Women’s Tour of Britain 2014

Chasing racing

The first women’s Tour of Britain has been brutalised by high winds and torrential rain. The stages have been hard riding and grimy, over the dragging lanes of the Midlands and Home Counties.

Course design has been superb, with housing estates and back lanes twisting like a Belgian classic but with a flavour familiar to most British cyclists. This race has the atmosphere of a historic monument with the freshness of a format new to the UK.

Small teams (6 riders), and short stages (the longest 73 miles or so) keeps the racing snappy and aggressive. The story of David and Goliath with Vos vs Ratto is a gift, added to which Lizzy Armistead is firmly in the battle for the domestic interest.

Le Sportif was fortunate enough to be chasing stage 2, the longest of the race.

It would be all too British to talk about the weather, but that’s how it is, the weather was poor. This did not deter spectators, with crowds in towns, on hills, at sprint points and at the favourite Strava QoMs.

At the second of the QoMs, just outside a sleepy stone village with a Saxon church, the press car rolls up and debriefs the crowd. Ratto has 25 seconds on the bunch. The stream of motorcycles continues and race control rolls through. Ratto’s pink team jersey powers through intent on in front. The crowd breathlessly counts, ‘That must be a minute or more now’. The bunch is driving, with tail enders looking pretty second-hand.

16km or so out from the finish the road we are using to skip to the finish-line is blocked by the rolling road closure. The crowds have gathered where the riders are fired out of the winding lanes and on to the main road to town. Ratto has been joined by an Astana rider, a relentless pairing who work their way rapidly out of sight over the brow. The gap is down and four riders, including Vos and Armistead have pulled a few lengths off the front. But the bunch is lined out and the pace ferocious.

We join the back of the race convoy, 2 cars behind and hope for a shortcut to catch the finish. It’s never going to happen. The race lead is at stake and the speed is up. Rolling main roads fail to discourage the pace and on the rises we can seen the rapidly destructing peloton ahead.

Into Bedford the route switches round the town and makes a high speed run into a ninety degree left-hander. The bunch have got the magnets on but the duo in the break aren’t finessing for the sprint. It’s close, but they hang on, tearing the victory from the peloton.

To get out and watch racing like this on British roads, before there are traffic jams and unfeasible crowds, seems like a dream. It feels like something real for British cycling, not success on foreign soil or on the boards, but a milestone event, not big budget, more grass roots, the grit of the British gutter, an opportunity to have the race we must have to truly be a cycling nation.