Not insignificantly the race name is actually Friends Life Women's Tour. Finding a solid sponsor was one of the main aims to get the event off the ground and while it took a while for the SweetSpot race management they pulled it off in the end.Hopefully with a successful first year they will have even more people lining up to be part of the event. And if it was slow going getting financial backing, getting the big teams onboard was no problem. Basically all the big teams are here with one or two exceptions, which isn't too strange since the race does sort of collide with the Chongming events in China, one of which is a World Cup.
The whole dang race is new. Britain gets a UCI event, organized by the same company that runs the Tour of Britain. It's really a natural development in light of the emerging talent and interest in cycling in Britain but in the light of the general development in women's cycling it really stands out as a wondrous thing. It's interesting that an organization that has come a long way toward building their men's race to a high UCI level, making it a little bigger every year, is now putting that experience to use building a women's race too and doing it with obvious enthusiasm (as opposed to "we were forced into this, so lets get on with it"). What I'm saying is that as hyped as it is, the race shouldn't be judged merely on this first edition. Just like the men's version I can see it developing steadily in the years to come as long as it gets a decent amount of support.
You can't get beyond the symbolic fact that this race will offer the same prizemoney as the men's Tour of Britain. It sometimes feels like prizemoney gets a bit more attention than it deserves but it really does send a strong signal to everyone involved. This is a race with ambitions beyond what we are used to in women's cycling.
Where Will the Race Be Won?
Pretty much anywhere. The course doesn't offer much in the way of obvious decision points. There is no timetrial to set the GC and the climbs aren't of the type that you can point to one decisive stage. Any GC hopefuls will probably have to be very attentive and careful not to miss out on potentially racedeciding splits much like they would in for instance the notoriously flat Energiewacht Tour. While the stages aren't climby in any significant sense they are however in quite varied terrain that could make them plenty challenging if teams decide to put the pressure on and with the quality of lineups that are here there are any number of teams that will not be content to simply roll through the stages for a sprint finish.They will want to put some competitors out the back whenever they can and while it looks likely that most if not all the stages will be decided in a sprint we could very well see them coming from some very reduced groups on some days. Stage 4 to Welwyn City Gardens for instance looks to offer some good terrain for teams wanting to shake off some weaker and inattentive riders.
The duller scenario of course sees timebonuses playing a big part of deciding the overall winner. There's 10, 6 & 4 seconds for the top three in each stage and each stage also has two bonussprints along the route with 3, 2 & 1 seconds on offer. It's quite possible that these will be pivotal as on any sprinters dominated course.
Whom to Look For
Pretty much all the sprinters but Kirsten Wild who is perhaps the one notable absentee on this type of course. Giant-Shimano aren't racing which is a pity partly because Wild is then missing but it also means talented Lucy Garner will need to rely on a less solid support team in the GB squad she now represents here. She should nevertheless be a fun rider to look out for. While many local eyes will no doubt be on the more well known British track riders Laura Trott and Dani King, Garner along with United Healthcare's Hannah Barnes and World Cup leader Lizzie Armitstead of course are absolutely more likely to shine in this event for the homenation.
Apart from the pure sprinters, Specialized-lululemon bring the duo of Chantal Blaak and Lisa Brennauer who have been quietly getting some respectable results. Also an intriguing outsider is Wiggle Honda's Linda Villumsen, perhaps the one rider that is most likely to "steal" the GC with a long range solo attack seeing as she has been on fantastic form, most recently at Fleche Wallonne, but hasn't had the big result to show for it so far. Beyond these there are the other dominants of the season so far of course, Emma Johansson, Amy Pieters and Elisa Longo-Borghini but they feel like they will be competing in the "close but no cigar"-category.
Pick to Win
Marianne Vos is racing and of course everyone knows what that means. She's a Cannibal and with fresh meat on the table she will be hard to beat. She may have a trophy room bigger than some English counties but she'll always have room for a trophy from a new race she hasn't won yet. Should you think the whole "easy enough stages to end in sprints"-thing should work against her, remember that she is also probably the fastest sprinter here with the exception of an in-form Giorgia Bronzini. Whether the Italian two-time road World Champion is on form remains to be seen but this should be the year's biggest objective for her Wiggle-Honda team so it's a good bet.
To follow along with the race here are Sarah's tips : The Women's Tour guide
And a twitter feed of riders and teams at the race:
Tweets from https://twitter.com/_pigeons_/lists/women-s-tour-2014