Stoke-on-Trent is a 'great stage' for the Tour of Britain - according to seven-time Olympic superstar Bradley Wiggins as he kicked off the fifth stage of the cycling competition.
The 32-year-old, London 2012 gold medalist spoke about how happy he was to be in the city before this morning’s start at Trentham Gardens where he lined up alongside teammate and world champion Mark Cavendish.
Wiggins said: “It’s great to race in Stoke-on-Trent and I’m happy to be here. It’s nice to be racing in the city and even better that it’s stopped raining! Stoke-on-Trent is a great stage of the Tour of Britain.”
Before the race Wiggins and Cavendish were presented with special paintings – commissioned by Stoke-on-Trent City Council – by junior members of the Lyme Racing Club.
The works of art - each depicting a cyclist based on the recipients - were created by Hanley-based artist Paine Proffitt.
Sallie Birchall, 15, of Lyme Racing Club, one of those who presented the gifts, said: “It’s an opportunity that won’t come round much – being able to talk to them, have a laugh with them and present them with stuff. It’s been really good. They’re definitely heroes.”
The 147km race left the city after the Trentham start to take in Stafford, Uttoxeter and Leek before returning to Stoke-on-Trent for a City Centre finish in Old Hall Street.
The race was won by 28-year-old Dutchman Marc de Maar of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team.
He said: “The Stoke-on-Trent race was really nice this is what real bike racing is all about. There was everything in there, hard climbs and lots of tactics. Although it was hard I really enjoyed it. I’ve only ever been to Heathrow airport before but England really is a lovely country.
“I don’t know exactly what happens to the Sky guys, I was just focused on my own tactics. The crowds are amazing. It’s really fun to see so many people and such a nice atmosphere.”
Ceramic artist Anita Harris handed over an earthenware pottery charger after the victor crossed the line watched by thousands of cycling fans in the city centre.
The distinctive shallow dish features a cyclist in a yellow jersey, racing along a red, white and blue road. The background features bottle kilns, which figure prominently in Stoke-on-Trent’s landscape and industrial heritage.
Anita, who runs Longton-based Anita Harris Art Pottery Ltd with her business partner, Sam Johnson, donated the trophy after being approached by the city council via the art shop and gallery, Barewall Ltd.
The presence of the two cycling superstars also gave other local businesses a major boost, with visitor numbers increasing in Trentham Gardens and the City Centre.
Rebecca Mountain, 34 shop manager at Jan Constantine, and Stoke-on-Trent resident, said: “There has definitely been an increase in footfall today. My husband rang to say he couldn’t get out of the car park. It’s been really busy and there have been lots of new people coming into the shop.
“It’s been great to have the Tour of Britain start here. I’ve met people who have come from outside of the city to be here today. People may now see how lovely it is here and come back again in the future.”
Councillor Mark Meredith, cabinet member economic development, culture and sport, said: “The positive impact the Tour of Britain has had on local business and the reputation of the city this year and for the past four years is almost incalculable. We’ve seen thousands of people out in the city today, cheering on these cyclists who have become household names thanks to the London Olympics and Tour de France.
“The Tour of Britain tops off a great summer of sport for Stoke-on-Trent following our Olympic moment to shine and puts the city right on the map for our ability to host events of international significance.”
Today’s race was the fifth stage of eight races across the country following yesterday’s Carlisle to Blackpool sprint. The race will continue tomorrow in Wales, between Welshpool and Caerphilly.
For all media enquiries contact Steven Kennedy in the Communications Department at Stoke-on-Trent City Council on 01782 232987.