When it comes to women’s racing in the UK, you could say the three monuments are: the Tour de Yorkshire, The Women’s Tour, and the Ride London Classique.
Of course there are other big events like the Tour Series, the London Nocturne, the CiCLE Classic, and the National Series races.
But the trio of big races sees the world’s top racers such as Marianne Vos, Tiffany Cromwell, or Kirsten Wild make the trip over to UK soil for glory, as well as generous prize money and UCI ranking points.
Somehow, a ride up the 21 hairpins of Alpe d’Huez seems more appealing!
Last month I had the opportunity to ride a few of the testing climbs in the first of these monuments. Now, on the eve of the second landmark race we look at the different regions in which the Women’s Tour will pass through.
Stage 1: Framlingham to Southwold – 130km
This stage goes to the Suffolk Coast and heads up through Ipswich, Stowmarket, and up towards Southwold.
Some of you may recognise this area (or not!), having ridden it in the dark during that annual night-time pilgrimage from London to the coast, the Dunwich Dynamo.
I have never ridden this route, but it is on my bucket list of places to ride.
I need to summon the mettle to tackle the 180km-cycle ride followed by sleeping on a sandy beach at stupid o’clock in the morning among the hundreds of other cycling bodies.
Somehow, a ride up the 21 hairpins of Alpe d’Huez seems more appealing!
... this will be a tantalising competition for Queen of the Mountains points
Part of this stage of the Women’s Tour not only criss-crosses the route of the Dunwich Dynamo, but it also intersects the route of the inaugural Southwold cyclosportive that was held earlier this year.
The area is not completely flat, though it will be the flattest of all the five stages with just a pimple at Ipswich (0.8km @ 1.5%), offering Queen of the Mountain points. With a finish at the seaside town, watch out for a phenomenally fast finale.
Ride like a pro
Stage 2: Rushden to Daventry – 145km
For this stage the racers will snake down through the Nene Valley, passing Northampton and Milton Keynes before heading north through Towcester and to Daventry to complete a final hilly loop.
In this closing phase of the stage the loop involves cresting Newnham Hill (1.6km @ 5.2%) twice. It will not be an easy finish, particularly as the racers will have more than 100km of racing in their legs.
For spectators, this will be a tantalising competition not only for Queen of the Mountains points, but also for the General Classification at such an early stage of the race.
Sisters, Hannah and Alice Barnes (above, CANYON//SRAM Racing) could well be in their element during this stage. The girls are from Towcester, and their mother has a shop in Oundle, a few miles north of Rushden.
So having local support from friends and family could be a real motivator for one of the girls to do something special on the day.
Speaking about the race, Hannah said, "I'm really excited for the OVO Energy Women's Tour. We get to have our family and friends out along the route supporting us, which doesn't happen that often throughout the season."
... the ride in that area was tough work for me
Alice, aged 22, has not ridden in Northamptonshire since moving out of the junior category but she recalls cycling in the area as a youngster.
“The roads around Towcester were nice and quiet. Being young, I didn’t ride too far from home, so I stayed mostly around Greens Norton where we did a 10-mile TT loop, and then went around Silverstone and Stowe.
"Every Wednesday we would also ride to Market Harborough for a session with Dean Barnet, which would involve criterium training, or cyclocross in the winter. To get there we would ride on the Brampton Valley Way, a rail trail with long dark tunnels. I never did café stops when I was younger, though there is a nice farm shop near Stowe called Boycott farm which has quite a few treats.”
Stage 3: Atherstone to Leamington Spa – 151km
A beautiful stage through period villages with castles like Kenilworth and Warwick - what I call the “Heart of England” – Warwickshire.
This stage is practically a replica of the stage in last year’s Women’s Tour, and it will be the third time that Atherstone is hosting the start of a stage.
Accessorise like a pro
Warwickshire is close to my heart, as I spent three years there while studying at the University of Warwick. In my second year as an undergraduate I lived in Royal Leamington Spa, and would sometimes cycle to the campus. I had a heavy mountain bike, which was my pride and joy even if it weighed a ton.
I remember riding this road during a triathlon, and it seemed to go on forever!
At that time mountain bikes were the new kid on the block, and aluminium was so cutting edge that only the privileged few would have a bike made of such high end material!
Despite the sluggishness of my steel bike with its chunky tyres on the country roads I still found it a very pleasant ride that was not horrendously challenging.
Fast forward to a year ago when I rode around Warwick, and the ride in that area was tough work for me - even on my carbon fibre road bike.
Granted, I was not taking these roads at race pace when I was a student, but then again it might just be a sign that I am getting old!
British Quadrathlon Champion and former World and European Age Group Duathlon Champion Helen Russell (above) is familiar with this area, having ridden the Warwickshire stage of the 2016 Women’s Tour with BBC Coventry and Warwickshire DJ, Phil Upton.
Helen describes the area as follows:
“The route goes past the National Cyclists’ Memorial in Meriden, built to remember those cyclists who died in World War One. There's an annual ceremony at the memorial for cyclists who gave their lives in conflicts around the world.
“Next the ride goes through Tysoe Village, which always welcomes the Women’s Tour with bunting and bikes covered in knitting in the colours of the Suffragettes. When riding this route Tysoe Stores in Upper Tysoe is a good cycling friendly stop.
“Edge Hill (0.8km @ 9.9%) and Burton Dassett (1.7km @ 4.9%), the two classified climbs on this stage, are both testing. Burton Dassett is very open and barren which means it is usually windy, but at the top there are great views for miles. Edge Hill is a popular climb among local cyclists and the café at the top is always a welcome sight after the stiff gradient.”
Stage 4: Evesham to Worcester – 130km
Still in the heart of England is another lovely stage through the Worcestershire countryside, and a stage that honours a former Queen of the Mountains winner of the Women’s Tour, Sharon Laws who died of cancer in December 2017.
Sharon was from Worcestershire, and the route will go along many roads that she trained on. Many riders will be thinking about her on this day.
Helen Russell (pictured, with Chris Boardman) is from this area:
“I'm very excited that the Worcestershire Stage starts in my home town of Evesham, which has become a real cycling hub. Evesham Wheelers is a vibrant cycling club, and Cycle Evesham Vale is an initiative which promotes cycling from a social, fitness and environmental point of view.
"The national Wattbike Centre, where I train and run classes for various charities, is in the town. In May, the new Boardman performance centre opened at the Valley retail and leisure complex where there are plenty of cycling friendly cafes.
Don't set out without...
"Also, every September CycleFest takes place with mountain biking events, social rides and a sportive.
“Stage 4 then goes through Pershore where my favourite cycling shop Echelon Cycles is located. The shop is a huge supporter of women’s cycling and sponsors the NJC Biemme Echelon women’s team which finished second in this year’s Women’s Tour Series.
“Both Queen of the Mountain hills are really testing, especially Snowshill (1.3km @ 7.9%). The Lenches is a lumpy area to cycle, and I will be spectating the riders as they go up Atch Lench (1.8km @2.4%).”
Stage 5: Dolgellau to Colwyn Bay – 122km
Arguably the Queen stage, this route through the challenging terrain of North Wales and the Snowdonia National Park will determine the overall winner.
With a profile that resembles shark’s teeth and containing two QOM climbs – Bwlch y Maen (1.8km @ 5.4%) and Gwynant (6.9km @ 4.4%) – the riders will be on their limits after four days of hilly racing.
I have ridden in the area around Cadair Idris, the second highest mountain in Wales, on-road, and off-road at the nearby Coed y Brenin forest.
Slightly north of that is the long climb from Llyn Gwynant in the shadow of Mount Snowdon.
Life doesn’t get much better
I remember riding this road during a triathlon, and it seemed to go on forever! If you like your hills combined with beautiful lakes, North Wales will provide that.
Karen Price left behind her professional life in London, and set up holiday cottages in North Wales. She certainly doesn't regret the move:
“We moved to North Wales five years ago after living in South London for nearly 20 years. I commuted into central London nearly every day for most of that time and spent the weekends escaping the city into the North Downs and beyond.
Pro jerseys for summer riding
"But the daily battle for survival on the roads, literally, was taking its toll and I was beginning to lose my love of cycling.
"Moving to North Wales changed that, and I now spend as much time as possible getting out on the bicycle. It also helps that my business is running two holiday cottages, Ty Beic, which cater for cyclists. So trying out new cycle routes can be classed as ‘work’.
“My favourite ride is a 46-mile-loop from Bala, taking in a climb through Ysbyty Ifan, near Betws y Coed, and over The Migneint moorland (pictured, above), then back to Bala.
"It’s beautifully desolate and quiet, so much so that even on a busy Sunday during the holidays you only see a few cars. I normally finish the ride in Stori, a fantastic craft beer shop and tap room (which also serves very good coffee), with a locally made ice cream from Aran Ice Cream. Life doesn’t get much better.”
The OVO Energy Women's Tour runs from June 13 - 17th
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