Revealing the route of the 2018 OVO Energy Women's Tour at the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, organisers Sweetspot also announced a near-tripling of the prize fund. Riders will share a total fund of €90,000 (£80,600, USD111,700) up from last year's €35,000, the increase equalising the prize money with the Tour of Britain, which the company also runs.
To be held between June 13 and 17, the five-day event is once again expanding its horizons in search of new and more challenging roads. This year, instead of heading to the Peak District as it did in 2016 and 17, the Women's Tour will leave England for the first time, with the final stage held in North Wales.
Part of the Women's WorldTour, the top level of international women's racing, the Women's Tour's increased prize money will bring the race in line with other top women's events in the United Kingdom.
In 2017, the Prudential RideLondon Classique, a one day criterium style event, had a total fund of £100,000, while the Tour de Yorkshire offered £50,000 for last year's single day women's race. Neither have announced their prize pot, though the latter will expand to two days for 2018 as a UCI 2.1 event, while RideLondon maintains its WorldTour status.
In general, prize money for the British women's events compares favourably to other women's events throughout the world. Even the Giro d'Italia Femminile, at 10 days the only 'Grand Tour' for women, only awards a total of €32,730 (£29,200, USD40,500).
Organisers have previously tried to expand the event to seven days, but have met with resistance from British Cycling whose sanction is required for such a change. For this year the race remains at five days.
The first edition of the Women's Tour in 2014 was exclusively in the east of England, the flat countryside providing little challenge and bringing four bunch sprints from the five stages. While Sweetspot has remained faithful to areas which supported that opening edition, each year the race has moved in search of for more challenging roads.
With organisers hoping to build suspense, the race increases in intensity through the week, the opening days teeing up the finale better than previous editions.
Suffolk, one the areas to host the first event in 2014, opens the Women's Tour this year, which heads to the east midlands for stage 2 in Northampton, another perennial favourite. Stage 3 will be a repeat of last year's between Atherstone and Royal Leamington Spa, after which the race heads west as opposed to north as in the two previous editions.
Stage 4 starts and finishes in Worcestershire, the climbs of the Cotswolds promising fireworks, which are sure to be repeated on the final final day through the Snowdonia national park, between Dolgellau and Colwyn Bay in North Wales.
Since its inception the Women's Tour has become one of the leading stage races for the women's peloton, and was one of the first to be accepted onto the Women's WorldTour in 2016.
Its organisation and community activation, bringing crowds out to races, make it a firm favourite of the riders, and each year the route has become more challenging, enhancing the race's profile and further ensuring the attendance of the world's top riders.
The constantly evolving route and accompanying increase in prize money will help ensure the race's position at the top of women's racing.
Ovo Energy Women's Tour 2018 - Stage by stage
Stage 1: Framingham to Southwold, 130km - The gently undulating roads of Suffolk will remind some of the first Women's Tour in 2014, but this year it will be the hors d'oeuvre rather than the main course. After heading south into Ipswich the race loops back through the start town before heading to Southwold where a bunch sprint should be expected.
Stage 2: Rushden to Daventry, 145km - Far from mountainous though hillier than the previous day, the peloton will ride through the heart of England before passing Daventry, the start town for last year's race. A lap around the town will see the peloton climb the 16% slopes of Newnham Hill will where the main protagonists will look to make a difference.
Stage 3: Atherstone to Royal Leamington Spa, 151km - A repeat of last year's third stage won by Chloe Hosking (Alé Cipollini) from a bunch sprint, it is the longest of the race and as such difficult to predict. The main hills of the day come late on and could split the peloton depending on how they are ridden.
Stage 4: Wychavon District to Worcester, 130km - Here the race enters new ground and while the route start and finishes on relatively flat roads, the middle section will challenge most. Taking the peloton up the Cotswold Escarpment and some if the local climbs could break the bunch, though whether the gaps will remain to the finish is to be seen.
Stage 5: Dolgellau to Colwyn Bay, 122km - Organisers alway hope to bring a race to a crescendo and the final day could do just that, ending its way through Snowdonia National Park. Along the coast, the opening kilometres could cause some issues with wind, but climbing into the mountains is likely to take its toll on some.
Even with the apparent absence of the Great Orme climb, expect a small group to decide the general classification on this final day.
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