Words by Maria David
The elegant surroundings of the Strangers Dining Room in the Palace of Westminster were the backdrop for the launch of the OVO Energy Women's Tour, and a landmark announcement for women's cycle racing in the UK.
At the presentation hosted by Ruth Cadbury MP, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, CEO of Energy Retail at OVO Energy and self-confessed bike enthusiast, Chris Houghton revealed that the prize money will be equal to the fund allocated for the men's Tour of Britain.
For the 2018 event, the total prize fund will be 90,000 euros, the same as for the equivalent men's race. This is more than double the prize fund in the Women's Tour in 2017, which was 35,000 euros. The prize structure will be identical too, with stage winners, jersey leaders including the general classification leader (Green jersey) receiving the same sums as the men in the OVO Energy Tour of Britain. With prizes going down to 20th place and five jerseys to contest, this will be a key race for the world's top women’s racing teams.
“Our announcement is a meaningful step towards gender parity in cycling, and we're proud to play our part in supporting the development of professional women's sport." - Chris Houghton
This declaration, coming on the eve of International Women's Day was met with overwhelming excitement and approval by the riders in attendance.
Lizzie Deignan (Boels Dolmans) 2016 winner and 2015 World Road Race Champion said, “The race is the pinnacle of women's professional road cycling in the UK, and it's an important step to offer equal prize money to the comparative men's race. The Women's Tour has a higher profile now, with it being on TV and with the prize money. I believe if you see it, you can dream it, and I can now look forward to getting out racing and inspiring my six-year-old niece."
Fresh from the World Track Championships Elinor Barker (Wiggle HIGH5) was happy to see that there would be more prize money on offer but acknowledged that this would not change how she races. Barker said, “It's good to have your efforts validated in that way with more prize money, though I will just focus on doing what I can especially as I will be adapting from doing seven-minute races in the velodrome to doing a hilly five-stage race."
Women's Tour race director, Mick Bennett said, “As organisers, we are delighted by the increased commitment of OVO Energy in relation to prize money. Their passion and support for the event will further enhance the development of the sport as well as the Women's Tour."
Details of the 678-km route were also unveiled, with the stand-out feature being a race profile that includes the most amount of climbing in the race's five-year history. There will be a challenging finale that will see the competitors from the 17 teams ride from Dolgellau via Snowdonia to finish on the coast at Colwyn Bay, commemorating Wales's Year of the Sea.
Stage 2, which goes from Rushden to Daventry will include a double ascent of the 1km-long, 7% Newnham hill near the end of the stage.
There will be an air of poignancy at Stage 4 when it goes from Wychavon District to Worcester via the northern edge of the Cotswolds, home to the late Sharon Laws. This stage will be dedicated to the 2014 Queen of the Mountains winner and Olympic road racer.
WNT-Rotor rider and Commonwealth hopeful Hayley Simmonds liked the course and has kept her fingers crossed that she has the opportunity to compete in the Women's Tour. Simmonds said, "Although I am known more for my time trialling than anything else, I do like climbing. It's great to see longer stages with more climbing. I do like those stages that have a lot of attritional stuff. I also like the fact that the race will go to Worcester, where I went to school. The final stage through Wales could lead to lots of attacking the hills, something I would want to do too."
The 2018 OVO Women's Tour runs from 13th to 17th June and will be contested by riders from 17 teams, including British squads, Wiggle HIGH5, Trek-Drops, WNT-Rotor Pro Cycling, and Storey Racing.