Brits on Tour – ISN at the Tour of Britain 2021

The Israel Start-Up Nation riders, our DS Cherie Pridham and her support team have travelled pretty much as far south as you can get in England, arriving in Penzance to get ready for the UK’s biggest race of the year. Across the eight stages, the Tour offers something for everyone and the team chosen by Cherie – who is of course the first ever female DS at WorldTour level – brings strength and depth, from Irishman Dan Martin, winner of stages in all three Grand Tours who has just announced his retirement, to young Mason Hollyman in his Tour of Britain debut.

Alongside them will ride one of Britain’s most popular riders and time trial supremo Alex Dowsett; super domestique Reto Hollenstein (the ‘Swiss Skyscraper’, you’ll spot him, he’s 2meters tall) and ever popular Mike Woods who secured Israel Start-Up Nation’s first Tour de France podium earlier this summer. All this talent is topped off with world beating sprinter, Andre Greipel who has, of course, won Tour of Britain stages before… 

Israel Start-Up Nation is not short of experience with some of the world’s most successful riders on the roster, and two of these go into the race having announced their retirements.  Andre will hang up his wheels at the end of 2022 and Dan Martin has called time at the end of the 2021 season.  Dan said of the Tour of Britain: “Even just arriving in the UK felt special as we so rarely get to race here. It’s been four years since I last did the race and I’m excited to race on the roads that I competed on growing up. It’s always a tough test with a high quality field and tough terrain. Hopefully we get to experience the crowds that used to come out as pre-Covid it was always one of the best atmospheres we raced with. We have a strong team and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do everyday. Some stages really suit me and I hope we can be aggressive throughout the week. Form is always a bit unknown this time of year after a long season but I felt good at Plouay so we will do our best and enjoy my last Tour of Britain”.

At the other end of the spectrum, young Mason Hollyman, our 21 year old Yorkshireman, has been selected to race his first Tour of Britain after a strong season: “I’m really looking forward to racing on home roads, it’s a race I’ve grown up watching on TV and going to the roadside with my family, so it’s pretty special to be given this opportunity by the team.  ISN is super strong here so my goal for the race is to do my absolute best for the team in whatever capacity I can, and enjoy racing at home.  It’s been three years since I last raced in the UK, so it’ll be nice to do it again”.

Alex Dowsett said: “I’m very excited to come back to the Tour of Britain. The last time I raced here I came painfully close to winning a stage – ironically it was actually ISN that chased me down, and here we are in an ISN jersey. 

It’s always exciting to race on home roads.  Our team lineup has undergone a few changes, it’s different to our initial plan due to some injuries but it’s great to see Mason stepping up and riding with some of the best on the team in Andre, Mike and Dan, and really experience what it’s like to ride at this level. I’m very excited to see how he gets on.

We’ll be fighting every day for stage wins and a GC result for Woodsy – and just having a good time.  The Tour of Britain does present some challenges in long transfers and early starts but I think we have great morale, it’s a good team, a fun team. I’m just looking forward to seeing some good crowds on the roads again.

And I’m really looking forward to my first race with Cherie as DS too, we’ve not raced together yet so that’s exciting. Brits on tour!”

Stage 1, Sunday 5 September: Penzance to Bodmin (180km)

Eagle-eyed residents of Cornwall may have noticed an extra buzz around town in the last few days, as the international peloton descends for the first stage of the 2021 Tour of Britain.

Stage One is a no-holes-barred, full-on introduction to the dramatic Cornish landscape, taking in both north and south coasts and some of the most stunning scenery in the whole country.  The route promises a punchy start to the Tour and combined with Stage 2, one that could help shape the GC for the entire race.

DS Cherie Pridham said; “We’re starting off with a nice long climb to set the tone and overall this stage is very undulating, with lots of narrow roads too.  Some of it is quite exposed so if we get any wind or rain it’ll change the nature of the racing quite a bit.  Potentially it’s a tricky stage and with the last 5km kicking up quite a bit, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one sees some splits and finishes in a reduced sprint – maybe up to 40 riders will stay together but it’ll be interesting, especially at the last 650m which kicks up again”.

Stage 2, Monday 6 September: Sherford to Exeter (183km)

Onwards to Devon, where local fans will no doubt be keen to watch the three Cat 2 climbs of the day – Strete, Rundlestone and Warren House Inn.  Distance wise, Stage 2 is similar to Stage 1 and again, the day could prove decisive for the final GC.  Three sprints are also on offer including one at Slapton Sands, which, if you studied Geography GCSE in the South West, you may recognise from geography field trips.

It’s a technical day, with plenty of hairpin bends, narrow roads and bridges to cross; after a recce, Cherie says  “This is a classic climbing day on typical Devon roads – very interesting, and potentially a decisive stage for the GC today.  They’ll be paying a lot of attention to their positioning.  The stage has three long, Cat 2 climbs, which we’re used to on the Tour of Britain, but there are also another couple of uncategorised climbs which could affect the front.  I imagine a reduced group by the finish but that will suit the final run in, with a narrow bridge, and a couple of pieces of street furniture too.”

Stage 3, Tuesday 6 September: Carmarthenshire Team Time Trial (18km)

Three days in and the race reaches Wales.  We’ve a strong team for time trials, including of course national champion and Grand Tour ITT stage winner, Alex Dowsett.

Speaking before the race Alex said “The Team Time Trial is going to be a big hit, it’s my main goal. We can certainly be competitive and squeeze everything out of it. Attention to detail is the main thing so I’m really hoping  to be able to help the team in that respect, and limit any damages for GC for Woodsy.”

Cherie says; “By itself, this TTT isn’t too bad – 18km, not too technical, with just a slight drag uphill.  But what will really influence the style of riding is how the GC picture looks at the end of the previous day.   Stage 3 could be one to target, and take the win, or it could be one to conserve and control.  Watch this space!”

Stage 4, Wednesday 8 September: Aberaeron to Great Orme, Llanduno (210km)

The Queen stage and a long one in the saddle, this is a really important day for all riders, especially those chasing GC contention. And again, we take in some of the UK’s most stunning coastal scenery, including beaches and mountains – we recommend the chip shops in Borth – but along the way, two Cat 1 and two Cat 2 climbs.  Coastal winds could also play a part, so too can the microclimate along the coast, where it can be sunny one minute and foggy the next.  It’s a beautiful part of the world and should provide some superb racing.

Cherie says: “As we head further into Wales and the savage climbs of Snowdonia, today could be decisive for the GC.  Again, the results of Stages 1 & 2 will come into play to decide how we race on the day as this is the longest stage and very technical.  When you take into account the tight corners, sharp roads, cattle grids, a couple of level crossings, plus the fact that in the last 50km there are three KOM points – two of them Cat 1s – it’s definitely a day to watch.  There are a couple of points for a potential shake-up and there’s a technical last 25km too with lots of climbing.  Classic Tour of Britain”

Stage 5, Thursday 9 September: Alderley Park to Warrington (152km)

On paper, today’s stage is less fierce than the previous day, but when you look at it from a sprinter’s perspective, it gets a lot more exciting. And when you have one of the world’s top sprinters on your team….even more so.  Andre Griepel has a fair bit of experience racing on British roads and has won sprint stages of the Tour of Britain in the past – and, having announced his retirement at the end of the 2022 season, could Stage 5 add to his record-breaking tally of 158 pro wins, the most of any active rider?

Cherie’s view on the stage; “I’d say this is the first true sprinters day, it has a hilly start, including a Cat 2 near the mid way point but after that it quickly flattens out.  I’d expect the sprinters to keep this one under control.  The last 3km has a few turns to get right too.”

Stage 6, Friday 6 September: Carlisle to Gateshead (198km)

Another three Cat 1 climbs and 198km of racing, anyone?  The Tour travels further north now, as the race makes its way towards the last few stages. But this stage shouldn’t be seen in isolation as the eyes of the cycling world look to Flanders at the end of September, and the UCI Road World Championships.  Back in Gateshead though it should be quite the finish, underneath Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North.

Chatting with Cherie, her excitement for this stage is clear; “An absolute must watch, this one.  It’s a very similar course to the Flanders UCI Road World Championships route, mimicking a lot of what the riders will see later in September.  The Tour of Britain is an important marker in riders’ progress towards the Worlds so the race GC contenders will need to be alert here.  I think it’ll come down to a reduced bunch sprint, after a few undulating climbs plus three Cat 1s.”

Stage 7, Saturday 11 September: Hawick to Edinburgh (195km)

On to the Borders now and early Autumn in the Tweed Valley, which sounds lovely for those of us watching, but will be another technical day and one for the peloton to stay on high alert. 

A lot of the route is quite exposed on high ground and just to prove it, there are a few wind farms in the area.  Depending on the conditions there could be a few chances for breaks to get away, as Cherie noted; “One for a breakaway perhaps? There are some punchy, tight climbs, and again, like Stage 6, it’s another where riders aiming for the UCI Road World Championships will test themselves and use it as prep.  There are some technical aspects to watch out for too, some cattle grids for example, but again, definitely one to watch.”

Stage 8, Sunday 12 September: Stonehaven to Aberdeen (195km)

The final stage and one the sprinters will definitely have their eye on.  But before the riders reach Aberdeen there are a few technical spots to watch out for, including cattle grids, narrow bridges and more – but by now, the riders will be used to these.  The final 2km are right on the sea-front so the bunch may be affected by whatever the North Sea can throw at them, but overall it should be a super fast last day.

Cherie said “it’s a very Scottish stage – some of the route comes close to the North Sea so the wind could be a factor – but by the time we get to the last 20km this one really has bunch sprint written all over it.  It’ll be a fast, fast run in to Aberdeen.  There are a couple of tight corners and pinch points in the final 3km too, so expect a really superb finale.”

— Sjors Beukeboom to israelcyclingacademy.com