Monday 12 September 2011

Tour of Britain - Stage 3 Guide

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For anyone who's been paying attention, there's absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Britain is falling back in love with the bicycle. However, there are few - if any - British towns that love the bike, and bike racing, quite so much as does Stoke-on-Trent; which now has more than 124km of National Cycling Network routes reserved solely for cyclists and pedestrians and earned the status of an official Cycling Town under a sustainability, regeneration and development initiative created by Cycling England, a project that achieved real and noticeable results in its efforts to improve cycling's exposure, cyclist's safety and get more people on bikes before the country went temporarily mad and voted in a Conservative government who wasted no time at all in ending the project's funding and thus forcing it to close. In fact, cycling is so popular here that this is the third time it's hosted what has become known as the Stoke-on-Trent Stage; starting and finishing in the city and looking set to become as regular a part of the Tour of Britain as the Alpe d'Huez climb is a part of the Tour de France.

Ford Green Hall (© Phil Eptlett CC2.0)
Home to some 450,000 people, the city consists of six towns and several villages which grew and became contiguous after the 17th Century; the region having experienced an industrial revolution of its own due to the innovative production methods developed by Josiah Wedgewood and others in the local potteries. When the later Industrial Revolution came, the entire region was transformed; soon becoming home to pottery production on a massive scale, mines, mills and steel works. Ceramics dominate the cultural experience available to visitors with four important museums telling the history of the city and its most famous products, the most famous being the Wedgewood Museum. Visitors with children might also like to see Trentham Monkey Forest, home to a colony of 140 Barbary macaques. Others might prefer the 17th Century Ford Green Hall at Smallthorne, a half-timbered farmhouse run as a museum and restored so as to be as close as possible to how it would have been when newly constructed.

The first half of the race is relatively unchallenging - or will be provided that the battering wind and rain that forced race organisers to cancel Stage 2 have abated, at any rate - with no serious climbs; the parcours consisting chiefly of long straights and easy corners which give it the feel of a long, mass-start time trial rather than a stage of an eight-day race. The second half is completely different with several big climbs, including a steep Category 1 which will really test the rider's strength after 86km, and a series of very tight corners, bends and assorted other technical obstacles.

Trentham Hall, demolished in 1912.
The race assembles at Trentham Gardens for a 10:30 start, completing a 3.9km rolling neutral zone prior to the start of competition. The italianate formal gardens once surrounded Trentham Hall; one of the many great stately homes to spring up after the Dissolution of the Monasteries when the Crown swelled its coffers by selling of monastery lands - complete with a handy source of masonry in the form of a now-derelict monastery - at advantageous rates to favoured aristocrats and also one of the many to be demolished in the early 20th Century by an owner who had found his funds to be rapidly dwindling and the old family seat too much of a drain upon them to be kept up. A shame, as by all accounts it was a very grand structure, but the land was put to a much better use when it became a public park permitting the poor of Stoke and nearby to enjoy the benefits of the open air and countryside, the gardens now accessible to all. Between 1931 and 2002, the gardens were the site of the Trentham Ballroom where Pink Floyd and The Beatles, among many others, played.

Passing north along Park Drive, the peloton reach the B5038 and travel north-west for 1.6km before arriving at the A519 and turning left. The road leads under the M6 motorway, soon reaching 3.9km from Trentham Gardens and the end of the neutral zone next to a lay-by at 52°57'32.14"N 2°13'14.56"W. Moments later, they reach Beech, then the junction with the A51 (according to the roadbook, there's now a roundabout here - there wasn't in the past, but we're going to assume one has been added). The first exit, going left and east, leads towards Stone - however, the race turns a tight 80 degree right corner to head to Swynnerton.

Swynnerton Hall (© Simon Huguet CC2.0)
After turning right at a T-junction 0.92km from the corner the race travels through Swynnerton, the peloton passing very close to the grand Georgian-period Hall, home to Lord Stafford; a title currently held by Francis Fitzherbert,  descendant of King George IV's first (and illegal under English law yet declared valid by the Pope) wife Maria Fitzherbert. The riders remain on the same road, passing through woodland - always hazardous due to thorns etc. increasing the likelihood of punctures - halfway to Coldmeece, location of a truck rental facility and thus potentially hazardous due to diesel on the road. They keep right as they pass a fork in the road, over a crossroads at Sturbridge, site of Her Majesy's Prison Drake Hall large industrial units where the riders will need to be once again be cautious in case of diesel spills; presently coming to a junction and left turn to rejoin the A519 after riding 12.8km since the start of the race.

The route passes Eccleshall Castle on the right. Built originally in 1200, then rebuilt as a vast and imposing fortress just over a century later, the Castle was briefly home to Queen Margaret of Anjou in 1459 as she either prepared for or fled from the Battle of Blore Heath (the story varies and both are possibly true). Much of it was destroyed by Cromwell's forces during the Civil War, with those remaining parts passing into the hands of a family named Carter - relatives of the US president of the same name - at the beginning of the 20th Century and it remains in private ownership to this day.

Eccleshall (© Andy and Hilary CC2.0)
Eccleshall town comes immediately afterwards, the riders turning left at the mini roundabout on the High Street just within the town to travel along Stone Road, also known as the B5026. With electricity generated by a biofuel powerstation fitted with turbines powered by locally-grown elephant grass, Eccleshall claims to have been the first carbon-neutral town in the United Kingdom. After 0.95km the race will pass to the left of the Gentleshaw Bird of Prey Hospital, a sanctuary devoted to the rescue and treatment of injured birds of prey, bats and other animals. It's open every day except Tuesday from 10:30 to 16:30, very interesting and very, very worthy of your support - which can be given by paying the tiny £4 (£3 for children of 3 and OAPs) entry charge.

Having crossed a railway bridge very slightly narrow than the road either side and thus unlikely to cause any issues, the peloton reach Norton Bridge and arrive at a roundabout half a kilometre later. The riders need to take the second exit, but it's rather a technical junction whether they go left or right around the center due to the unusual angles and kinked approaches of two of the exits. Left is the longer route but to us it appears that it might just be possible to take this path at a higher speed than the shorter right path which may require a sharper turn - it's one of those ones where it's not really possible to tell unless you ride it and find out. The roundabout leads directly onto another railway bridge, then along more straight roads.

Stone Mill. It was here 1887 that Stoney Richard Smith came
up with an idea to remove wheatgerm from grain, cook it and
then add it to the final dough mixture. He patented the  idea
and began selling his new bread, starting the brand we now
know as Hovis. (© Chris Allen CC2.0)
Having passed back over the M6, the Tour arrives at Stone 21.3km from the start of the race, passing through Walton which is contiguous with it before coming to a roundabout, taking the second exit to go straight ahead. The stage's first intermediate sprint begins at 22.4km, by the entrance to Westbridge Park Sports Centre and just before a bridge slightly narrower than the road. The riders will need to stay on the right side of the road, any who fail to do so having to negotiate a large triangular traffic island 230m after the sprint begins, thus losing valuable time and almost certainly ruining any chance of winning sprint points. 50m ahead, they need to negotiate a tight 90 degree right turn onto Lichfield Street.

Now a medium-sized market town, Stone has an illustrious past - it was once the capital city of the powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, a kingdom that grew to encompass a vast part of England from Bristol in the south to Blackburn in the north and from the Welsh borders in the west to The Wash, parts of East Anglia and London in the east. Christianity came to the region in 650 with monks invited here by the Mercian King Penda despite the fact that he never converted and retained his pagan beliefs until his death five years later. However, it was not an easy transition: the next king, Wulfhere, was considerably less tolerant than his predecessor and murdered his sons Wulfad and Ruffin after they converted. Surprisingly, he later converted. The princes were buried at a spot now occupied by St. Michael's Church, marked by two piles of stones - this being the reason the town is named Stone.

Sandon (© Andy and Hilary CC2.0)
Lichfield Road carries the Tour right through the town and out to the south, remaining free of obvious hazards until the double mini roundabouts 1.76km from the start of the road, joining the A51 with a left turn a short while later. They pass under the railway and reach Sandon 3.4km after Stone, turning a very tight 90 degree left possibly made slippery by overhanging trees onto Milwich Lane just past the village post office (assuming it hasn't also fallen victim to Conservative policy, as so many rural post offices look set to do).

The lane is narrow with thick hedges running along either side, meaning that the peloton will be forced to spread out along the road. It also climbs around 78m before descending again over the 3.3km section to Milwich, reached 32.1km from the start. The race travels straight through the village before following a wide right-hand bend on the other side. Turning slightly left at Coton and taking the right-hand option at a fork 0.96km later, the Tour enters East Staffordshire and comes to Field after another uncategorised climb. Around 0.87km before Bramshall is a crossroads, the route to the right leading to an industrial estate - another potential spot for diesel spills - and, 188m ahead of it, a level crossing. Though of ancient origin, much of Bramshall dates only from the 1990s when several large estates were built to turn it into a dormitory town for Uttoxeter just 3km away. It's not a place to go in search of quintessential rural English charm. The second intermediate sprint begins after 44.8km from the start at 52°53'58.27"N 1°52'35.44"W.

Here Be Monsters: JCBs at Uttoxeter (© David Lally CC2.0)
Uttoxeter is one of those English placenames that tie foreign tongues in knots - however, it's one that's pronounced precisely how it's spelled, provided the letters are pronounced in the English manner, of course: -YOU-tox-IT-uh. The accepted spelling, however, has been through no less than 72 different permutations since the town was first recorded in the Domesday Book, having begun life with the Anglo-Saxon name Wuttucesh«£ddre. Samuel Johnson's father ran a bookstall on Uttoxeter Market in the early 18th Century and it was here in 1945 that one Joseph Cyril Bamford set up a company selling tipping trailers he hand-welded from war surplus metal sheet - a company that grew to become JCB, one of the world's largest engineering firms and a name synonymous in many nations with back-hoe mechanical diggers. Shane Meadows, a regular inclusion on lists of greatest British directors for his films including Dead Man's Shoes, This Is England and Once Upon A Time In The Midlands was born and spent his childhood here - parts of his A Room For Romeo Brass were filmed in the school by the start of the sprint. However,  the town's most famous, illustrious and admirable son must surely be Paul Beech who, as you will already well be aware, has won the World Toe-Wrestling Championships a record six times.

Uttoxeter High Street
(© Humphrey Bolton CC2.0)
At the end Smithfield Road turns 90 degrees left at its end to join the High Street before a 90 degree right onto Bradley Street. If a rider lines up perfectly on the very right of the approach for the transition, it should be possible to go straight through without even slowing down. However, a rider who approaches from the left side of Smithfield Road will need to turn sharply; perhaps not stabilising properly as they hit the pedestrian crossing a few metres onto Bradley Street, which could be slippery if wet. Bradley Street then curves left, becoming Silver Street before a left turn at a T-junction leads along Church Street to Dove Bank and a roundabout. The first exit (left) leads onto The Dove Way and an easy route about the smaller roundabout 72km ahead, then the Tour leaves Uttoxeter behind, passing over a motorway bridge and coming to a right turn at a roundabout for the B5030.

The drinks station is located in a lay-by 50.3km from the start of the race at 52°56'4.10"N 1°51'26.08"W - this has the potential to cause crashes as the available space is quite limited. 4.55km later, the race reaches Rocester on the right of the road and, on the left, an enormous industrial complex set in extensive landscaped gardens - the world headquarters of JCB. Bamford developed a safety feature for his diggers to prevent the shovels falling to the ground and smashing anything underneath them should the hydraulic pressure be lost early on during his company's history, demonstrating his faith in the system by having a digger lift itself off the ground on its front shovel and back-hoe before driving his car underneath the machine. This trick not only proved an extremely successful way of demonstrating the failsafe mechanism, the diggers' ability to raise its own weight and perform various manoeuvres when controlled by a skilled operator made them hugely popular with the general public. This led to the formation of a display team which became the JCB Dancing Diggers, seen at various shows and events around Britain each year. Large cycling events, as we know from the displays put on by companies along the Tour de France route each year, are an excellent opportunity for a bit of free publicity; so expect JCB to be doing something spectacular as the Tour goes by.

Wootton Lodge, near Ellastone, is owned by the Bamforth
family - heirs to the JCB fortune (© John Poyser CC2.0)
If both routes around the roundabout leading into the JCB plant are open, the one to the right will be the better option since it involves a much gentler curve before the two routes join up again - the road is narrower after they do so. A little further along the road, the races passes Doveleys Manor, derelict for many years but now undergoing a full rescue and restoration project. The writers of the excellent Corners of my Mind blog know the area well and have been to have a closer look at the house.

Soon, the race reaches Ellastone, Hayslope in Eliot's Adam Bede - it's a pity that the race turns left at the junction in the village rather than right as this means the riders don't pass across the beautiful bridge guarded by two Second World War pillboxes, one of which is remarkably well-preserved and still bears traces of its camouflage paint. The stage's first categorised climb - Cat 2 Ramshorn - begins right at the junction.

The first section of the climb isn't too testing, though there are a couple of steep ramps. It begins to get steeper as the riders pass Parkgate Lane on the left, rapidly hitting 200m a short way before Wootton. The peloton follow the road as it veers left and away from the village, descending slightly past a long, thin woodland before the final part. Having followed the road as it turns right into Ramshorn village (pronounced Ramsor by locals and spelled that way by the Quaker movement, in whose early history it played an important part). The road reaches the end of the climb by a house on the right, 63.2km from the start (53° 0'51.54"N 1°53'19.41"W) - according to our data, the road continues to climb from this point but we're not as confident in it as the NASA data we used during the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, so assume the race information is correct.

"Road" near Blackbrook. Since is the Tour of Britain and
not Paris-Roubaix, the riders don't have to go up here!
(© Ian Calderwood CC2.0)
The crossroads 0.45km is an unusual one with staggered entry and exits, presumably to slow drivers down and prevent them cross Star Bank without looking for other traffic - it would be possible for a single cyclist or train of cyclists to get through without much reducing speed in the dry, but will definitely slow a peloton. The next is straight-forward and straight through, the one 0.76km after that requiring a little more thought as the exit is some 50m to the left of the entry, forcing riders to cover a short stretch of the A52 inbetween. The remaining 4.2km to the left turn at the junction with the A523 are a simple matter of following the same road - with the descent short but steep, high speeds can be expected up until Blackbrook Zoo just before the junction, at which point the road climbs again. Note that if you're visiting the area with children while the race is on, the zoo is currently offering free entry for one child with each paying adult.

Having traveled 70.2km from the start, the peloton reach the superbly-named Bottomhouse before turning right at the next crossroads to take the B5053 and left at a staggered crossroads 0.89km later. This carries the race onto Blakelow Road. The feeding zone begins just after the turning, with team stations spread along the left of the road (so as the provide a clear passage through the zone, team feed stations are always located on the left in the Tour of Britain except for in some rare and exceptional circumstances) all the way up to a waterworks (also on the left) 1.7km away. As ever, the feeding zone is potentially hazardous due to the sheer number of riders ferrying bidons and musettes back and forth.

The Roaches
(© CC3.0)
Passing straight through the next crossroads, the riders arrive at a T-junction where they'll turn left and left again to enter a very steep descent; dropping 151m on the straight 1.52km to the village. As this is going to lead to very high speed, extreme caution will be required to avoid race-ending crashes at the bend roughly halfway through. At the end, the right corner on Thorncliffe is extremely tight and leads immediately into a short narrow section - this section is also very hazardous, we'll be surprised if there are no crashes here even in the dry. The altitude continues to fall to the T-junction with the A53 1.42km away at Blackshaw Moor - according to local tradition, a secret "ley tunnel" runs under the village connecting nearby Leek to Dieulacresse abbey. Sadly, there is precious little evidence that it actually exists, but it would make an interesting and challenging section for a future Tour if it's ever discovered!

After turning a very tight 90 degree left at a junction 89m further ahead, the race approaches Meerbrook - there's a potentially slippery section after 1.06km near Tittesworth Visitor's Centre under overhanging trees. From the left-hand bend just past the Centre, there are excellent views to The Roaches (a high rocky ridge, the name coming from the French les roches) and Hen Cloud. A small colony of wallabies, descendants of those that escaped from a private zoo in the 1930s, are occasionally sighted in the area; despite failed attempts to prove beyond doubt that they're there. After another 0.47km,  the riders cross the Tittesworth Reservoir Causeway, no narrower than the road and an excellent place for panoramic views. They continue left at the junction 0.25km after the causeway.

The Category 1 climb of Gun Hill begins at 84.2km, at the village hall on the right of the road - and it's a steep one, rising 135m in 2.1km. The climb ends at a lay-by on the left after 86.3km. A short while after the top of the climb, the race reaches two crossroads, turning left at both; having descended almost 50m by this point, entry speeds will be high and thus the first turn will need to be approached with caution. The second, 100m ahead, will be approached at a much slower speed (especially by anyone who's left meat on the road at the first). They turn left again at a T-junction 1.4km later, then join the A523 0.9km ahead and reach Leek 92.7km from the start.

Greystones, Leek - and behind it, Larner Sugden's
Nicholson Institute (© David Stowell, CC2.0)
Leek has benefited greatly from the legacy of two very important 19th Century figures. The first was William Sugden, an early admirer of traditional British architecture, who arrived here in 1849 and had an enormous influence on the town, designing many of the beautiful buildings that give the town its character. The second was the great artist, socialist, philanthropist and founder of the Arts and Crafts movement William Morris who came in 1875 and, according to local rumour, began to organise the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings after mounting a successful campaign to halt the proposed demolition of Greystones, a 17th Century building now housing a tea room - this being a structure that Sugden's son Larner had saved, persuading the backers of his Nicholson Institute building that their new structure would be better sited on the land behind Greystones so that the older building would not be destroyed. Larner was to become one of the Society's greatest supporters. The town is considered of great importance among Industrial Revolution historians as most of the 19th Century mills have been preserved, the majority either converted or undergoing conversion into residential apartments. Today, there are some ugly modern developments including the supermarket on the site of the old railway station (closed since the Beeching Reports of the 1960s) in addition to some that have kept to the spirit of Sugden's enlightened views; the town overall forming perhaps the closest example to a tourist's concept of what a small English market town should look like.

Leek is also famous as one of the very few places on Earth that experiences a double sunset. It takes place once each year three or four days before Summer solstice when the setting sun dips behind Borsley Cloud - part of a nearby ridge - then reappears briefly in a hollow on the hill's near-vertical north face prior to dipping below the horizon.

Cheddleton Station is on the Churnet Valley Railway - not
connected to the national network and still running several
steam engines. This is a popular way for locals to get
around, not merely a tourist attraction. (© Roger Kidd CC2.0)
As the race enters the town, they arrive at the start of an intermediate sprint beginning right by the GATSO speed camera situated at 53° 6'28.11"N 2° 1'51.35"W. 0.3km, the race encounters a reasonably technical right turn onto the A520. The road layout reveals this to have once been a 90 degree turn, but nowadays a widened footpath obscured by the corner of the Swan pub on the right of the road means that the corner is less tight - this could catch out riders who haven't examined their maps closely enough and enter the corner having assumed it to be tighter than it is, ending up hitting the kerb outside the pub. There also appears to be a traffic island in the centre of the road just around the apex, but we estimate it will be possible to see this some 35m before reaching it, thus allowing riders opportunity to line themselves up and avoid hitting it. Nevertheless, this could prove a dangerous corner - especially as, being a bus route, there's a possibility of diesel spills on the road. The pass through the next traffic lights onto Compton and, having come straight outta it (apologies), through more traffic lights onto Cheddleton Road. The second exit (straight) of the roundabout right of a huge Brittania Building Society complex carries the race past Birchall and into a descent leading through Basford Lane Industrial Estate, another potential diesel spill hazard area, reaching Cheddleton 98.7km from the start. The town is very popular among steam enthusiasts - the caption below the photograph to the left explains why.

Having reached Wetley Rocks - also with potential for diesel spills, since it's home to a large animal rendering plant - the peloton turn left at a junction with the A522, following the road for 2.4km until another junction and a tight right turn onto the A52, then a tight left 0.39km further along onto an unclassified route known as Bank Top Road. There are some trees just around the corner on the left, meaning the exit could be slippery, and more at the next bend - a gentle left - 0.54km ahead. The riders remain left at the fork 0.4km ahead, encountering a tree-lined medium left 0.72km later then turn a very tight 90 degree left onto Godley Barn Lane 1.3km later.

Once past the point where a road joins from the right, the route becomes known as Birchenfields Lane and, 0.31km later, turns a tight right by a farm and becomes known as Trimpos. On the western outskirts of Cheadle, it changes once again to Brookhouse Lane, then again as the race passes through the croassroads onto what it now Draycott Cross Road. The final categorised climb of the stage, Cat 2 Commonside, begins 300m later at 52°58'50.52" 2° 0'33.09"W, 111.6km from the start, by the national speed limit signs (diagonal black stripe on a white background). It ends almost exactly 1km later by a gate on the right at 52°58'21.27"N 2° 1'4.58"W.

The Draycott Arms, listed in the Good Pub Guide and thus
an ideal place for a pint if watching the race makes you
thirsty. (© Ian Calderwood, CC2.0)
The race passes straight over another crossroads just after the climb, entering Cheadle Road and following it down to a T-junction next to the Draycott Arms pub at Draycott-in-the-Moors - a village once home to one Joseph Reeve who was said to have lived to be 127 years old, attributing his longevity to the fact that he never smoked, never took medicine and never drank anything between meals. According to the road book, this is the A50 - however, we're not convinced. We think the A50 is further south and that this is the unclassified Uttoxeter Road; what's more, our Ordnance Survey map for the area agrees with us. The peloton turn right onto the road, whatever it's really called, then left 0.38km further along onto Cresswell Lane, passing under the actual A50 before reaching a level crossing 0.44km later - level crossings always being hazardous due to their slippery rails and habit of collecting an assortment of puncture-causing detritus, in addition to taking time off any rider unlucky enough to have to wait.

At the next junction, around 0.95km ahead, the riders turn a tight right and arrive almost immediately at Saverley Green. Following the bend to the left as the road travels past the village, they should arrive at Fulford minutes later. The route continues through the town, coming to a crossroads with the B5066 1.7km later and turning right to head towards Meir Heath, passing through another crossroads after 1.6km and reaching the town with 122.7km covered since the beginning of the race - reaching around 254m above sea level, Meir Heath claims to be the highest town in Staffordshire. Reaching the roundabouts in the centre, the race takes the first exit (tight left) onto the A520 towards Rough Close, taking the second exit at the next roundabout onto what the roadbook called Hartwell Road but we think is Hartwell Lane.

The Hall, Barlaston. Built in 1756-8 for the Canadian
physiologist Thomas Mills by Sir Robert Taylor and
is one of the very few buildings designed by him to
retain his signature octagonal glazing. The house passed
into Wedgewood ownership in 1931, but a combination
of subsidence caused by mining, a geological fault and the
sheer neglect of its new owners saw it decline to such a state
that it was very nearly demolished in the 1980s. Fortunately,
a charity called SAVE Britain's Heritage were able to
purchase the property for the nominal sum of £1; shoring
it up and restoring it  at great expense before selling
it at a profit to a new private owner, in the process
raising funds for their continuing efforts to preserve
other endangered sites.
There are several tight bends along this section. The first is a medium left at the end of the initial 0.46 straight, leading into another 1.89km straight section, ending at a tighter left and tight right 0.1km later. The next left, medium, is 0.41km further along with a medium right 70m ahead on the edge of Barlaston. There's a wide left 0.16km ahead, then a tighter right 61m later before a right-turn at a crossroads leading onto the Wedgewood Estate, followed by another right at the next T-junction to pass along Wedgewood Drive.

With 129.7km ridden so far, the peloton reaches another T-junction and turns left for Blurton Road. This leads into a tight 90 degree right bend 0.96km later, followed immediately by a T-junction where the riders will once again turn left. At the traffic lights 0.8km ahead, they turn right onto the A5035 and arrive at Dresden another 0.8km later - we've been trying to find out if Dresden is named after the German Dresden, also famous for fine ceramics, vice versa or if it's a coincidence, but thus far have no been able to discover any information one way or the other. Anyone know?

Many have been demolished, but
a few bottle kilns - named for their
distinctive shape - can be found
tucked away around Stoke-on-Trent
(© Chris Allen CC2.0)
The riders take the second exit at bith the roundabouts either side of the A50 to travel onto The Strand, keeping right until they reach the large traffic light-controlled intersection at 134.2km and turn left onto King Street. They then arrive at a roundabout in Fenton, taking the second exit onto the A50 and another roundabout 0.26km further on, taking the second exit - probably by going the much shorter wrong way round - onto Victoria Road. The long and straight route leads on for 2km to another roundabout and another second exit for Lichfield Road and the first exit of the roundabout 0.78km ahead leading onto Potteries Way, with the riders making sure they're on the left side carriageway to avoid getting a nasty and much longer route at the 139.5km roundabout.

The second exit leads onto Broad Street and, 0.22km later, a junction where the riders will take the road to the right - it's a forked junction and can be taken at speed, leading straight onto the final sprint along Albion Street. However, this is not a normal, straight sprint - the entrance to the last section is narrow, with an extended kerbs projecting a pedestrianised area out into the road to slow traffic and then, after straight of approximately 160m, the road follows a semi-circle around the front of the Staffordshire Stoke-on-Trent Conference Bureau - it's also uphill, rising quite steeply to the end. This leads immediately to the finish line, 140km from the start at 53° 1'26.47"N 2°10'29.93"W.

Albion Street, looking west away from the finish line to the
entrance where the white car is turning right in the bottom
left. It can clearly be seen that this final section rises quite
steeply, making things difficult in the sprint to the end
(© Ian Brereton CC2.0)
Predictions: We may see a breakaway put some effort into gaining a lead towards the end of the first half in the hope of holding off the peloton's attempts to catch them in the second half - expect some of the non-Pro Teams to try this plan and grab all the points they can. The stage win could go to one of them if any of the breakaway riders have the strength to keep it up to the end. We'll also expect Geraint Thomas to do well on this one - he's a sufficiently strong rider to keep at the front all the way to the climbs but pace himself to ensure he has the reserves to do well through the climbs, thus achieving a good time and putting himself in a strategically valuable position for a shot at the final GC.

Weather: At present, Tuesday around Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire is looking set to be a lot better than Monday between Kendal and Blackpool. The main difference is the wind, which should gust no stronger than around 30kph - that's still powerful enough to blow a rider off course (meaning no deep-section rims and increasing the likelihood of those echelons that many fans seem to like so much), but it's not enough to blow them right off the road and into the fields like the 90kph blasts on Monday could have done. It should also remain dry for the first part of the stage, though there's a strong possibility of light rain in the later afternoon - the stage should have finished by that time, but even a few drops will make some of the later corners distinctly hairy. Temperatures will vary between lows of 14C and highs of 16C.

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