The eyes of the cycling world will be on Aberdeen come next Sunday as the Tour of Britain reaches its gripping finale.
Riders from across the world, with a healthy contingent of Great Britain’s finest, will bring their 1,320km journey across the country to a close on the Esplanade on Aberdeen beach front.
For race director Mick Bennett it has been a two-year task in planning and one he is excited to execute.
The eight-day event starts in Penzance on Sunday, detouring into Wales and finishing with two days of racing in Scotland, with the Hawick-Edinburgh leg coming a day before the Stonehaven-to-Aberdeen conclusion.
— AJ Bell Tour of Britain 🇬🇧 (@TourofBritain) September 2, 2021
“I did an event in Aberdeen way back in the 1980s, a Kellogs-sponsored event in the city centre,” said Bennett, a former Olympic champion himself. “When we went back to do a Tour Series event two or three years ago I was absolutely blown away by the support it received from the general public.
“This time, the talent we’re bringing – Mark Cavendish, Julian Alaphilippe, Dan Martin, Richie Porte – it’s going to be an amazing turnout in Aberdeen.”
Bringing the route to the north-east of Scotland means it is the furthest north the Tour of Britain has ventured.
It capitalises on the success of the Tour Series events held in Aberdeen city centre between 2017 and 2019, which saw both local and national clubs turn out for a fast-paced afternoon’s racing around the city streets.
The final stage will start at Stonehaven Leisure Centre at 10.30am on Sunday September 12th, heading out to Cairn o’Mount where a “king of the mountains” for the stage will be crowned.
The peloton will then head out to Finzean, on to Corsedardar Hill and through Aboyne and Ballater, before a climb up Queens View on the route through Aberdeenshire back towards the city.
“We’re finishing on the Esplanade and I understand it’s just been retarmacked,” added Bennett. “If ever there’s a wind blowing off the North Sea, it’s going to be one hell of a fast finish.”
As part of the arrangement to bring the race to the north-east with Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City councils, the grand départ for the 2022 race will also take place in the region.
Any major event wanting to take place in the current era inevitably has to be cognisant of concerns around Covid-19. The Tour of Britain is no different.
Teams have been asked to turn up to their hotels at the race start with negative lateral flow tests and have been allocated floors to themselves, to allow them to operate almost in a bubble.
“Putting it together this time has been easy because we’ve had about two years to organise the whole thing,” said Bennett. “But managing the Covid protocols has been our biggest issue, because of the restrictions various people have been under.
“We’re following very strict a Covid policy. We’ve got our own Covid doctor with us that’s helping manage our way through it.
“Teams have been used to doing this for about 12 months or so, since the calendar was put in place. Most of our team have been double-vaccinated and the hotels we’ve been have been very good, with their own guidelines.
“I don’t think it’s too bad a thing as legacy going forward, to have disposable facemasks, social distancing and hand hygiene as a priority.”
Crowds are likely to line the route across the country after being deprived of top-level action for much of the last 18 months.
“My biggest worry has always been when we’re out on the road,” added Bennett. “In 2019, we had some of the biggest crowds I’ve seen on the roads in the UK.
“The final stage in Manchester – we went through 10 metropolitan boroughs of Manchester and every corner we went round, my driver’s jaw dropped. He’d never seen anything like it.
“If we’re averaging 150-180km racing a day, I think we’ll see unprecedented crowds but not in such congested pockets. They’ll be more spread out.
“People are hungry and thirsty to watch the event. It’s almost a celebration, isn’t it? We’re going the furthest south and the furthest north we’ve ever been. We’re visiting England, Wales and Scotland as well.
“People that enjoy professional bike racing will come out at the side of the road. It’s an excuse to go enjoy yourself. It’s a celebration.”
The Tour of Britain will be televised on all eight days by ITV4 and updates will be posted on the Press and Journal and Evening Express websites.