Cycling: Bradley Wiggins set to lift Tour of Britain to a new level

 

The term King of the Mountains will always be a relative one in Britain, though Dartmoor is ready to compensate for the nation's flat terrain in international cycling terms.

The National Park aims to pack its slopes with enough people to resemble the conclusion of a Tour de France stage during a week in which the Tour of Britain seeks to draw on the nation's extraordinary summer of cycling to build a serious presence.

ITV4, which doubled its usual audience to around a million for its impressive nightly Tour de France highlights package this summer, has announced that it is to screen two hours of the event live each day, starting tomorrow when Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish are among those setting off from Ipswich, and concluding in Guildford seven days later.

It is hard to overstate ITV's enthusiasm for a sport which in commercial terms brings an ABC1 viewership unmatched even by rugby union. The loyal Tour de France audience figures have generally been so rock solid that the "guess the audience" game that ITV producers like to play cannot be played. But Wiggins and Chris Froome changed that and ITV's screening of Vuelta a Espana highlights, which had not initially been planned, reflects the fact.

Organisers of the British event, which has grown every year since it was repackaged as the Tour of Britain in 2004, expect the full commercial knock-on effects of the Wiggins summer to come next year, by which time there will be an opportunity for other sponsors to join. Local councils have also seen the benefits of involvement, with a substantial number seeking stages for 2013 to join traditional hosts, among which Devon (granted the lucrative Saturday stage in its fifth consecutive year hosting the event) and Stoke-on-Trent have always seen the light. The greater exposure has potential to reveal to British supporters the access which the event provides, with the team buses parked in public areas.

The event has had its ups and downs under various guises as the Milk Race, the Kellogg's Tour of Britain and the PruTour, though the 73rd race certainly has potential to reach a new level. Cavendish, who won two stages for the HTC team last year, will use the event to tune up for the defence of his world road race title later this month in the Netherlands. Britons Jeremy Hunt and Luke Rowe will also compete for Team Sky, with Austrian Bernhard Eisel and Christian Knees of Germany completing the squad. Froome will not compete – he is currently racing in the three-week Vuelta.

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