Race promoter SweetSpot, organisers of the men’s Tour of Britain, have announced they are planning a women’s Tour of Britain for 2014.Lizzie Armitstead of Team GB leads the breakaway trio of riders in the Olympic road race before going on to secure the silver medal. Marianne Vos (in orange) from Holland took gold and Olga Zabelinskaya (in blue) from Russia won bronze. (Image by JBizzzay via Flickr)
The organisers of the men’s Tour of Britain have announced plans for a five-day stage race with an international field of elite female riders, potentially to be held in Spring 2014.
Guy Elliott, director at Sweetspot, which organises the Tour Series of televised city centre criterium races as well as the national tour, said the race could be held for the first time as early as next year.
The world’s biggest female teams and most successful riders had shown “incredible enthusiasm” for the proposal, he told a packed conference room at an event held to launch the 2013 Tour of Britain.
“In 2014, subject to the governing body’s approval, we at Sweetspot are going to launch a women’s elite, five-day international stage race.
“We want to create an event that you would associate with Sweetspot: with all of the razzmatazz, all of the town centre finishes, National Escort Group, closed roads, motorcycles, decent prize list, TV coverage,” he said.
“I think Great Britain will be the undisputed number one cycling nation in the world. But if we’re going to match the performance of female athletes, we need to be doing something about organisation as well. Our female athletes deserve more from us.”
The profile of women’s racing has risen in recent years, and the Olympic success of riders like Lizzie Armitstead and Laura Trott has made them household names. Armitstead’s ride to the silver medal in the women’s Olympic road race captured the imagination of many, as well as the home nation’ first medal of London 2012, while Trott became a double Olympic champion aged 20 with victory on the track with team pursuit colleagues, Jo Rowsell and Dani King, and by winning the women’s omnium.
Beyond the Olympics, Lucy Garner, now racing professionally with Argos-Shimano, became a double junior world champion last year, while Elinor Barker, a silver medalist at the world junior time trial champions in 2011, won the event last year, and now competes in the rainbow jersey.
Elliott highlighted the Prudential Women’s Grand Prix, an elite level criterium race to be held in London this August as part of the RideLondon Olympic legacy event, the Johnson HealthTech Series, and the growing depth of competition in the North West League as evidence for the growing status of women’s racing.
He said it would be “impossible” to hold the women’s race at the same time as the Tour of Britain. “Logistically, it’s too complicated to do that. Many people ask about it. But if you just imagine how you would get the National Escort Group and the police motorcyclists running two hours ahead of the race and then shifting backwards – it’s impossible.”
He said there was “great merit” in taking over a region with a pre-packaged bundle of stages that could be moved around the country in successive years.
“We’ve been in initial talks with sponsors and councils, and without saying everything’s going to be easy, because it won’t be, we’re going to have people clamouring to get this race if we get it right,” he said.
“The teams are already saying, ‘We want to come. The UK is a massive market and you have the best riders in the world.’”
“It seems an obvious and logical step forward given the strength of women’s cycling in this country and the enthusiasm for the sport generally,” Tour of Britain race director Mick Bennett told the Daily Telegraph.
“It’s commonly accepted that women’s road racing, for some reason, does not get the profile and publicity it deserves which is a shame because the Olympic road race showed yet again how good it can be with Lizzie Armitstead taking on Marianne Vos.”
Many high-profile European women’s races have been cancelled in recent years as the doping crisis in the men’s sport has made it extremely difficult to attract even the modest sponsorship needed to stage a women’s race. There is an obvious gap for a prestigious women’s tour in Northern Europe and if that were a women’s Tour of Britain it would be a huge boost for women’s cycling.
This year’s Tour of Britain will include a women’s race in London on September 22, presaging a full stage race in 2014.