Sharon Laws previews The Ovo Energy Women’s Tour

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The first edition of Great Britain’s Women’s Tour, sponsored by AVIVA, was held in June 2014. I was racing with UHC Pro-cycling. Our Sports Director, Rachel Heal, was giving us our pre-race meeting before the start of Stage One.

Unlike the previous races in the US, where we had quite specific goals and roles, Rachel had been much less precise noting that this was our first race on the European circuit and we were unlikely to be as dominant as we were in the US races. At the end of the first stage Hannah Barnes was in the Young Rider Jersey and Best British Rider’s Jersey, having finished third on the stage, and I was in the Queen of the Mountains Jersey. It was a start that was beyond all of our expectations. I will never forget that race, it was one of the highlights of my career to win the Mountain Jersey. It wasn’t easy and I had a daily battle with Jolanda Neff: an incredible mountain biker, who also represented Switzerland on the road at the Rio Olympics. The highlight was the last day of racing when I went to get my bike to find our mechanic had covered it in orange spots. Our water bottles had also gone spotty! The crowds in the UK are like no other women’s race: the atmosphere is amazing and riding along the streets lined with school children waving flags wildly gave me goose bumps. It was one of the times in my life I was proud to be British and to showcase my country to my new team mates from other countries.

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2017 is the fourth edition of the Women’s Tour and as the race has gained in momentum each year it is likely to attract more crowds than ever. The last stage will be iconic: for the first time it will be held on the streets of London using a circuit that takes in world-famous landmarks such as Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and The Strand. Ahead of this final stage, Breast Cancer Care will turn the whole circuit pink to celebrate 25-years of the iconic pink ribbon with 1,000 women cycling the circuit to raise money and awareness to fight breast cancer.

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In each stage there are two sprint points and two mountain points for the riders to focus on, in addition to the overall win. The intermediate sprints also have bonus seconds (3, 2 and 1) and these can be critical in gaining seconds to contribute to a riders overall General Classification position. Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans), recently won the Tour of California by just one second by gaining two seconds in an intermediate sprint on the final stage. There are also bonus seconds at the end of each stage; 10 seconds for 1st place, 6 seconds for 2nd place and 4 seconds for 3rd place.

Of course every rider wants to win the overall General Classification, but there are other jerseys up for grabs which makes the racing more exciting. The jerseys are:

  • The OVO Energy General Classification
  • The Wiggle Points Classification – the rider with the highest points obtained at each stage finish. Points 10, 6, 4 for 1st/2nd/3rd respectively.
  • The SKODA Queen of the Mountains Classification (QoM) – the rider with the highest points obtained on 2 designated climbs per stage. Category 1 climbs awarding points for 10 places, maximum 10 points, category 2 climb 6 places, maximum 6 points and a category 3 climb 4 places, maximum 4 points. The QoM jersey will be decided by the end of stage 4 as there are no points on the last day.
  • The Eisberg Sprints Classification – the rider with the highest points obtained at 2 intermediate sprints per stage. Points 3,2,1 for 1st/2nd/3rd respectively.
  • The Adnams Best British Rider Classification – first British rider on the general individual time classification.

In addition there is also an award for the OVO Energy Teams classification – the sum of the 3 best individual riders from each team and a combativity award on each stage.

The Stages 

The excellent Women’s Tour website provides details of each stages and is worth a look.

The profiles are however always deceptive. What look like ‘rolling’ stages are generally constant, challenging, short climbs and descents and the ‘heavy’ roads in the UK always make the racing hard and leg sapping. The stages are much longer than those in the other stage races.

Hannah Barnes (Canyon SRAM) expects this to be a factor: “The length of the stages is going to play a big part in the race this year. The stages are long and the routes hard, so it will be critical to stay well fuelled and hydrated for the full 5 days.”

Stage 1: Daventry to Kettering, 147.5km, GPM category 3 & 2

The run into Kettering is a very fast one with a 650m descent and then a 200m rise before a final flat 150m run into the line. The opening stage is likely to be one for the pure sprinters.

Stage 2: Stoke on Trent to Stoke on Trent, 144.5km, GPM category 1 & 1

This stage is reminiscent of last year’s Stage 4 covering some of the roads through Staffordshire that the race has been on before. The real undulations don’t really start until around 100km into the race and the first QoM of Ipstones. From there it’s a roller coaster ride to the finish.  The second QoM of Gun Hill comes with 20km left to go.  With the race rolling all the way to the finish I expect we will see a reduced bunch sprint.

Stage 3: Atherstone to Royal Leamington Spa, 150.8km, GPM category 2 & 2

The Warwickshire stage is very little changed from 2016 with the first 62km of the stage on the same roads. The QoMs come in the latter part of the stage, just 10km apart and the last one with 27km to the finish line. With the run in from the top of the last QoM largely downhill and on wide well surfaced roads the main peloton is likely to regroup here. The finish will be a long straight drag race to the line, ideal for a bunch sprint.

Stage 4: Chesterfield to Chesterfield, 123.1km, GPM category 2 & 2 

This is likely to be the hardest and decisive stage of the Tour despite being the shortest. It is technical and on narrow roads. From 12km to 28km the route is either up or down on sinuous Derbyshire lanes.  There are many fast and technical descents along with some narrow sections. It is possible the jersey could change hands on this stage. Although the QoM climbs come in the first half of the race there are still many uncategorized climbs to contend with, including one in the last 10km.

Stage 5: London circuit race, 88km, 14 laps of 6.2km

The circuit is wide and fast and includes a fast right-hander with just 300m to go and a slight rise to the finish line. Barring any accidents the leader at Stage 4 is likely to be the overall Women’s Tour winner, although as we saw in the Tour of California this may not be the case.

What’s new?

The stages are always different in the Women’s Tour although there are some familiar start and finish towns. The newest and exciting edition to the Tour this year is the final stage in London. This is likely to be spectacular.

Guy Elliot explained: “Every year we have tried to do something different with the Women’s Tour and this year of course that means London. We don’t believe that women’s racing has to exactly copy men’s racing in every way but we believe that the very large crowds in London will bring a new dimension to the race. The Mayor of London is personally involved with bringing the race to the capital and we are together doing a massive amount of work around the “activation” of getting large numbers of young people involved with and inspired by the race. Expect to see many, many schoolchildren from every social and ethic background to be there. We want to turn them into the Marianne’s and Lizzie’s of the future. Also our link with Breast Cancer Care will see a ride through central London by 1,000 (mainly female) supporters of the race – which will be a first.”

Hannah Barnes (Canyon SRAM) said: “The London stage will be really exciting. The crowds are always great and the course looks challenging with a lot of corners and hairpins too.”

The crowds

One of the lasting impressions of the race for riders is the support from the public. As Alice Barnes (Drops Cycling) commented: “The Women’s tour always has amazing crowds and to see schools lining the streets – it is nice to know the impact and inspiration the race and riders have.”

Guy Elliot said: “Each stage typically attracts 75,000 or so live spectators and has increased each year. We always say our differentiator is our engagement with school children as we want them to have great female role models. Expect to be wowed by the Grand Depart in Daventry in particular and all the Northamptonshire schools who have adopted teams and are preparing posters and banners. But every stage has something unique.”

Who to watch 

I think it is going to be hard to beat Boels Dolmans this year. They have been dominant in the last WWT races with Anna van der Breggen winning all three of the races in the Ardennes week, in addition to the Amgen Women’s Tour of California, where Megan Guarnier won a stage too. Lizzie Deignan also won the Tour of Yorkshire convincingly. The team did not race the Tour of Chongming Island in China. Anna van de Breggen currently leads the WWT classification and with Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) opting out of participating in the Women’s Tour in order to focus on races later in the season, there is a good chance that Anna will hold onto the jersey. Her next nearest rival is Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling), lying 115 points behind. Boels Dolman’s have a number of cards to play but I expect the team will be supporting Lizzie Deignan in defending her 2016 victory.

Marianne Vos  (WM3 Pro Cycling) recently won Rabobank 7-Dorpenomloop Aalburg, Trofee Maarten Wynants and Gooik-Geraardsbergen-Gooik and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (Cervélo Bigla) won the Emakumeen XXX. Bira stage race, followed by La Classique Morbihan and the Grand Prix de Plumelec-Morbihan. Both these riders are clearly ‘in form’ and I think will do well in Britain. Other riders I expect to be in the mix for stage podiums include Lucinda Brand and Ellen van Dijk  (Team Sunweb), Sarah Roy and Grace Elvin (Orica-Scott), Hannah Barnes and Lisa Brennauer (Canyon-SRAM), Chloe Hosking (Alé  Cipollini), Jolien D’Hoore (Wiggle HIGH5) and Kirsten Wild (Cylance Pro Cycling).

What do the riders think?

Hannah Barnes (Canyon SRAM) said: “I am really looking forward to racing on home roads and seeing familiar faces. It’s special to have the support, especially from family and friends that don’t get to see me very often.”

Katie Archibald (Team WNT) said: “My expectations for the women’s tour are modest. WNT are in our first year professional and we don’t expect to be competing in the general classification but maybe contesting in other jerseys and recognising where we can have an impact. What I like most about the race is the prestige is carries, not just in the UK but in cycling globally. This makes riding it feel a privilege.”

Alice Barnes (Drops Cycling) said: “I am really looking forward to racing in the Women’s Tour again. I believe it is one of the biggest races on the women’s calendar and is always hotly contested. It is going to be a very hard and fast race, which will make it all the more exciting. Having the first stage racing along roads I train on is really exciting, especially having friends and family along the route for support.”

Nikki Harris (Boels Dolmans) said: “‘I’m really looking forward to the women’s tour, it should be an exciting race, the stages look tough. It will be great to ride in front of home crowds, the fans in the UK are amazing and they really get behind women’s cycling. We are going into it with a strong team, so just like any other race we will be hoping for some good results”.

Coverage

The Women’s Tour probably has the best coverage of any Women’s World Tour event. Guy Elliot said: “We are delighted to have extended our global TV reach including highlights being shown on Eurosport in Europe.”

International broadcasters in more than 100 countries around the world:

  • SNTV
  • inCycle
  • Eurosport – Europe & APAC 
  • Supersport
  • Sky – NZ
  • Fubo.tv – USA
  • Econet – Sub Saharan Africa
  • OSN – MENA
  • Perform – Japan
  • TDN – Mexico
  • ESPN – Latam
  • Fubo.tv USA
  • Sport Channel – Israel’

This really is impressive and a leading example for all other WWT races.

You can also follow the race on Twitter @thewomenstour #OVOWT

Voxwomen will be tweeting each stage race live, and WNT Team will be taking over our Instagram!