Tour of Britain 2014: Sir Bradley Wiggins bids to defend title as Mark Cavendish returns to British roads against rival Marcel Kittel

Cavendish crashed out of the Tour de France the last time he competed on British soil

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The Independent Online

Sir Bradley Wiggins is set for a battle to repeat his 2013 overall win in the UK’s top cycling event, the Tour of Britain, which starts today in Liverpool.

It is not just that he faces tougher opposition than last year, with Pole Michel Kwiatkowski one of a wave of younger cyclists, or Ireland’s Nicolas Roche – son of Tour de France winner Stephen – Holland’s allrounder Niki Terpstra,  and French veteran Sylvain Chavanel spearheading the challenge to the Sky leader.

Rather the route of the eight-day race could be Wiggins biggest headache – either in the mountains or in its one time trial, on the morning of the last stage in London.

In 2013 the lone summit finish was the Dartmoor climb of Haytor, while this year the race tackles the 6km ascent of The Tumble near Newport, with gradients of 10 per cent, on Tuesday. Wiggins will have a harder task staying with the other favourites on the Welsh climb, with Leopold Konig, seventh in this year’s Tour and a winner of a mountain stage in the Vuelta a España last year, a favourite to shed the Briton there. The other problem is the final time trial. Much shorter than last year’s race against the clock at Knowsley – which was central to his overall victory – differences over the 8.8kms will be a handful of seconds. Far too risky to gamble it all on a victory there. The Tour of Britain is difficult for any team to control. Teams of six, rather than the usual eight or nine, mean breakaways proliferate, particularly along the undulating, twisting roads into Bristol on Wednesday, or over the Ditchling Beacon and Bear Road climbs into Brighton on a 227km stage next Saturday.

Time bonuses at the end of each stage and hot spot sprints will increase tension. In the sprint stages Mark Cavendish will have a harder time, too of repeating his hat-trick of wins of the 2013 Tour of Britain. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider was on the road to recovery following his Tour de France crash with back-to-back wins in the Tour of Poitou-Charantes.

Here, on the other hand, Cavendish will have his first face-off with Marcel Kittel in a stage race since Tirreno-Adriatico this spring. The two are the world’s fastest sprinters, but in last year’s Tour de France the German netted four stages to Cavendish’ two. Cavendish’s departure from the Tour de France wrecked the chance of a revenge match – until today.

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