After a flurry of races in April and May, the Women's WorldTour took a short break following the Amgen Women's Race. As the summer quickly approaches and the sunshine starts to show its face, the Women's WorldTour will hot up again with the fourth Ovo Energy Women's Tour.
Since its inception in 2014, the five-day race has developed into a major target in its own right, but its June placing in the calendar makes it a key build-up towards the national championships and the Giro Rosa. There is an extra week between the Women's Tour and the only Grand Tour on the women's calendar, but the British race should be a key indicator of who is going well.
An all-star GC contest
With almost every major rider set to line-up in Daventry on Wednesday, the competition for both stage victories and the overall classification will be tough. Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) will be the rider at the forefront of everyone's minds, after a superb end to her spring. She took the WorldTour rankings by storm with her Ardennes hat-trick followed by the overall title at California's Amgen Women's Race in May.
Following such a busy spring, Van der Breggen may be looking to take things a little easier at the Women's Tour, so that she doesn't run out of steam by the time the Giro Rosa rolls around at the end of the month. However, with the jersey of WorldTour leader on her shoulders things could change for the Dutchwoman.
It is her teammate Lizzie Deignan that will be getting the attention of the home crowd. Deignan, who won last year's race, was second to Van der Breggen in each of the Ardennes races and went on to claim her first win of the season on home soil at the Tour de Yorkshire at the start of May. Deignan is likely to be the team's primary general classification contender here.
Deignan faced some stiff competition from Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervelo Bigla) last year, and it should be no different this time around. Moolman-Pasio has been in flying form over the last month, coming good at just the right time. She stormed to victory at Emakumeen Bira, before a double header of wins in France just over a week ago. She appears in even stronger form going into the Women's Tour this year than she did 12 months ago.
Debut edition winner Marianne Vos (WM3 Pro Cycling) also appears to be getting into her stride on the road and, like Moolman-Pasio, she has won her last three races. Vos spent some time in the leader's jersey last year, but never really featured in the overall classification. This year she'll be hoping for more. Her teammate Kasia Niewiadoma adds to a strong WM3 Pro Cycling line-up.
Longo Borghini's preparation has not been as smooth as the others with illness disrupting her Ardennes campaign and forcing to end the first part of her season earlier than she would have liked. She was going well at the start of the season with victory at Strade Bianche and, despite her illness, she still managed a top 10 at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Most of the top GC riders will be in action this week and so will the majority of the top sprinters. One glaring omission is the star of the sprint Coryn Rivera, who is taking a break following the women's Tour of California.
That Rivera is not at the race will not take anything away from the sprint competition. Chloe Hosking (Alé Cipollini), Jolien D'hoore (Wiggle-High5), Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-High5), Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervelo Bigla), Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM), Chantal Blaak (Boels Dolmans), Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) and Amy Pieters (Boels Dolmans) are all set to ride.
With so many fast women on the start sheet, the sprint stages should be a serious contest.
A longer route than before
The 2017 Women's Tour route packs a few punches and makes the most of the UCI's new regulations to produce a race that is 35 kilometres longer than its predecessor. It might not sound like a lot, but the lengthy opening stages are largely balanced out by the short, but likely a furious final stage through London.
The Women's Tour has been a regular visitor to Northamptonshire and comes back for the opening stage from Daventry to Kettering. Daventry is a newcomer, but Kettering has been the scene of a stage finish for the past two years. After an undulating 147.5 kilometres, the stage will finish in the same place as it did in 2015 and 2016. On each occasion, the technical twisting run into the Market Square has served to split up the bunch and make any sprint victory a difficult task. Lotta Lepistö (Cervelo Bigla) was the winner last year, while Christine Majerus (Boels Dolmans) came up trumps the season before.
Stoke-on-Trent will be another repeat customer on stage 2, as the race returns for an out and back run from the city. The route into Stoke-on-Trent will be different from last year's with Ipstones and Gun Hill, the major hurdles to jump in the final 50 kilometres of the 144km stage. Once in the city, the run to the line will seem markedly similar to the one Marianne Vos took victory on. However, the race will not stop midway up Broad Street as it did last time, but it will instead continue up the punchy ascent and finish on Albion Street. Those that will feature high up on the general classification are likely to excel here.
Stage 3 brings the riders back down south to Atherstone and onto Royal Leamington Spa. At 150.8km, it is the longest stage of the race and should be a lumpy day out with two tough ramps in the final third of the stage. It is the first time that Royal Leamington Spa will host a stage finish at the Women's Tour. The pan-flat finish on the Parade should make for an all-out battle between the sprinters, but watch out for the sharp right-hand bend inside the final kilometre.
The penultimate stage of the race is likely to be the deciding factor in the overall classification. For stage 4, the race heads back to Chesterfield, where Deignan claimed victory and set up her 2016 win in the general classification. The stage will start a stone's throw from the Market Square where that win took place and will finish just beyond that point. In between, the riders will have to tackle a difficult route around the Derbyshire countryside that starts climbing almost immediately. The climbs are more heavily packed into the opening section of the course, but some punchy unclassified ascents could provide a springboard for an attack while the largely downhill run towards the line will make for an interesting finish. Where the stage finished in the dip towards the Market Square last year, the race will continue on a few hundred metres more, and it rises up again before the finish line.
For the first time in the race's history, the Women's Tour will reach its conclusion in London. After some long days out, the organisers have set up an all-guns-blazing 86.8km ride around the capital. In theory, it shouldn't have too much of an impact on the overall classification, but that depends on how close it is at the top when they arrive in London. As it has been in the men's race, the route should be a prime opportunity for the sprinters such as D'hoore and Hosking to notch up a win on their palmares.