Upon first glance, it looks like it could be a real bike race, with a press package outlining a 14-day women’s race held from London to Glasgow in the UK. It's a meticulously designed route, a proposal meant to fill the void of a missing women’s Grand Tour on the international calendar.
The proposed route is not a real bike race, but it's not a hoax either. The detailed 46-page document is the work of Harry Eaton, a cycling fan whose intent was to provide a mock-up of what a women's Grand Tour in the UK could look like, and it builds on the movement for gender equality in professional cycling.
The proposed route is based on Eaton's own idea of expanding the existing Women’s Tour in Britain. The Women's Tour is organised by SweetSpot, and it is a successful six-day race that has become one of the most well-organised and prized events on the Women’s WorldTour.
"It's an unsolicited proposal for SweetSpot, encouraging them to use their already strong position to advance women's cycling even further," Eaton told Cyclingnews.
"My aim in sending the proposal and contacting you, and other interested parties, was to try and build on the existing movement pushing for gender equality in cycling with a view that a potential medium-term 'solution' is expanding The Women's Tour while we wait for ASO [organisers of the Tour de France] and RCS Sport [organisers of the Giro d’Italia] to get their heads screwed on the right way."
The document is titled 'The first women’s Grand Tour - A proposal' and its appearance is almost identical to an official press package from the Women’s Tour.
It is complete with SweetSpot’s purple and pink colour scheme, and includes host city information, stage overviews, route details, maps and profiles, categorised climbs, images and quotes.
There is also an emphasis placed on some of the major issues surrounding women’s cycling and equality, such as exposure and live broadcasting, prize money, and historical content referenced from existing cycling publications and organisations.
"I’m a fan," Eaton told Cyclingnews. "It started with me just plotting out some custom routes for fun but then it became more than that. I was working on the routes sporadically for a couple of months or so and then for the last few weeks I've been working on the research side of things more full-on. Some routes are similar to previous routes of the Women's Tour, the Tour of Britain, and a couple of other races. For me, that's the main bit - the route is just there to give an idea of what a two-week tour might look like from a sporting perspective."
The proposal does not consider the organisational costs or logistics associated with running an expanded 14-day race nor the current regulations for stage races on the Women’s WorldTour. Eaton admitted that he hasn’t factored in those aspects of organising a women’s Grand Tour because that is not his area of expertise, but he noted that costs and logistics weren’t the reason he put together an example of a women’s Grand Tour in the UK.
"That's not really the purpose for me," Eaton said. "I'm more trying to highlight the potential of The Women's Tour and encouraging SweetSpot to make it their number one priority moving forward," he said.
Two-week women’s stage races were prominent in the 1980s and 1990s with races like the women's Tour de France from 1984-1989, and then the Tour Cycliste Féminin and the Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale held from 1992 before coming to an end in 2009, and there was the Tour de l’Aude that was held from 1985 until it was cancelled after the 2010. There was also the Ore-Ida Women’s Challenge that ran through the high mountains in Idaho from 1984 until its demise in 2002.
The Giro Rosa’s 10-day race through Italy is often referred to as the only women’s Grand Tour because it is the longest event on the current Women’s WorldTour. It held its 31st edition this year and has traditionally incorporated challenging terrain that includes mountain passes: Mortirolo, Stelvio, Zoncolan, and Gavia (although it was cancelled due to landslides and road closures in 2019). However, the UCI announced that following this year’s edition of the race, won by Anna van der Breggen, the event would be downgraded to 2.Pro in 2021 due to a lack of live television coverage and other organisational concerns.
Although ASO have a series of one-day women’s races; La Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, La Course, and the inaugural Paris-Roubaix in 2021, the organisation has been criticised for not offering a women’s Tour de France. UCI President David Lappartient confirmed that ASO will launch a stage race for women in 2022, but he could not confirm the route, number of stages, or that it would be officially named as the women's Tour de France.
ASO stressed that it would be 'logistically impossible' to have the men's and women's events held at the same time. It has been reported that ASO are expected to host an eight-day women's race that would start in Paris on the same day the men finished their stage 21 of Tour de France on the Champs Elysées.
"Whilst the men have been racing Grand Tours for over 100 years, the closest women have is the Giro Rosa, a race which we all know has plenty of problems," Eaton said. "As the Women’s Tour has been doing a lot right since its launch in 2014, I believe there is scope to expand this race and become a unique women’s Grand Tour."
The Women’s Tour in Britain was created in 2014 and quickly rose to the top-level of professional bike racing when it joined the Women’s WorldTour in 2016. When OVO Energy took over as title sponsor, the event became one of the most attractive races of the series. OVO Energy brought parity to the Women’s Tour prize fund to that of the men's Tour of Britain. The peloton competed for €97,880 in 2019 across six days of racing and Lizzie Deignan won the overall title.
The race was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 coronavirus but it will return next year from June 7-12 on the Women’s WorldTour calendar. In addition, SweetSpot and British Cycling have a long-term agreement to organise the race and aim to have live television coverage in 2021, as per the Women’s WorldTour series requirements.
"We thank Harry for his detailed and thoroughly researched proposal. Clearly, Harry has put a lot of time and effort into his publication. It is great that the Women’s Tour fanbase is so passionate and enthusiastic about both our race and cycling in general to go to these lengths," a representative of Women’s Tour organisers SweetSpot told Cyclingnews.
“We are immensely proud of everything that the race has achieved since its inaugural edition in 2014 and remain committed to growing the Women’s Tour sustainably. It is a matter of public record that we wish to increase the number of days, provide daily live TV coverage and increase its geographical reach in years to come. As was the case when the Women’s Tour expanded to six days in 2019, we will continue to enhance the event in a sustainable manner, together with the invaluable support of our stakeholders and partners, to ensure that the long-term future of the race remains secure.
“We're looking forward to the race returning next year and we'll definitely be inviting Harry along to see the event first hand."
SweetSpot has not yet released the full route details for the 2021 event, but told Cyclingnews that the race will begin in Bicester, Oxfordshire and conclude with a stage between Haverhill and Felixstowe in Suffolk.
“The 2021 Women’s Tour will begin in Bicester, Oxfordshire on Monday 7 June and finish on Saturday 12 June with a stage between Haverhill and Felixstowe in Suffolk. Further details of the route for next year’s Women’s Tour will be announced in the coming months," a representative of Women’s Tour organisers SweetSpot told Cyclingnews.
Proposed women's Grand Tour route in the UK
Eaton, however, has gotten a head start with his proposal for an expansion of the race to 14 days, including one rest day, that has already been thoroughly mapped out in a mock-up 2022 edition.
Eaton's route design includes eleven stages in England, two in Wales and the final stage in Scotland. The stages themselves include five flat stages, five hilly stages and three mountain stages and one individual time trial.
There are also 57 categorised climbs across the 14 days of racing and the plan calls for 20,946 metres of altitude gain, 9,845 of which are categorised. The longest categorised climb is Hartside Fell (stage 12) at 8.2 kilometres. The steepest climb is Trooper Lane (stage 10) at an average of 15.1 per cent.
The 14-day race proposal might just be a mock-up, but the cities, roads and climbs are very real. It's an idea, and a bit of inspiration, of what a women's Grand Tour route could like in the UK.
Click through the gallery above to view Eaton's route map, along with all 14 stage maps and profiles.
- Stage 1: London Greenwich Park to London the Mall, Flat, 118km (1297m)
- Stage2: Bicester to Leamington spa, Flat, 102km (1043m)
- Stage 3: Atherstone to Darley Dale Sydnope Hill, Hilly, 141km (1899m)
- Stage 4: Stoke-on-trent to Shrewsbury, Flat, 139km (1266m)
- Stage 5: Worcester to Cheltenham, Hilly, 123km (1508m)
- Stage 6: Bristol to Bristol, ITT, 14km (203m)
- Stage 7: Abergavenny to Cardiff, Mountain, 126km (2249m)
- Stage 8: Llandrindod Wells to Bwlch y Groes, Mountain, 88km (1888m)
- Rest Day
- Stage 9: Preston to Harrogate, Hilly, 134km (1817m)
- Stage 10: Harrogate to Sowerby Bridge, Hilly, 100km (2055m)
- Stage 11: York to Darlington Flat, 110km (1010m)
- Stage 12: Durham to Great dun Fell, Mountain, 111km (2127m)
- Stage 13: Kendal to Keswick, Hilly, 131km (2586m)
- Stage 14: Glasgow Riverside Museum to Glasgow Glasgow Green, Flat, 124km (1325m)
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