Tomorrow sees the start of one of the biggest Women’s Cycling events in the world – the inaugural Friends Life Women’s Tour. It is not only a momentous occasion for women’s professional cycling but also important for the development of women’s sport in general.
A number of factors have helped to place this event on the international stage. Firstly the race was given a 2.1 rating by the UCI, the highest afforded to an international women’s race, putting it on par with the men’s Tour of Britain.
More influential though, has been the support of the race by the world’s top riders. Sat before us at the press conference is Georgia Bronzini of the Wiggle Honda team, one of the world’s most formidable sprinters, Emma Johansson of Sweden, who is currently world number one in the UCI rankings, Lizzie Amitstead, current holder of the national champion’s jersey and Marianne Vos, a rider who needs little introduction as she is arguably the most talented rider the world has even seen.
Vos in fact was one of the first riders to sign up to the event. She is a tireless supporter of women’s cycling and has been a pioneer for events that will catapult women’s cycling onto the international stage and in turn encourage more women into the sport.
“When I heard the Women’s Tour was going to get organised of course I wanted to participate, it’s big, it’s a new race in 2014. You feel you are getting a change. Women’s cycling is getting more and more attention and with La Course and Women’s Tour of course I wanted to be a part of that," explains Vos.
“After London, I still have memories of the race of course with the big crowds. All of the people were so enthusiastic about cycling, you want to come back to Great Britain to race," continues Vos.
Lizzie Armitstead is also extremely excited about event. She will start as not only an Olympic medallist who is a household name in Britain but also as the current leader of the UCI World Cup series.
Armitstead has been dubbed as one to watch at the event. When asked if this additional pressure heading into the race makes her nervous she roars laughing and responds: “I wasn’t until now!" But Armitstead is an experienced rider and admits that overall, pressure is a good thing. She also hopes that the British riding conditions will work in her favour:
“We have looked at the stages and it is difficult to tell how hard they’ll be without riding them. One of the key things that my teammates said was how heavy the road is. In Europe we are used to nice smooth tarmac but in the UK it feels like you are riding with two punctures so hopefully those roads will be heavy enough to make it hard racing because that’s what we need," says Amitstead.
Another team who will be hoping to make the most of the home advantage is Wiggle Honda. Unfortunately they have lost one of their key riders to flu. It was announced yesterday that on the advice of her doctor, Joanna Rowsell had withdrawn from the race. Bronzini also seems to be suffering in the health department which maybe does not bode well for the team. Despite this she is determined they will put in a good performance:
“My shape is not the best at the moment as you can hear from my voice but I am here with my team and we will try to put the best team out there and try to win some stages.“
With the unpredictable nature of a new race, changeable weather conditions, heavy roads and a few potential potholes along the way coupled with competitive riding from the world's top riders, we have no doubt that the Women’s Tour will provide five days of exciting racing.
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