Under dire threat of relegation from the World Tour, the Israel-Premier Tech team received a useful fillip at the opening stage of the Tour of Britain, won by their New Zealand first-year professional Corbin Strong. The 22-year-old outshone more illustrious teammates such as their new signing Dylan Teuns, who has been hired specifically to garner ranking points that may preserve the team’s top-level status.
Summit finishes are a rarity at the Tour of Britain, and Sunday’s opener to the top of the bleak 9km ascent up the Old Military Road to the Glenshee ski station was the first time the British race has had such a long uphill run to the chequered flag on its opening day. There were few fireworks, however, as a stiff headwind on the exposed, draggy road discouraged initiative until the very last moment.
Conventionally, an uphill finish is won by the rider who keeps patient, saving his surge until the very last moment, and the New Zealander timed his effort just right to sprint off the wheel of Ineos’s Spaniard Omar Fraile. If their respective names were any guide, Strong versus Fraile was only going to have one winner.
“It’s a big result for me,” said Strong, “in my first year with Israel-Premier Tech there have been lots of ups and downs. I’m happy to show I can win at this level. I was out of position at 300m to go, but a gap opened, I got on the Ineos train and the adrenaline kicked in.”
Ineos, meanwhile, might have been left wondering if they had backed the wrong rider. Their most likely leader, Tom Pidcock, looked out of sorts early on the climb, sitting last wheel in the group and at one stage dropping off the back to answer a call of nature in the final kilometres. He staged an improbable comeback, however, emerging from nowhere to take fifth.
It is hard to tell just what this bodes for the rest of the week, although with a world cyclo-cross title and the Alpe d’Huez stage of the Tour de France on his victory list this year, Pidcock is pretty much capable of any miracle. There were brief glimpses, too, of other, less well-known British prospects: a searing if short-lived attack from Thomas Gloag, who will ride alongside Primoz Roglic at Jumbo-Visma, and an eighth place for the talented climber Oscar Onley, riding for the German World Tour squad DSM.
The bulk of the 181km from Aberdeen up to Glenshee were controlled by Ineos and Israel-Premier Tech – two of just five World Tour teams in the field – who kept a steady pace behind a five-rider escape including Jake Scott, the WiV SunGod rider who figured in four such moves in the opening few days of the 2021 race, targeting the intermediate sprint and mountains standings. A minute clear 5km from the line, the quintet were only swept up after Gloag made his move with 2km remaining.
The scenery was predictably sumptuous, with moorland, flocks of sheep, pinewoods and Gothic castles along the way and bagpipes on the roadside in Braemar – but this was a wet and chaotic start to Britain’s premier stage race, with live television images initially unavailable due to the extreme weather conditions high up in the Cairngorms and a brief diversion from the race route. Until the sun finally broke through, the field were splashing through puddles and huddling grim-faced in their rain jackets; asked what he made of the conditions, Strong pointed out that this is routine summer weather where he hails from in Invercargill.
After Aberdeenshire, a day out in the Borders beckons on Monday, followed by stages through County Durham, North Yorkshire – the first time the race has visited God’s Own Country in 13 years– the Midlands and Dorset before the finale on the Isle of Wight next weekend.