The Inaugural Women’s Tour starts this coming Wednesday for 5 stages of racing in the East of England.
I am lucky enough to live in this area and will be trying to watch the start and finish of Stage 1 as well as be at the side of the road for Stage 2 at about the halfway point.
When the start and finish towns were announced, I got quite excited by Stage 1 as I thought they may be racing on the roads that I ride regularly. Unfortunately, now the full routes have been revealed it turns out that they will be taking a longer trip to the North of Kettering and approaching almost riding a full circle round Northampton.
This means I haven’t ridden these roads myself, although I have driven on some of them quite regularly. I was hoping to just be able to walk to the end of my road to see them pass by, but instead I will be visiting Oundle for the start and heading to Northampton to catch the finish. I live about half way between the two towns.
Whilst there are no mountains in Northamptonshire the road is never flat. None of the climbs are very long, but they will be steep. There are numerous hills in my area that hit 11 or 12% gradients at times. But as they are so short, they are relatively easy to power over. What will separate the wheat from the chaff will be the sheer number of hills that they have to tackle.
The finale of the stage will be no easy run in either, with the last 3 or 4 kilometres all being steadily uphill in the 2 to 4% range, before finishing in front of the beautiful old Guildhall (if you ignore the ugly modern additions!). As such, I think this stage will be won by a strong sprinter from a select group, which has been thinned out by the multiple climbs.
On the other hand, this course seems tailor made for the attacking style of the women’s peloton, so we could see a break go the distance.
Stage 2 runs from Hinckley in Leicestershire, through Northamptonshire and finishing in Bedford, with the course dissecting stage 1’s route through the middle.
I don’t know much about the roads near Hinckley, but the profile suggests there will be some climbs of a similar kind as stage 1, but not quite as many.
At about the halfway stage the peloton pass through the village of Wollaston, where I will be watching at the top of a nasty, narrow little climb called Bell End (no sniggering at the back!). One through Wollaston the riders will have about 15km of undulating country roads, before reaching another village called Turvey and turning onto the A421, which is one of the main roads into Bedford.
From here onwards the terrain is not particularly demanding and gets flatter as they enter Bedford itself. The last three kilometres could even be described as downhill.
I fully expect the field to regroup and for there to be a large peloton contesting a sprint finish. However, there is a tight (almost 90 degrees) corner onto a narrow road with only 500m to go and whoever gets there first will be in prime position to take the win by the riverside.
If anyone is planning on coming to watch either of these two stages and needs any advice on travel, parking or a good place to watch, post a question in the comments and I will do my best to help.
Unfortunately, after stage two I know next to nothing about the route, but from looking at the road book it seems that stage 3 is flatter, but could be windy by the coast and stages 4 and 5 are hilly again. Stage 4 could be decisive with a climb close to the end and a descent to the line.
The race website is very good and can be found at www.thewomenstour.co.uk