After its inaugural race in 2014, the Aviva Women’s Tour is getting into its stride, and its third edition is set to be its toughest yet. It is the 10th race on the Women’s WorldTour calendar and the longest thus far.
Now in its second season since moving to the later June slot – compared to its debut season when it was raced in May – the Women’s Tour is a good place for many to start their summer campaign. The national championships and the Giro Rosa soon follow, and the five-day race will be a key indicator as to who is going well ahead of those.
With a much hillier route slotted for this season, the organisers are hoping to give the breakaway’s a better chance and make the contest for the overall classification that much harder. The race has always attracted a strong line-up, even at such a young age, and this year is no different.
Last year’s champion Lisa Brennauer will be back in the colours of Canyon-SRAM. The former time trial world champion has had a solid start to the season with a handful of podium finishes, including second at Gent-Wevelgem. However, she is yet to take the top step. She landed on the podium of the Auensteiner Radsporttage this past weekend, even uncharacteristically attacking on a climb on the final stage to move up to second on GC behind Cervelo-Bigla's Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio. Brennauer will certainly be among the favourites for the overall title. Her teammate Barbara Guarischi will be a strong contender for the flatter sprint stages.
The winner of the first edition Marianne Vos will also be in racing action after missing last year’s race. A niggling hamstring injury meant that she was on the sidelines for the entirety of the 2015 season and arrived at the Women’s Tour as a pundit last year rather than a competitor. After a top 10 finish on her return in March, Vos has notched up four victories including her first at the WorldTour level at the Tour of California. With Vos still on the comeback trail, it could be Anna van der Breggen that the team looks to shoulder their ambitions.
World Champion Lizzie Armitstead will be the huge home favourite, and she’ll be looking to put the memories of last year’s race behind her. Armitstead won the opening stage of the 2015 edition but crashed moments after crossing the line and was unable to contest the remainder of the race.
There has been no sign of the so-called curse of the rainbow jersey, with Armitstead taking five victories thus far including emphatic performances at the Tour of Flanders and Strade Bianche. Her Boels Dolmans outfit has been the team to beat this season and with the backing of Chantal Blaak, Ellen Van Dijk and, winner of a stage last year, Christin Majerus, they have a formidable line-up.
Another team that will be tripping over themselves for options will be Wiggle-High5. They boast last year’s runner-up Jolien D’hoore, world number one Emma Johansson and Elisa Longo Borghini, all of whom could be in the mix for the overall classification again this season. Sprinter Lucy Garner also lines up for the squad.
The sprinter to beat, however, will be Kirsten Wild, who is making her debut in the race. The Hitec Products rider has been on scintillating form so far this season, scoring 14 victories including the overall classification at the Tour of Qatar.
Emma Pooley continues her preparation for the Olympic Games later in the year as she competes for the Great Britain team. The course is possibly not quite tough enough for Pooley but never say never, and if she decides to do some damage, then she could do just that.
Cervelo Bigla’s Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio returns to the race after missing last year’s edition, and she could be a strong contender after this weekend's win in the Auensteiner Radsporttage.
Watch out for UnitedHealthcare’s Coryn Rivera, who could pose a challenge in the sprints or slip away in a break. The 23-year-old has had a great season so far and recently finished runner-up to Megan Guarnier in the US national championships.
The five-day race kicks off on the English coast in Southwold and twists its way north to the finish in Norwich. Both places are first-time hosts of the race. There are two classified climbs along the route but with only a little more than 800 metres of climbing in total it should be an opportunity for the sprinters to get their name onto the race’s list of victors.
There is a long transfer west for the start of the second stage in Atherstone. With an additional 900 metres of ascent, the riders are in for an up and down day that could split up the peloton. The second and final climb of the day in the village of Ilmington could be the scene of a late attack. There’s still 24 kilometres to the line from the top, however, and staying away will be tough.
Stage 3 will be the hardest day for the peloton with the best part of 2,000 metres of climbing packed into 112km. While none of the climbs are exactly huge, there is plenty to work with for the likes of Armitstead and Van der Breggen to distance the sprinters and take some crucial time in the overall classification. The lumpy finish to stage 4 in Stoke-on-Trent will be further opportunity for the more climbing-centric riders to dial up the hurt on their rivals. It starts off innocently enough but at as the race approaches Woodville for the first intermediate sprint there is rarely a stretch of flat road as it travels up and down like a wave.
The final stage from Northampton to Kettering is by no means a processional finish to the race but with the climbing spread out much more evenly over the 113km of racing the sprinters should be in the mix once again. The rolling finish could catch some people out though, and timing will be key when it comes to the search for victory.
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