Why we love the Women’s Tour of Britain?

The best race of the year!

The Rochester International Classic took place only once in Rochester. ‘Classic’ being something of an overstatement in the face of races with 100 years of history or more. The enduring memory of this was Andrea Tafi of Mapei powering his beautiful blue Colnago to victory on the concrete roads of the council estates of Rochester.

It’s not the roads that make the race, it’s the endeavours of the riders that elevate the status of the road. As cyclists this is an aspect of riding that we all know to be true, but perhaps don’t acknowledge to ourselves. A section on a great ride, on a sunny day, in the middle of a race. It’s these snapshots of memory that can elevate an ordinary road to a great road if that’s the way that the feeling takes us.

And this brings us to the Women’s Tour of Britain, a race we were lucky enough to see live on Stage 2 in the pouring rain in Hinckley and on the road to Bedford.

The ‘mountains’ classification was just outside the village of Brixworth. This was classic British racing, a flat stage that actually consisted of rolling hills and secret stunning villages, combined with terrible weather. The riders and racing make the roads.

Rosella Ratto riding for Estado de México-Faren Kuota dusted off the bunch and took the points over the climb. The chasing peloton were wet and grimy, and clearly pushing on.

By the time the race joined the main road to Bedford at Turvey, Ratto had been joined by Susanna Zorzi of Astana Be Pink. The pair were pulling away from the bunch and threatening to take the stage. At the front of the peloton was a small group containing Marianne Vos (World & Olympic champion) and Lizzie Armistead (British Champion), who were driving the pace through the S bends from the lanes to the A road.

The race convoy into Bedford was fast moving. Fortunately a jink in the route meant that as race followers we were able to abandon the car and catch the action 1.5km from the finish. No way could they stay away. But they did, Ratto, Zorzi, followed by Vos at 6 seconds.

Who knew the riverside in Bedford was quite so beautiful? And the lanes of Northamptonshire so classically atmospheric? If this had been Le Tour the church at Brixham with its Roman carvings and reused Roman bricks would surely have been a feature of the coverage.

Unlike the men’s race which stretches from North to South, and should really be at least 10 days long to do justice to the route, the women’s race is compact, with short transfers between stages, an exploration of less touristy and less well known parts of Britain. This is what makes this more of a classic race. Similar to the Eneco Tour in the Low Countries, course design is everything, and the consistency and style of the race ensures high quality racing. Not trying to cover every part of the country gives the race an identity. Like the Spring Classics the route goes to small towns, through residential areas, the juxtaposition of the everyday with the world class athlete.

It seems that not only is there a lack of acknowledgement of the race by media and even the cycling public, outside of the locals, but also there is a questionable attitude to the quality of the women’s field. Clearly this is a statement that is not without controversy. And also with no basis in truth. The live spectacle is enough to humble even the best and most enthusiastic amateur cyclists. There can be no doubt of the professionalism of the athletes.

Don’t be duped by a lack of coverage, this is cycling as it has long been in the UK - subversive, unacknowledged, and high quality. Go to the men’s Tour of Britain, it’s amazing, Kwiatkowski’s finish in Bristol was awesome. But to get right in amongst the riders and taste a still pure and uncommercialised scene, follow the Women’s Tour. Thanks to Sweetspot for organising two amazing British races, and thanks to the riders who make the racing.