EAST LOTHIAN cyclist Evan Oliphant believes he is hitting form at the right time to make an impression in the Aviva Tour of Britain which takes place in September.
The 33-year-old Team Raleigh-GAC rider had his pre-season preparations derailed by illness. But a heavy racing programme with six races in the past two weeks and two more over the next five days – he competes in Lancashire tonight and Yorkshire on Sunday – have a produced a string of good results that confirm he is back to full fitness.
“I missed the whole winter. I had a chest infection after the Commonwealth Games and I had a collapsed lung so I had a quiet start and missed training camps,” explained the multi-Scottish champion. “I’m really just building up now. It’s actually worked out well because I’m getting good form now just before the Tour of Britain.”
The Tranent-based rider has more reason than many to be targeting success on stage four of the eight-day race that begins in Wales on September 6 and concludes in London on September 13. The third day will bring the race north of the Border with a finish in the grounds of Floors Castle near Kelso. And the following day offers a rare opportunity for Capital cycling fans to see some of the sport’s biggest names in action as the 219-kilometre haul gets underway at Holyrood Palace before wending its way through East Lothian and Berwickshire then finishing at Blyth in Northumberland. That promises to be special for Oliphant, who will be hoping to use local knowledge to his benefit.
“I’ve seen the detailed map now. I thought it was going to go past my front door but it’s actually just down the road, about a mile from my house”, he added. “I’m along that road virtually every day and I know the road all the way to Duns. On a race like Tour of Britain, it’s probably not that much of an advantage because a breakaway will probably go and then be controlled. At least I know where the hills are and I can get to the front. If it’s really windy at Duns, it could split so, between Gifford and Duns, you probably need to be at the front in case anything does happen.”
Oliphant knows what it is like to feature prominently at the Tour of Britain having been runner-up on stage four of the 2005 race. He is listed in the eight-man preliminary squad for Raleigh with team boss Cherie Pridham expected to announce the six starters around two weeks before the event.
He will not be challenging for overall honours, with that task likely to be handed to colleagues Steve Lampier or Karol Domagalski. Instead, he will be given the opportunity by his team to challenge for stage success. And, operating on familiar territory is something he is relishing.
“You get freedom to have a go and I would like to try and do it in the Scottish stage”, he explained before pointing to the potential lift he could get from having a local crowd by the roadside, adding, “The first time I really noticed it was at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. It was crazy – everyone was cheering. I know lots of people in Edinburgh will be out.”
However, while he will be going all out to catch rivals napping on the narrow roads he knows so well, Oliphant acknowledges that the growth in stature of the Tour of Britain on the global racing calendar makes it tougher to create a surprise. He said: “It’s now a higher-level race and there’s more pro teams. There is more coverage and it’s just a much bigger race.
“The problem is the big teams sneak guys in the move as well and it’s harder for the move to stick. The time I was second, four of us were away at kilometre zero. It’s really hard to do that now because there’s more than four guys trying to get in the move. You have to watch when they go away and pick your moment.”
• For a Tour of Britain route map go to www.tourofbritain.co.uk/stages