By June, we should be well into the bulk of the cycling calendar. Instead, with the current coronavirus pandemic, we’re looking longingly at mid-summer for a suggested restart.
However, there is some racing to enjoy sooner than that as the organisers of The Women’s Tour, have created a virtual alternative – the ŠKODA V-Women’s Tour – featuring some of the best teams in women’s cycling. The three-day event begins on Wednesday 17 June.
What is it?
A replacement for The Women’s Tour – which has been cancelled for this year – the V-Women’s Tour is one of the first virtual competitions arranged by race organisers to give teams and riders – and fans – the opportunity for some competitive action in lieu of ‘in real life’ road racing.
In fact, competitors will even be racing on British roads, virtually at least. Using RGT Cycling’s Magic Roads software, organisers have picked out two classic Women’s Tour stages and a 1km Canary Wharf loop to create a criterium to shake up the peloton on the final day.
The event has attracted both national and international interest, with a full complement of teams set to do virtual battle which is set to be broadcast live online and on the BBC iPlayer.
How does RGT Cycling work?
In short, RGT Cycling is a virtual reality cycling simulator. It enables you to link your turbo trainer with your computer (PC and Mac), Apple TV, iSO or Android and ride in a virtual environment with supported training hardware.
It aims to create a realistic, immersive world that lets users ride on ‘real’ roads, such as Mont Ventoux and the Paterberg. RGT stands out from other online cycling apps with features such as virtual braking, simulated collision avoidance and ‘real life’ drafting, the idea being that races play out much closer to real road racing than other apps do.
Unlike real-life road races, however, eRaces typically start off very hard indeed (for the riders at least!), with little respite after that, as Jenny Holl explained in her recent journal post.
eRaces tend to be far shorter and more intense than the real road counterparts and this is true for the Women’s Tour too. Each stage is comparatively short meaning the action will be packed into less than an hour’s racing.
The first stage on Wednesday 17 June takes in the final 38.7km of 2014’s stage from Harwich to Bury St Edmunds with the rolling English countryside the setting for the opening battle.
A day later, stage two plays host to a test which should suit the climbers as the peloton takes in the run-in and finishing circuit – which is tackled three times – from 2019’s Warwick to Burton Dassett stage to add an extra 35.4km to the itinerary.
The final test is lifted directly from numerous editions of the Tour Series and should shake-up the field as they take on 35 laps of a tight 1km circuit in the heart of London’s Canary Wharf.
How will the competition work?
It’s a virtual stage race. Each team begins the race with three riders. Just like a real road stage race, there will be a winner of each stage and an overall leader. There are also a leading British Rider and Best Young Rider competitions.
As with all stage races, a rider’s cumulative time across the three stages will be their overall time. There are no time bonuses, so creating time gaps will be vital.
There is one key difference, however. Each team has the option to make one replacement during the three stages, in case of injury or illness, or if a rider suffers a technical issues that stops them from taking part. Any replacement rider on days two or three will be automatically placed at the back of the general classification standings, with a 20 second time penalty.
Contenders & startlist
Given the paucity of competitive action over the last few months, it is no surprise that the startlist is suitably stacked with talented teams and riders. That includes last year’s defending teams’ champion Trek-Segafredo, which has already confirmed Abi van Twisk, Tayler Wiles and Ruth Winder amongst its ranks.
There are also former Women’s Tour category champions on the entry list including Lucy van der Haar, winner of the Best British Rider Jersey at the inaugural event in 2014, who is joining Mieke Kröger and Julie Solvang at Hitec Products – Birk Sport. 2016’s Queen of the Mountains Katie Hall is a transatlantic entrant as she lines up for the ever-strong Boels-Dolmans squad.
Joining them is a complement of British teams including Storey Racing, with team founder Dame Sarah Storey leading the outfit alongside Corrine Hall and Lucy Gadd. Britain’s two UCI Continental teams also take to the virtual start line. CAMS-Tifosi line up with Illi Gardner, Katie Scott and Jo Tindley. Whilst Drops include Joss Lowden, Emily Meakin and April Tacey in their team.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on our journal contributor Jenny Holl, who was ‘flying’ in one of the test races, according to the organisers. She is joined by with fellow Great Britain Cycling Team members Megan Barker and Anna Docherty. Meanwhile, three other Great Britain Cycling Team riders ride for Team Breeze (namely Ella Barnwell, Anna Shackley and Amelia Sharpe).
Check out this blog on @BritishConti 👇— The Women’s Tour (@thewomenstour) June 15, 2020
She was flying in one of our test races and you’ll be able to watch @jenny_holl in action for the Great Britain Cycling Team 🇬🇧 from 19:00 BST on Wednesday.#GBCT #WomensTour https://t.co/DpZec7UP7K
Elsewhere on the startlist, Leah Dixon (Team TIBCO Silicon Valley Bank) could be one to watch. She excelled in Zwift’s recent Tour For All series. 2019 Giro stage winner Lizzy Banks heads a strong Bigla Katusha team. And former Drops rider Lizzie Holden represents her new Bizkaia Durango team.
Timings and how to watch
Each of the three stages get underway at 7pm BST, with coverage on the Women’s Tour’s social media channels, the BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport website with commentary from Marty MacDonald and Olympic champion Joanna Rowsell Shand.