South West stages of Tour impress former British champ

THE South West stages of the Tour of Britain will test every rider in this year s race, according to one of Britain s top cyclists, Dean Downing.

THE South West stages of the Tour of Britain will test every rider in this year's race, according to one of Britain's top cyclists, Dean Downing.

The Rapha-Condor rider, who was the British Criterium Champion in 2008 and winner of the Exeter round of this year's Tour Series, got a taste of what he can expect on a preview ride through Devon and Somerset. Having taken in a few miles of Stage Six between Bampton and Dulverton, and with a Category One King of the Mountains climb thrown in for good measure, he admits he's gearing himself up for a tough couple of days.

Stages six and seven of the Tour of Britain on 17 and 18 September are being hosted by Devon County Council and Somerset County Council.

Dean finished fourth on the first stage of the Tour last year and he is one of eight Rapha-Condor riders vying for the team's six places in the Tour.

He said: "Two stages in this area is a real coup for Devon and Somerset County Council. It's very scenic but the riders won't be taking in the scenery. These stages are going to test everybody. It's really hilly and there are some little lanes, so I think these stages will be decisive. Personally I won't be looking forward to it because the flatter stages and sprint finishes suit me, but my team-mate Kristian House will be.

"It's perfect around here for cycling and not just on the roads, but cycling in general. There are some great off road and mountain bike trails here too. It's an enjoyable pastime that the whole family can get involved with."

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He also praised the work of the South West Bike Academy, who joined him on the preview ride.

"I've seen the Academy riders at races and it's a great opportunity for them to experience the highest standard of cycle racing in the UK,"he said. "It gives them a good grounding on how to be a professional cyclist and to aspire to take part in the Tour of Britain."

Councillor Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Highways and Transportation, said: "It's always encouraging to hear Devon and Somerset spoken about in such glowing terms by one of Britain's best cyclists. We're lucky to have such scenic towns, villages and countryside and hopefully by hosting the Tour it will inspire residents and visitors to discover what great cycling our region has to offer, which will be a great boost to the economy."

Graham Bagley, Somerset County Council's Tour of Britain Project Manager, said: "The South West stages are going to be a real challenge for this year's riders. It was great that Dean joined us for the preview ride. With about five weeks to go until the main event everyone is getting very excited. We hope that having two stages of racing will encourage lots of people to take a trip to Somerset and Devon to watch the race and enjoy the beautiful scenery of both counties.