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Stage 8? The end of the race already? It can't be, can it...?
Since being brought back to life by SweetSpot in 2004 after the demise of the PruTour (which, via a long and convoluted ancestry, traced its roots right back to the original tour of Britain, the Victory Marathon of 1945), this really has been a race that's gone from strength to strength. This year, it's received more exposure than ever before and has boasted a top-notch international roster of riders - we've got World Champion Thor Hushovd, for pete's sake! - and that can only lead one way: more top-notch riders next year as the teams try to send a stronger selection than their rivals and more publicity. That means 2013 will be even better, and 2014 better still. It's like a nuclear chain reaction; self-fueling and getting bigger and bigger until... Boom! Britain ends up with one of the most anticipated and important races on the professional calendar. And about time too, because we've always had a huge and vibrant racing scene here in Britain - it just never quite made it into the wider public consciousness like it did in France, Belgium and Italy. Give it another decade and cycling will be massive here.
|Trafalgar Square By Moonlight, Edward Pether|
As is the case with the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vueta a Espana, the race ends in the capital with what may turn out to be one of the fastest individual time trials in the history of cycling along a flat, largely straight 8.8km circuit starting out from Whithall where the start ramp will be erected right in between the Household Cavalry buildings and the Ministry of Defence. Each rider will then head north, away from Parliament, past Whitehall Placeto come out right on the convergence of The Mall, Cockspur Street, The Strand and Northumberland Avenue on the southern corner of Trafalgar Square. The Square has long been used as a place for community gatherings, either in protest for example, the anti-Poll Tax protests when public anger turned into all-out violent civil war; or in celebration, as is the case each Christmas and New Year, each Chanukah, each May Day, whenever a great event of national significance occurs and, if the unofficial plans come to fruition, for an enormous free party on the first Saturday after the death of Margaret Thatcher.
|Charisng Cross Station and Embankment Place|
(© Keith Roper CC2.0)
|Depiction of the Embankment during construction,|
showing how the Metropolitan underground lines
were incorporated within the structure.
|Cleopatra's Needle seen from the Thames|
The Cleopatra got no further than the Bay of Biscay where a storm capsized it, killing all six of the crew onboard at the time. it was abandoned and reported as sinking. However, it didn't sink and was recovered by Spanish fishermen a dew days later. Getting it back cost Wilson another £2000, because under international maritime laws concerning salvage, it was now legally the property of the city of Ferrol in Galicia. With that matter sorted, a tug was dispatched to tow the Cleopatra back to London where the Needle was eventually erected in 1878, a full 59 years after it had been given to Britain.
|Somerset House (© Jan van der Crabben CC2.0)|
The next bridge is Blackfriars, named originally after the same William Pitt whose house the Tour passed a few days ago in Somerset but later renamed after the Dominican monks of an abbey that had existed near the site. The bridge has been a feature of numerous conspiracy theories since 1982 when the Italian banker Roberto Calvi was found hanged from one of the arches. Though at first put down to suicide, an inquest ruled that he had been murdered by a person or persons unknown. That, combined with his close links to the Vatican, was more than enough material for theories to arise with suspects ranging from the mysterious "black" masonic organisation Propaganda Due to the Vatican and the Mafia. The best, as is the way with conspiracy theories and all good examples of paranoid fiction, combine all of the above.
At this point, the route enters the long Upper Thames Street tunnel or Blackfriars Underpass, emerging some 360m later by Lambeth Hill near Southwark Bridge. London Bridge is a short way ahead. Despite its fame - chiefly resulting from the nursery rhyme commemorating one of the many bridges to have stood here since Roman times - it's a rather underwhelming structure, plain and even quite boring; this perhaps being the reason that so many people assume that the spectacular Tower Bridge some 0.87km downstream is London Bridge. A pity, really - the great medieval bridge, covered in homes, shops and even mills that turned it into a bustling mini-city within a city, must have been a spectacular sight. At any one time, there could be thousands of people going about their daily business on the bridge - in 1212 fires broke out at both ends simultaneously, trapping 3000 people who subsequently lost their lives, in between.
|The medieval London Bridgen depicted in 1682 (a larger version of the image can|
be seen by clicking on it)
|London - Thames Sunset Panorama. Tower Bridge can be seen to the left and 30 St. Mary Axe|
(popularly known as the Gherkin or Crystal Phallus) can be seen to the right. (© David Ilif CC-BY3.0)
|Tower of London (© Pikous, CC2.0)|
|The Tower and, in the background, Tower Bridge|
Passing north of the Tower, the riders travel along Tower Hill Terrace before looping around on the A1211 to travel back along the river in the opposite direction, allowing a better look at the Tower's moats. Dry today, having been drained and filled in during the 19th Century when they had silted up and become a disease-ridden, festering lagoon, it was 4.5m deeper when built than it was today. Plans sometimes arise to reflood the moat, most recently being proposed in 2007 to mark the London Olympics in 2012, but have thus far come to nothing.
|HMS Belfast (top) and President (bottom)|
The next is HMS President, an Anchusa-class Royal Navy sloop of 1918. It appears archaic when compared to Belfast, but does not provide an example of how naval progressed between the wars - as Q-ship, also known as a mystery ship, it was designed to resemble an older merchant vessel in order to lure submarines to the surface where they could be destroyed with the ship's cutting-edge weaponry. HMS Wellington, now officially HQS for obscure maritime reasons than mean nothing to us and moored a short way upstream, fulfilled a similar role in WW2 when she guarded transport and merchant ships against U-boat attack. She also took part in the Dunkirk Evacuation of 1940. On the opposite bank is the South Bank Centre, the largest centre for the arts in Europe. Construction began in 1951 in readiness to serve as the centrepiece of the Festival of Britain, an enormous nationwide project intended to demonstrate to the country that while the British people continued to suffer hardships due to the vast financial cost of the war, Britain itself was moving on, progressing, and the end was within sight. Today, the Royal Festival Hall is the sole surviving original building but the complex has grown to include the National Theatre, the Hayward Gallery, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the British Film Institute in addition to several others; hosting more than a thousand paid and numerous free events each year.
|Portcullis House, Big Ben and the Eye|
|Anti-war protest at Parliament Square, 2003 (© Fys CC3.0)|
|The Cenotaph, Parliament Street looking|
north towards the finish line
(© Bill Henderson CC2.0)
The same course will be used for the Individual Time Trial - the first in the Tour of Britain since 2005 - and then be completed eight times to form the final stage. Sprints will be held in laps 2, 6 and 8.