First gracing the pro cycling calendar in 2014, the Women’s Tour will attract some of the greatest female cyclist in the world to British soil in just over two weeks time.
The five stage race, organised by the Sweet Spot Group also responsible for hosting the men’s Tour of Britain, was one of two UK events to be included in the UCI Women’s World Tour in its inaugural year.
Won by none other than Marianne Vos in 2014, and Canyon//SRAM’s Lisa Brennauer in 2015, confirmed riders for the 2016 edition already include Lizzie Armitstead, Dutch sprinter Kirsten Wild, and defending champion Brennauer, alongside her team mate and stage winner Hannah Barnes.
Countless cyclists from the peloton have applauded the race, and the British public, for their support of women’s cycling. The crowds that line the roads for this women’s race certainly are larger and louder than those seen elsewhere in the world.
Speaking to us about varying audience sizes and interest levels across the world earlier this year, Canyon//SRAM’s Tiffany Cromwell told us: “Before it was a very old school sport with the Italians, the French, the Belgians, now with riders such as Bradley Wiggins the Anglophobe [English Speaking] World has become more interested. And the newer nations are like ‘men or women, we don’t care – we love it, it’s cycling sports, it’s freedom’, and that has brought excitement to the sport."
This year, both riders and spectators are promised a more exciting race thanks to additional climbing across the five days, particularly over stage three which enters the Peak District.
Though organisation, professionalism and crowd sizes were all noted by riders after past events, complaints came from some that the race was made ‘boring’ and ‘too easy’ thanks to fairly flat courses and limited opportunities for break-away riders to find any success.
As a result, both the distance and total ascent have grown – a steady increase that seems to be building year on year.
- Aviva Women's Tour Total Distance
- 2014 – 498.9 kilometres
- 2015 – 596.2 kilometres
- 2016 – 616 kilometres
- Aviva Women's Tour Total Ascent
- 2014 – 4,621 metres
- 2015 – 5,874 metres
- 2016 – 7,600 metres
The increase has to be steady, because the women’s peloton is still significantly more diverse than the men’s. As Canyon//SRAM’s Brennauer told us when we recounted the story of a team rider coming back to the bus professing: “that was the longest race I’ve ever done" (with three more stages to go, alongside seasoned Tour riders): “Well, that’s women’s racing."
However, every year the gap closes a little more, and though this year's line up looks even more star studded, the variety where it's there also provides the potential for some excellent wild card performances from the unexpected.
ITV4 will screen daily highlights of the Aviva Women's Tour with presenter Ned Boulting being joined by double European Cyclo Cross Champion Helen Wyman, who has raced in the past two editions of the leading race.
The broadcast times of the Aviva Women's Tour on ITV4 are as follows:
Stage One, Southwold to Norwich
Wednesday 15 June, 21:00 and Thursday 16 June, 12:40
Stage Two, Atherstone to Stratford-upon-Avon
Thursday 16 June, 21:00 and Friday 17 June, 12:35
Stage Three, Ashbourne to Chesterfield
Friday 17 June, 22:30 and Saturday 18 June, 12:00
Stage Four, Nottingham to Stoke-on-Trent
Saturday 18 June, 22:30 and Sunday 19 June, 08:55
Stage Five, Northampton to Kettering
Sunday 19 June, 22:30 and Monday 20 June, 12:40
There will also be plenty of activity on The Tour YouTube channel here.
We cannot wait for the race to begin - so here's a quick promo vid to whet your appetite, and the skinny on what's up for grabs, and what you need to know about each stage...
The ultimate carrot on a stick across the five day race is the Aviva Yellow Jersey. This will belong to the rider leading the race overall.
However, there will also be the chance to don the Chain Reaction Points Jersey - collected by the rider who accumulates the most points at assigned intermediate sprints on every stage.
The Strava Queen of the Mountains jersey will go to the woman with the most points collected at pre-determined Strava Queen of the Mountains Climbs. There will also be a Premier Inn Best British Rider Jersey, and an Adnams Best Young Rider jersey for the finest performing under 23 rider.
On top of all that, no doubt some will be targeting individual stage wins, too.
The race has attracted many of the top ranked teams in the World, and with riders building towards peak form for the Rio Olympics, we can expect to see some incredible performances.
It is worth remembering, however, that many will be focusing on the Olympic road race course - which is charactersied by long climbs, not the short and steep rollers of UK roads. Lizzie Armitstead of Boels-Dolmans, for example, has already told us her Rio preparation will mean she won't be expecting to contest the win here.
Here is the provisional start list:
CANYON//SRAM: Lisa Brennauer (Ger), Alena Amialiusik (Blr), Hannah Barnes (GBr), Elena Cecchini (Ita), Tiffany Cromwell (Aus), Barbara Guarischi (Ita)
Wiggle HIGH5: Emma Johansson (Swe), Jolien D'Hoore (Bel), Lucy Garner (GBr), Dani King (GBr), Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita), Amy Pieters (Ned)
Boels-Dolmans: Lizzie Armitstead (GBr), Chantal Blaak (Ned), Amalie Dideriksen (Den), Ellen Van Dijk (Ned), Nikki Harris (GBr), Christine Majerus (Lux)
Alé Cipollini: Marta Bastianelli (Ita), Annalisa Cucinotta (Ita), Emilia Fahlin (Swe), Malgorzata Jasinska (Pol), Marta Tagliaferro (Ita), Anna Trevisi (Ita)
Team Liv Plantur: Molly Weaver (GBr), Leah Kirchmann (Can), Floortje Mackaij (Ned), Sara Mustonen-Lichan (Swe), Rozanne Silk (Ned), Carlee Taylor (Aus)
UnitedHealthcare: Linda Villumsen (NZl), Annie Ewart (Can), Katie Hall (USA), Coryn Rivera (USA), Hayley Simmonds (GBr), Iris Slappendel (Ned)
Poitou-Charentes Futuroscope86: Roxane Fournier (Fra), Coralie Demay (Fra) , Eugénie Duval (Fra), Victorie Guilman (Fra), Pascale Jeyland (Fra), Amélie Rivat (Fra)
Orica AIS: Amanda Spratt (Aus), Gracie Elvin (Aus), Alex Manly (Aus), Loren Rowney (Aus), Sarah Roy (Aus), Tayler Wiles (USA)
Cervelo Bigla: Lotta Lepistö (Fin), Clara Koppenburg (Ger), Ashleigh Moolman (RSA), Joelle Numainville (Can), Stephanie Pohl (Ger), Carmen Small (USA)
Rabo Liv: Marianne Vos (Ned), Lucina Brand (Ned), Shara Gillow (Aus), Anouska Koster (Ned), Roxane Knetemann (Ned), Anna Van der Breggen (Ned)
Parkhotel Valkenburg: Jip van den Bos (Ned), Janneke Ensing (Ned), Ilona Hoeksma (Ned), Jermaine Post (Ned), Esra Tromp (Ned), Eva Burmann (Ned)
BTC City Ljubljana: Eugenia Bujak (Pol), Polona Batagelj (Slo), Olena Pavlukhina (Aze), Urša Pintar (Slo), Anna Plichta (Pol), Mia Radotic (Cro)
Cylance Pro Cycling: Rossella Ratto (Ita), Rachele Barbieri (Ita), Sheyla Gutiérrez (Spa), Shelley Olds (USA), Valentina Scandolara (Ita), Alison Tetrick (USA)
Drops Cycling: Alice Barnes (GBr), Sophie Coleman (GBr), Rebecca Durrell (GBr), Jennifer George (GBr), Laura Massey (GBr), Hannah Payton (GBr)
Great Britain: Emma Pooley (GBr), Emily Kay (GBr), Grace Garner (GBr), Manon Lloyd (GBr), Annasley Park (GBr), Jessie Walker (GBr)
Hitec Products: Kirsten Wild (Ned), Simona Frappporti (Ita), Tatiana Guderzo (Ita), Lauren Kitchen (Aus), Julie Leth (Den), Emilie Moberg (Nor)
Stage One: Wednesday 15 June, Southwold to Norwich
Distance: 132 km / 82 miles
Climbing: 888 metres / 2913 feet
A rolling start out of Southwold gives way to flatter roads as the race heads North towards Norfolk. The final third of the race provides hillier terrain as the peloton approaches the finish in Norwich city centre.
The first QOM takes place in Halesworth, 7.5 miles in - promising some lively activity early on in the race. The second QOM comes 45 miles in, at Homesfield.
Sprint one will be after around 33 miles, in Beccles, and the second sprint comes after 52 miles in Pulham Market. All four will make excellent vantage points if you're looking for a good place to watch, as will the start and finish, of course.
Stage Two: Thursday 16 June, Atherstone to Stratford-upon-Avon
Distance: 140 km / 87 miles
Climbing: 1722 metres / 5650 feet
After the longest transfer of the week, the peloton will start day two in Atherstone, before heading south - passing landmarks such as Kenilworth and Warwick castle, skirting the Cotswolds and finishing in Stratford upon Avon.
The race is only a touch longer than the previous stage, but notably hillier - and with more climbs to come we may begin to see varying levels of form emerging.
Around 46 miles in, the riders will pass the first QOM at Burton Dassett, the second QOM will pop up around 70 miles, with a mile long climb finishing in Ilmington. The first sprint will come at 22 miles in Kenilworth, with the second sprint at 56 miles, in Tysoe.
Stage 3: Friday 17 June, Ashbourne to Chesterfield
Distance: 112 kilometres / 70 miles
Total Ascent: 1,999 metres / 6,558 feet
Starting in Ashbourne, stage three is the hilliest of the week - the riders will reach Buxton, then head towards Youlgreave and Matlock, tackling the climbs of the Peak District on the way to Chesterfield.
The first QOM starts in Winster, and will be 3 miles long. The second QOM is closer to half a mile at Bank Road in Matlock.
Legs weary from the climbs will still need to find some speed if they're chasing the Points jersey, the first sprint will be at Terrace Road, Buxton - around 17 miles in, and the second sprint at Darley Dale 42 miles in.
Stage 4: Saturday 18 June, Nottingham to Stoke-on-Trent
Distance: 119 kilometres / 74 miles
Total Ascent: 1,507 metres / 5,944 feet
The race begins in Nottingham, running through Swadlincote, and touching the edge of the National Forest before crossing into Staffordshire near Burton-upon-Trent.
The race then heads via Uttoxter, and into the Staffordshire Moorlands, where most of the climbing is congregated. Many of the roads have featured in the men's Tour of Britain, and being moorlands, we could see windy conditions having an effect as there's less protection from conditions.
The finish line in Stoke-on-Trent will mark just one more stage to go until the end of the race.
The first QOM climb is about a mile long, in Ramshorn, 58 miles in. Just a mile later is the second QOM in Oakamoor, and also a mile long. There won't be much time for recovery between the two, which could see interesting results - as any riders strung out by the first climb might lose touch on the second.
The sprints are earlier on - the first in Woodville around 23 miles in, and the second 52 miles in, in Rocester.
Stage 5: Sunday 19 June, Northampton to Kettering
Distance: 113 kiometres / 70 miles
Total Ascent: 1,484 metres / 4,868 feet
The final stage around Northamptonshire and the Midlands sees a pretty even distribution of climbing from start to finish. By this point we may have a clear leader, with a strong grasp on the yellow jersey, but if there's just seconds between leaders it could still all be decided here.
The finish line will be in Kettering, a race favourite that hosted the final sprint for stage three last year.
Along the way, the peloton will hit the first QOM from 18 to 19 miles in at Newnham Hill, and the second QOM at Naesby 36 miles in. Sprint number one will be just 5 miles in at Bugbrooke, with the second sprint 58 miles in at Desborough.
Here the final winner will appear on the podium, and being a UCI Women's World Tour race, we may also see a new leader proudly wear the jersey.
We'll be at every stage of the race, bringing you galleries, interviews, and race reports.
Looking for more information on this pinnacle of UK women's bike racing? We've got galleries, reports and more from the 2014 and 2015 races here.