of Strete on the South Hams coast, Rundlestone and Warren House Inn (both on Dartmoor) contribute to the 3,482m of elevation gain. Exeter city centre hosts its first stage finish since the 2014 race, when current Israel Start-Up Nation rider Matthias Brändle soloed to a memorable victory.
A team time trial features for only the second time in Tour of Britain history on stage three (Tuesday 7 September). Home team Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling are particularly excited for and, with the support of Dan Bigham, it will be fascinating to see how they fare against WorldTour opposition; could a David versus Goliath moment be on the cards? Set in Carmarthenshire, the teams will tackle a27.5-kilometre route, starting from outside Llandeilo and finishing at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, home to the world’s largest single-span glasshouse.
Stage four (Wednesday 8 September) is flagged as the Queen stage of the 2021 Tour by the race organisers Sweetspot. It will culminate with a finish atop the Great Orme in Llandudno, a 1.9km, 9.8% average climb that runs parallel to the famous tramway. There are plenty of obstacles to tackle before they reach that landmark though.
The 210 kilometre route hugs the mid-Wales coast in the first half of race, opening up the possibility of crosswinds, before heading through the Snowdonia National Park. The climb of Ffynnon Eidda – the first category 1 climb of the Tour – takes in windswept but spectacular moorland. It will provide spectacular TV images and could be the scene of key moves. As the riders head into Llandudno, they they tackle the ascent of the Great Orme’s Marine Drive toll road before the uphill finale.
After four days over tough terrain, the peloton might finally have a chance for a breather, with what could be the first traditional sprint of this year’s Tour; with ‘just’ 1,708m of elevation, this is the only road stage with less than 2,000m of ascent.
Starting in Bruntwood SciTech’s Alderley Park, the 152-kilometre stage will take in an anti-clockwise loop through Cheshire and the fringes of the Peak District National Park before the finish in the heart of Warrington outside the town’s famous Golden Gates.
The route will pass famous Cheshire landmarks such as the 18th Century neoclassical Capesthorne Hall, Jodrell Bank – home to the iconic Grade I listed Lovell Telescope – and through the towns of Holmes Chapel and Congleton, the latter of which hosts the first intermediate sprint.
A trio of ŠKODA King of the Mountains climbs follow, skirting below the famous skyline of Bosley Cloud and into the Cheshire Peak District, with the main climb at Bottom-of-the-Oven, a 1.7km ascent (with an average gradient of 6.9%) to just shy of the famous Cat and Fiddle. Macclesfield, Rainow, and Adlington will all welcome the race before a second intermediate sprint at Wilmslow. The route then heads through the town of Alderley Edge and the climb of the same name and on through Chelford, Knutsford and High Legh before entering Warrington via Appleton.
Stage four might well be the Queen stage but stage six from Carlisle to Gateshead (Friday 10 September) is no walk in the park either. It retraces large parts of the popular Sea to Sea route before finishing in the shadow of the world-famous Angel of the North.
The route passes alongside Ullswater in the Lake District National Park and through Penrith before tackling the ŠKODA King of the Mountains climb at Hartside, which was used as a stage finish in the 2015 Tour. Two further ŠKODA King of the Mountains climbs follow soon after in the heart of the North Pennines AONB – at Killhope Cross and Burtree Fell – as part of the 3,000 metres of elevation gain that features in this stage.
The race is then mainly downhill for 40 to 50 kilometres, but there are some uncategorised climbs in the final 20 kilometres that might be the launchpad for attacks before what appears from the profile to be another uphill finish in Gateshead.
For the first time in modern Tour history, the race ends with two stages in Scotland. The first, on Saturday 11 September, features a fourth visit to the Scottish Borders in six editions as Hawick plays host to the start. A mix of familiar towns – including Innerleithen and Duns – and new roads through East Lothian await before Edinburgh stages its first finish in the Tour.
It’s yet another lumpy stage, featuring three categorised climbs and 2,518m of climbing in total across 195 kilometres. With few obvious sprinting opportunities available in the race, however, this could be one the sprinters’ teams look to control.
In any case, another stunning finale is guaranteed, as the closing kilometres pass along Queen’s Drive, by the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace before finishing in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat.
This year’s overall champion will be crowned in Aberdeen at the end of the most northerly stage ever to feature in the Tour. The picturesque harbour town of Stonehaven is the day’s starting point and, by popular demand from local cyclists, the route includes the ŠKODA King of the Mountains climb at Cairn o’Mount (3.4km, 9.5% average). The climb comes early in the stage, but with ramps as steep as 19.5% it’s sure to sap the legs.
The peloton will briefly head into the Cairngorms National Park, with Ballater marking the most westerly point of the stage, before the run in to the finish line on Aberdeen’s Esplanade begins. The stage features ‘just’ 2,003m of ascent in total, so despite the inclusion of Cairn o’Mount, it may well offer one final chance for the sprinters.