The Friends Life Women’s Tour must be the most hyped stage race of the year. From the initial announcement that the first UCI women’s international stage race to be held in the UK would take place in 2014 barely a week since has passed without news stories about the race being released. Plus, the countless interviews with riders saying they’re looking forward to the race. Momentum around the event has really built, and finally, it’s here! Five days of elite international racing taking in the South Midlands, Home Counties and East of England.

At a glance

7-11th May 2014

United Kingdom

5 Stages 499 km

16 teams

30,000 €

      

Stage 1 - 7th May - Oundle to Northampton – 93.8 km

Women's Tour Stage 1 Profile -  2014
Women’s Tour Stage 1 Profile – 2014

The inaugural Tour starts in the market town of Oundle, Northamptonshire. The 93.8km route is rarely flat as they head south-west through Northamptonshire’s rolling countryside to the finish in Northampton. None of the climbs are particularly steep for any significant length of time but will have a cumulative effect on the peloton with a select group likely to contest the finish.

The first sprint comes 30 kilometres into the race with the first QoM point six kilometres later, in the village of Harrington on a country lane only wide enough for riders to ride a few abreast. The second QoM point of the day comes 51 kilometres into the stage in the village of Spratton. It is significantly tougher than the first. Starting off with a shallow gradient that increases as the riders head to the centre of the village.

Climb into Spratton

The final sprint point comes with just ten kilometres to the finish as the riders circle around the edge of Northampton for the finish in the town centre in-front of the Guildhall.

Stage 2 - 8th May - Hinckley to Bedford – 118.5 km

Women's Tour Stage 2 Profile - 2014
Women’s Tour Stage 2 Profile – 2014

The second stage start in Hinckley, Leicestershire. The most northern point in this year’s race. At 118.5 kilometres it’s the longest stage of the race. The race heads south through terrain similar to the first stage, crossing the route of the previous day’s stage on a number of occasions.

After the first sprint point in Lutterworth, 32 kilometres into the stage the first QoM point quickly follows, 13 kilometres later in the village of Kilworth. It’s more of a ‘pimple’ on the course than a proper climb but the second in Brixworth, just under 65 kilometres into the stage is a bit more ‘meaty’, with a gradient touching double digits toward the top.

It’s then mostly downhill, with a few ascents thrown in for good measure to the finish along with the final sprint point in Turvey with a little over 17 kilometres to go. The winner of the stage will be determined on the flat roads alongside the riverbank in Bedford.

Stage 3 - 9th May - Felixstowe to Clacton-on-Sea – 90.5 km

Women's Tour Stage 3 Profile - 2014
Women’s Tour Stage 3 Profile – 2014

The Tour heads to the coast for stage three, starting in Felixstowe, home to the UK’s busiest container port. The stage arcs inland around the estuaries on the rivers feeding into the North Sea to finish in the Essex seaside town of Clacton-on-Sea. It’s a day for the ‘Dutchie type’ sprinters with minimal climbing and the chance of windy conditions on exposed roads.

The first sprint point is dispatched within the first twenty kilometres before the race has reached Ipswich. Then follows the two QoM points which are short and shallow. At their steepest they very occasionally reach mid-single figure percentage gradients and won’t have an impact on the stage win or general classification.

The final sprint point is 68.9 kilometres into the stage before the race heads for an almost guaranteed sprint finish back on the coast in Clacton-on-Sea.

Stage 4 - 10th May - Cheshunt to Welwyn Garden City – 87.8 km

Women's Tour Stage 4 Profile - 2014
Women’s Tour Stage 4 Profile – 2014

The penultimate stage is the ‘Laura Trott’ stage: Starting in her home town of Cheshunt and finishing in Welwyn Garden City where she learnt her track-craft on the outdoor velodrome. When I first heard one of the stages would finish in Welwyn I was almost certain it would finish ‘Paris-Roubaix style’ into the velodrome but the finish will be in the town centre which should attract big crowds on a Saturday afternoon.

This is the stage where the General Classification could be decided. The climbs are rarely very long but they are often challenging and when they get steep, it happens very quickly. Starting out on the Lea Valley floor the race heads to the county town of Hertford. The first QoM point comes early in the race just after the ten kilometre mark as the rider’s head out of Hertford, up Port Hill. The climb is only a few hundred metres long and the gradient maxes out at just under 10% but it’s one of those climbs that levels into a false flat that can feel like forever if you’re not feeling 100%. After reaching the edge of town it’s a long fast downhill.

If a rider reaches the top of Port Hill alone they’ve got little, to no chance of reaching the next climb in Wadesmill alone but if a strong group make it together it could be the makings of the break of the day.

Port Hill climb

After the next ascent in Wadesmill the race turns onto narrow, country lanes, often covered by a canopy of trees. There are a number of steep sections to the next village of Much Hadham but if these roads haven’t been swept there is often a track of gravel in the centre of the road to be wary of. After passing through some beautiful villages the race reaches the first sprint point of the day, 58 kilometres into the stage on the high street of the market town, Baldock.

The race then turns south to the finish in Welwyn Garden City along the minor roads running parallel to the motorway that dissects the county. The final sprint comes as the race reaches Codicote followed by the QoM point at Digswell Hill just two and a half kilometres from the finish before turning on a narrow lane cutting across a golf course to the finish in the town centre.

Stage 5 – 11th May – Harwich to Bury-St Edmunds – 108.3 km

Women's Tour Stage 5 Profile - 2014
Women’s Tour Stage 5 Profile – 2014

It’s back to the coast for the final stage. Starting the in the port town of Harwich the race heads inland, across the Essex and Suffolk countryside to the finish in the market town, Bury St Edmunds. The first sprint point of the day is reached just over 13 kilometres into the stage, in the village of Mistley. After tackling a series of climbs in the rolling Essex countryside the peloton reach the final intermediate sprint of this year’s race on the pretty High Street of Long Melford, 58.6 kilometres into the stage. It’s then on to the final two QoM points of the course at 63.7 and 77.4 kilometres. Neither of which are very steep, they’re more long shallow, ascents topping out at a maximum of mid-single figure gradients than the punchier climbs of the previous day. The roads narrow significantly as the riders make their way to the finish in the centre of Bury St Edmonds for a likely sprint finish end to the Tour.

Who’s racing?

With just 16 teams the peloton is relatively small compared to races on the Continent but the strength of those teams taking part is impressive.

With just 16 teams the peloton is relatively small compared to races on the Continent but the strength of those teams taking part is impressive.

Essentially, if you’re a UCI women’s team with a British rider on your roster then you’re racing. Boels Dolmans with Lizzie Armitstead and Emma Trott, Estado de Mexico Faren and Lucy Martin, Lotto Belisol Ladies with Emma Pooley, Wiggle-Honda and their GB track stars, UnitedHealthcare with Sharon Laws and Hannah Barnes.

There is one notable exception, the omission of Lucy Garner’s team, Liv-Shimano. Perhaps they are looking to focus on the World Cup in China that follows in the week after The Women’s Tour. Garner will lead the Great Britain national team.

Other teams to take to the start line in Northamptonshire include Rabo-Liv, Orica-AIS, Specialized-Lululemon, Hitec Products, Astana BePink, Lointek, even Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies are making a rare hop across the Atlantic for the race. Dutch and Swiss and national team and the solitary domestic team to start the race, Matrix Fitness-Vulpine complete the start list.

Start List

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