Stellar line-up as Tour of Britain prepares for its grand depart
The start of this year's Tour of Britain is three days away – and the first glimpse at the list of top-class riders set to pour into the Royal Norfolk Showground on Sunday is more than enough to whet the appetite.
Since its modern reinvention in 2004, the Tour of Britain has steadily scored a deeper impact in the UK's sporting calendar.
And 2012 could took take the race even further, off the back of British Cycling's continued Olympic success in London as well as Bradley Wiggins' historic Tour de France victory.
Wiggins will be the main attraction as Sunday's 199.6km opening stage rolls out of Ipswich at 10am and into Norwich either side of 3pm, speed depending – his name tops Team Sky on the provisional list of entries released yesterday, alongside sprint legend and current world road race champion Mark Cavendish and Tour de France regular Bernie Eisel.
In fact, the provisional list contains stage winners from all three Grand Tours, including seven Tour de France stage winners with 31 victories to their name – 23 of them belonging to Cavendish.
The rider list includes four Tour de France jersey winners, with Italian climber and Le Tour veteran Ivan Basso heading the challenge of Liquigas and 2011 king of the mountains Samuel Sanchez the lead for Euskaltel Euskadi.
This year's Le Tour winner Wiggins and last year's green jersey winner Cavendish complete the list, while a dozen Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana stage winners will also tour across the British Isles.
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Seven teams will line up having competed in France this summer, with Orica Greenedge, Liquigas, Saur Sojasun and UK Youth making debuts – while a GB national team also returns to the Tour for 2012, made up of six under-23 riders.
'It is only right that in what has so far been a fantastic year for cycling in Britain that we can showcase the next generation of British talent at this year's Tour of Britain,' said race director Mick Bennett.
'Fans can look forward to seeing six very talented athletes, all of whom are names to watch for the future.'
A GB team was a regular fixture in the early years of the modern Tour, with their last appearance in 2008 – during which Cavendish, Geraint Thomas and Ed Clancy all rode in red, white and blue.