With the 2021 AJ Bell Women’s Tour just around the corner, we take a closer look at the route the peloton will be tackling.
Kicking off on Monday 4 October and running until 9 October, the premier women’s event on the British calendar has made its return to the scene having had to take an enforced leave of absence last year.
This year, it’s back with a bang. Six stages make up the tour, complete with the addition of an individual time trial (ITT) for the first time in the event’s history. Elsewhere, the route fits in the usual mix of lumpier tests and flat stages sure to showcase the sprinters.
Focused predominantly around the East of England, the race looks as challenging as always with a total race distance of 535 kilometres and 4,846 metres of climbing in all. Discounting the ITT, the shortest stage clocks in at 95.5km (stage 5) from Colchester to Clacton, with the longest the final stage from Haverhill to Felixstowe at 155.3 kilometres.
The field includes all three of Britain’s UCI Continental teams – AWOL O’Shea, CAMS-Basso and Drops-Le Col s/b Tempur – mixing it with a Canyon-SRAM team led by 2017 winner Kasia Niewiadoma and Trek-Segafredo, featuring Lizzie Deignan.
|1||Monday 4 October||Bicester to Banbury||147.6km|
|2||Tuesday 5 October||Walsall to Walsall||103km|
|3||Wednesday 6 October||Atherstone (ITT)||16.6km|
|4||Thursday 7 October||Shoeburyness to Southend-on-Sea||117.5km|
|5||Friday 8 October||Colchester to Clacton-on-Sea||95.5km|
|6||Saturday 9 October||Haverhill to Felixstowe||155km|
The opening stage of The Women’s Tour is no easy leg-warmer for the field, with what is pretty much a stage of two halves. The first half is – relatively – flat as the riders wind their way through Oxfordshire and into Oxford itself for what is sure to be a fan-favourite ride through the city of dreaming spires.
From there, things get lumpier, with the first of three Queen of the Mountains tests – the Cat 2 Iron Down Hill, and two ascents of the Cat 3 Sibford Ferris – as the route goes north towards Banbury.
After the last climb of Sibford Ferris, the stage culminates in a downhill finish into the town and potentially a sprint finish.
The race moves east to Walsall for the second stage, featuring a ten-kilometre circuit – tackled clockwise – of Hayhead Woods, Barr Beacon nature reserve and Pool Green. The route includes a run out from Walsall Arboretum and a finish in the heart of the town centre, only the third time one town has hosted a start and finish of the race on the same day.
The highlight of the circuit is a punchy climb up Barr Beacon – a 1.2 km ascent featuring a maximum gradient of 5.7% – which will be tackled ten times, undoubtedly the main focal point for any opportunistic breakaways.
Having climbed Barr Beacon for the final time, the stage ends with a rapid 6.5 km downhill run into the centre of the town.
Three days in and The Women’s Tour breaks new ground with the introduction of an individual time trial for the first time. It could be a first outing in the rainbow bands for newly-crowned time trial world champion Ellen van Dijk, who is on the provisional startlist.
The route is 10 miles long in old money, a nod to the UK’s time trial heritage, or 16.6 kilometres for those used to metric measurements in cycling. Starting and finishing in Atherstone, in Warwickshire, the course relatively flat after a gentle climb of roughly 100 m over the opening kilometres with a sharp descent roughly at the 12 km mark before a flat ride to the finish.
In competition terms, the most decisive factor on the stage is the relatively twisty nature of the roads meaning the eventual winner will more than likely come from whoever has the most confidence to carry maximum speed around the course.
After what could a be a lung-busting ITT, the fourth stage takes to the coast with a relatively relaxed route from Shoeburyness to Southend-on-Sea. Those places are quite close together geographically, but a winding route through Essex means this flat test clocks in at 117.5km.
The course is virtually pan-flat, with the only QoM test coming at 105.2km – an ascent of Hambro Hill. We predict a sprint finish at the seafront to round proceedings off.
This stage into Clacton is steeped in Women’s Tour history as the location where Marianne Vos won on her way to the inaugural crown in 2014, and was the scene of a victory for Jolien D’hoore a year later.
The penultimate day of action sets off from Colchester with a lengthy run out onto a circuit that will be tackled one-and-a-half times.
While there are three QoM point-scoring climbs, none of them are really lengthy – more punchy sprint-like climbs which could act as a staging point to try a decisive break. Much like the previous stage, a finish on the coast means it’s pretty flat, so this could possibly be another bunch sprint, if the break doesn’t have its day that is.
After a few days of relatively flat stages, the final test is a fair old slog for the field – no cruising to the finish for the peloton as the race swoops into Suffolk.
Starting in Haverhill, the 155km route is the longest of the Tour and includes two tasty QoM climbs at Skate’s Hill and Clopton Hill, which could be key in the QoM competition.
Gently falling towards sea level as the route reaches the end, there’s a quick-sharp descent going into Felixstowe – the first time that town has hosted a finish of the Tour – which could mean there’s a pretty rapid sprint finish to end the 7th edition of the race.
Featured photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com – 15/06/2019 – Cycling – OVO Energy Women’s Tour, Stage 6: Carmarthen to Pembrey Country Park – Amy Pieters of Boels Dolmans wins.