Local boy Evan Oliphant will be hoping that familiarity is an ally as he bids to make an impression on a field bristling with world class talent when stage four of the Aviva Tour of Britain takes place tomorrow.
The 135 mile leg of the eight day event covers the route from Edinburgh to Blyth in Northumberland. And the 33-year-old six times Scottish road race champion makes no secret of his desire to feature at the sharp end as the race heads south, passing through East Lothian and within a mile of his home in Tranent on the way to the border.
Knowledge of the course should be a bonus for Oliphant, who frequently trains on the roads that will host global stars such as the Britons Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, as well as leading overseas competitors including Andre Greipel of Germany and the American Taylor Phinney.
“I’m virtually along there every single day. I know the road all the way to Duns. That’s virtually the roads I train on every day,” he said, underling the benefit of that familiarity by adding: “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.”
The task facing Oliphant and his fellow riders from the lower-rated teams in the race is tougher than in the past given the presence of the UCI WorldTour giants such as Team Sky, Etixx Quickstep and Movistar.
Historically the bigger outfits would have allowed a breakaway to build a substantial lead, confident in the knowledge that the field would come together approaching the finish. When that occasionally failed to happen, a lesser known rider might score a surprise win. With the big squads now more wary of the potential for an upset, they are likely to mark any break more closely.
Oliphant has ridden in support of Team Raleigh-GAC colleagues in the opening days and yesterday crossed the line at the head of a bunch that included Cavendish and Wiggins, well down on the day’s winner Petr Vokoc (Etixx QuickStep) who went into yesterday’s stage from Cockermouth to Kelso as overall leader.
Tomorrow will be the first visit of the race to the Capital which last hosted a major stage event in 1999 when the PruTour concluded in the city.
The riders will begin to assemble from 8.30am to sign on for the day’s stage and will set off from Holyrood Park at 10am for a procession of six miles around the city centre and out to Milton Road, where the stage will officially start outside Edinburgh College at 10.20am. The race proceeds through Musselburgh, Prestonpans, Cockenzie, Longniddry and Gladsmuir before the racing becomes more serious with bonus seconds up for grabs when the first intermediate sprint takes place at Gifford just after 11am.
The climbers in the field will be looking to be at the front for the first climb of the day which comes at Redstone Rigg after 28 miles of racing. Further climbs will be contested at Ford and Alnwick, while the sprinters will have opportunities for bonuses at Alnwick and Warkworth, before the stage finale at Blyth.
Also on familiar territory will be Edinburgh-based James McCallum, who was recently appointed as sporting director at the ONE Pro team. It has been a successful race so far for the fledgling squad, set up only last December by former cricketer Matt Prior, with Pete Williams named as most aggressive rider on each of the two opening days, and currently leading the sprints competition.