In only its second year running the Aviva Women’s Tour has become one of the most popular and anticipated races on the UCI's elite women’s calendar. To describe the inaugural event as a success would be an understatement as racers' called it “amazing", “incredible", and “superbly organized”. But for the 2015 edition, organizers SweetSpot have aimed to outdo last year’s triumph with another top-notch event, five challenging stages, more media coverage and another world-class field.
“The Women's Tour last year was an incredible experience,” said Sharon Laws of the Bigla team. “The amount of people watching and all the media coverage was beyond anybody's expectations and I know a lot of the riders were just blown away by it.”
Hugh Roberts, Chief Executive of SweetSpot noted the addition of new title sponsor Aviva as a step up for this year, "For the Women's Tour, last year's race was the first one, but already it is being held up as an example to cycling organisations around the world of how a female cycling event can be a success. Making it the Aviva Women's Tour will only enhance that and we are looking forward to an even bigger and better event this June."
Defending champion Marianne Vos will be missed from the start line this year as she continues her recovery from a lingering hamstring injury, which has recently forced her to let go of all her season targets. However, the Dutchwoman will be attending the event and providing fans with race insights from the commentary box of ITV4's daily one-hour highlights program.
Vos’ teammate and the current road and cyclo-cross world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot was expected to be on the start line wearing the rainbow jersey, however, she has pulled out of Rabo-Liv's line-up. She has also struggled with an injury since May.
The teams gathered for the official presentation outside the Apex theatre in Charter Square within the Arc shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds on Tuesday evening, and Wednesday’s start in the same town won’t be lacking in world-class contenders.
Britain's top women’s team Wiggle-Honda will showcase a series of strong riders in former two-time world champion and winner of the Chongming Island World Cup Giorgia Bronzini, Ronde van Drenthe World Cup and Diamond Tour winner Jolien D’hoore, and Tour of Flanders winner Elisa Longo Borghini.
“I’m excited to ride my second Women’s Tour, and I hope to be able to do some sprints and fight for the yellow jersey in the first days,” said Bronzini, who was on the podium in three stages and placed fourth overall last year. “Anyway, I trust in all my teammates, and together we will have the power to be protagonists.”
Boels Dolmans will also field a strong team that includes UCI World Cup series leader Lizzie Armitstead, who has won two World Cups this year at the Trofeo Binda in Italy and the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic in the US earlier in June. US road champion Megan Guarnier, who recently won a stage at the Euskal Emakumeen Bira, will also be among the Boels Dolmans riders looking for stage wins and a top overall placing.
Velocio-SRAM’s time trial world champion Lisa Brennauer will be the team’s go-to overall contender having proven her all-around form after winning the Energiewacht Tour in May. The team will also include Tour of California Women’s Race overall winner Trixi Worrack. “I think we can expect to see some good form from our team at this tour,” said director Ronny Lauke.
Orica-AIS returns with last year's stage 1 winner Emma Johansson, who is clearly in top form after finishing third overall at the Euskal Emakumeen Bira. Johansson placed second overall last year to Vos and will be looking to take that top step on the podium.
Liv-Plantur will support Sabrina Stultiens for the overall classification, with support from Amy Pieters and Lucy Garner who were both in the top-10 overall last year. "We will aim to ride an attacking race, because certain stages are suitable for a breakaway to survive. With Sabrina, we are aiming for a nice GC result. On paper the closing stage should be difficult enough for some GC action, but we have to see if this is the case in reality," said the team’s coach Hans Timmermans.
British road champion Laura Trott will lead her Matrix Fitness squad with support from multiple-time cyclo-cross champion Helen Wyman. Other British riders to look out for will be Sharon Laws from Bigla Pro Cycling, who won last year’s Queen of the Mountain competition, and Hannah Barnes from UnitedHealthcare.
Leah Kirchmann is one of the 12 national champions that will be participating in the race this year. She is a triple Canadian champion with titles in the road race, time trial and criterium. She will be joining her US-based trade team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies and looking for stage wins.
The 16 teams invited also include the Lotto Soudal Ladies, Alé-Cipollini, Poitou Charentes-Futuroscope 86, Pearl Izumi Sports Tours Internation, and national teams from USA and Germany.
“We want to be protagonists in this race, too,” said Alé-Cipollini’s director Fortunato Laquaniti in a team press release. "A prestigious race in which all the best athletes worldwide will ride. This is also a chance we do not want to miss because Aviva Women’s Tour has huge media coverage and a large following. We want to be in front, animate the race, make escapes, show ourselves and face the best from the worldwide cycling.”
This year’s Aviva Women’s Tour will feature five relatively flat to rolling stages proving ample opportunities for potential breakaways, sprint finishes and all-around tough racing. And with intermediate time bonuses up for grabs during each stage, the race for the overall title will no doubt be an exciting one.
2015 Aviva Women's Tour:
Stage 1: Wednesday, June 17 - Bury St Edmunds to Aldeburgh (112.6km)
Stage 2: Thursday, June 18 - Braintree to Clacton (138km)
Stage 3: Friday, June 29 - Oundle to Kettering (139.2km)
Stage 4: Saturday, June 20 - Waltham Cross to Stevenage (103.8km)
Stage 5: Sunday, June 21 - Marlow to Hemel Hempstead (102.6km)