If you’ve ever watched the Tour de France during the summer, and wondered if there was a British equivalent, then there’s a nationwide race out there just for you.
The Tour of Britain may not have the global appeal or recognition of its sister race across the Channel, but it’s a race that is steeped in history in its own right. The modern-day version has been going strong for nearly two decades, and attracts some of the best riders in the world to the UK every autumn.
In this blog, we’ll give you all the basics on the Tour of Britain, including its fascinating past, what to look forward to in this year’s race, and how to go about organising a cycling tour to ride yourself.
The history of the Tour of Britain
The first cross-Britain or round-Britain stage races took place during and shortly after the Second World War. But the idea of a full-scale tour of Britain really took hold when the Milk Marketing Board began to sponsor the race in 1958. The race was simply called ‘The Milk Race’ and became one of the most well-known annual sporting events in the country. The name recognition was so strong that the sponsorship continued all the way through to the MMB’s disbanding in 1993.
Parallel to the Milk Race (and completing a very nice breakfast!) was the Kellogg’s Tour, aimed firmly at professionals and running from 1987 until 1994. After this, the idea of a British tour had a difficult few years financially, the PruTour lasting just two years in 1998 and 1999. It was only in 2004 that the Tour of Britain as we know it today began, and thanks to the rise of the popularity of cycling in the UK, it’s now a firmly established event at international level.
Who has won the Tour of Britain?
The original Milk Race was often won by some of the best British amateur racers of the day, as participation by full professionals wasn’t allowed until 1985. Top British winners in the Kellogg’s Tour include Malcolm Elliott (1987), Robert Millar (1989) and Max Sciandri (1992). In the 90s, the race started to get more international interest, and was won by the Australian Phil Anderson twice (1991 and 1993) and the Italian legend Maurizio Fondriest in 1994. Of the two PruTours that ran in the late 90s, the star Australian sprinter Stuart O’Grady won the first edition in 1998.
Since it was revived in 2004, the Tour of Britain has been a much more international affair, and while it isn’t part of the top-line UCI World Tour, it still attracts some of the best riders on the planet. Part of this is thanks to its late position in the year, when there are relatively few major races other than the Vuelta a Espana and the World Championship. Star riders who have won the modern version include Edvald Boasson Hagen (2009 and 2015), Bradley Wiggins (2013), Dylan van Baarle (2014), Julian Alaphilippe (2018), Mathieu van der Poel (2019) and Wout van Aert (2021).
How the Tour of Britain works today
The modern-day Tour of Britain normally takes place over eight stages, starting on a Sunday and finishing the following Sunday. Its traditional place in the cycling calendar is in early September. Most of the stages are normal mass-start road stages, but it’s also common to have one time trial at some point during the event.
There are five classifications that the riders contest over the course of the race:
This is the overall competition, won by the rider that completes the Tour in the lowest possible time. The leader of this classification wears the red jersey.
This classification awards points to riders who finish in the top positions at the end of each stage, with the leader wearing the blue jersey.
The sprint classification works in the same way as the points equivalent, with riders racing for points at predetermined sprint lines along each stage. The leader of this classification wears the white jersey.
King of the Mountains
The summits of any mountains or major hills on each stage count as points-awarding locations for the King of the Mountains competition. The higher and more difficult the climb, the more points awarded for the first riders to reach that point. The green jersey is awarded to the leader in this competition.
In order to determine the best-performing team in the race, the times of each team’s best three riders in each stage are added together.
What is the route for the Tour of Britain?
The route for the Tour of Britain changes substantially every year, so that the race covers as much of the UK as possible in the longer term. Unlike many cycling stage races, where one stage will finish close to the start point of the following day’s route, Tour of Britain stages tend to be relatively spread out across the country.
For the 2023 event, the opening stage will take place on Sunday September 3rd in and around Manchester, as part of a weekend cycling festival in the centre of the city. At the time of writing, the exact routes had not been released, but the stage finishes for stages two to six will be hosted in Wrexham, Beverley, Nottinghamshire, Felixstowe and Harlow. Details for stage seven have not been confirmed as yet, but the eighth and final stage will be held in south Wales on Sunday September 10th.
Is there a women’s Tour of Britain?
Women’s cycling has enjoyed a surge of popularity in recent years, both as a professional sport and as an amateur pursuit. The biggest events are getting more attention from fans and coverage on TV than ever before, which led to the creation of the Women’s Tour, organised by the same company that delivers the men’s Tour of Britain every year.
The race was held for the first time in 2014, and normally takes place over five or six stages, spread over a wide area of the UK. Some of the world’s top female cyclists have won the event, including Marianne Vos, Demi Vollering and Elisa Longo Borghini. Britain’s former world champion Lizzie Deignan (nee Armitstead) is the only rider to win the Women’s Tour twice, in 2016 and 2019.
Sadly, the 2023 edition of the Women’s Tour, which was scheduled to take place in June, was cancelled at the end of March due to a lack of funding from sponsorship. It is still hoped that the race can return and be part of the UCI Women’s World Tour again in the future.
What if I want to do my own Tour of Britain?
The only thing between you and touring some (or all!) of the UK on your bike is your own willpower. The UK is such a varied country in terms of sights, landscape and terrain that you have complete freedom to devise a trip that is realistic for your fitness, doesn’t break the bank, and still gives you that spirit of adventure.
You can try and take on some of the traditional long-distance challenges, such as Land’s End to John O’Groats, or the North Coast 500 around the Scottish Highlands. Alternatively, you can set your own itinerary around some of our National Parks: the Lake District is full of challenging climbs, while the Yorkshire Dales are a cycling hotspot after the area hosted the start of the Tour de France in 2014.
And if you’re trying to keep costs down to a minimum, why not plan a trip that starts from your front door? A good way of giving yourself something to aim for is to plot a route from home to your nearest seaside town – in the spirit of the London to Brighton ride – and then coming home with your bike on the train.
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If you’re planning a cycling tour around Britain – or indeed anywhere in the world – don’t set off without making sure you have comprehensive cycling insurance cover in place. That way, you can be sure that you won’t be out of pocket if the unforeseen happens, such as an accident that requires medical care, an incident that damages your bike or equipment, or any disruption to your travel plans.
SportsCover Direct has been insuring cyclists just like you for more than a quarter of a century, helping you take to two wheels with confidence. Whether you’re planning a gentle tour around the countryside, or you’re training to be the next Tadej Pogacar, we can cover you for Personal Accident, Personal Liability, entry fees for cancelled events, and much more. Take a look at our cycling insurance options here, including our affordable rates and flexible payment plans.