Bumper crowd expected for Tour of Britain opener in Ipswich

Unprecedented crowd numbers are tipped for Ipswich on Sunday as fans prepare to catch a glimpse of cycling heroes Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins.

The duo head a stellar list of names that will line up for stage one of the Tour of Britain which begins at Neptune Quay at the town’s waterfront (10am).

Seven-time Olympic medallist and current Tour de France champion Wiggins, and Cavendish – last year’s world champion – represent Team Sky, pitting their wits against a host of other world-class competitors including Spain’s Samuel Sanchez, USA’s Tyler Farrar and Italy’s Ivan Basso.

Wiggins’ Tour de France success and gold at the Olympic Games’ time-trial event, in particular, captured the imagination of the nation and race director Mick Bennett expects fans to come out in their thousands.

“I am genuinely scared at the potential crowd numbers for the first stage!,” enthused Bennett.

“Crowds for the Tour have been unprecedented for the previous two years and I have also spoken to racers, who competed in the Tour de France, who said they have never seen crowds like those at the Tour of Britain.

“The event is also on people’s doorsteps and is a chance to see the best riders in the world.”

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A late surge of warm weather is also likely to make for an explosive first stage and Bennett thinks this will add to the buzz of the prestigious event, which is a pre-cursor to the World Championships.

“We are expecting amazing weather and the event is going to be incredible,” said Bennett.

“It’s all up for grabs at the first stage and the weather is an essential ingredient.

“These riders compete at between 150-200 events a year and rain does not help them.

“The Tour also comes a week before the World Championships and is a vital part of the programme.

“Last year Brad (Wiggins) and Mark (Cavendish) took part in the event and Mark then went on to win the World Championships, while Brad took the Tour de France title and also won gold at the Olympics.”

The gruelling road race is due to finish 126 miles later, just after 2.30pm, at the Norfolk Showground and will take in such areas as Melton, Snape, Leiston, Reydon, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.

Bennett explained why the Tour was beginning in Suffolk again.

“We have always had a great response from the general public, we have started in Bury St Edmunds the previous two years, and the setting for the start this year is lovely with the quays and marina,” he said.

“The first stage will be quite flat but as it progresses the course will become quite narrow and twisty and team tactics will come into play.

“It is important to be in the first pack as the race narrows and the riders won’t want to be caught out.”

n Will you be attending the Tour of Britain? Who is your tip to win the overall event? Contact starsport@archant.co.uk