After conflicting events at the Amgen Women's Tour and Emakumeen Bira in May, the Women's WorldTour (WWT) resumes this month with the OVO Energy Women's Tour from June 13-17 in Great Britain. For the fifth edition of the race, organisers SweetSpot promised an increased prize purse by three-fold to €90,000.
This year's general classification winner will earn €14,460, the same as the winner of the men's Tour of Britain, while stage sums will also be equal to those offered during the men's stages.
The event marks the 13th round of the WWT, but overall leader Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) will not be competing. She currently leads the standings with 977 points, while Amanda Spratt sits in second place with 745 and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio is in third with 571.
In the 2017 edition, Katarzyna Niewiadoma won the overall title ahead of Christine Majerus and Hannah Barnes. Other past winners include Lizzie Deignan, Lisa Brennauer and Marianne Vos.
Niewiadoma, who is currently fifth in the WWT standings, will return to defend her title in the colours of Canyon-SRAM, which will debut a new design during the OVO Energy Women's Tour. The race was not initially on her schedule, but she will use the demanding stages to prepare for the Giro Rosa in July.
She will have support from teammates Alena Amialiusik, sisters Alice and Hannah Barnes, who will also contest the sprint stages, Lisa Klein and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot.
"I saw the stage profiles and I can say that they are going to hurt," said Niewiadoma, who last year won the opening stage from a breakaway and held the race lead through five stages and into London to secure the overall victory.
"It's a demanding and unpredictable race and I love this. I have decided to race again because of these hard stages, which I believe will help me to get into better shape before the Giro Rosa. I love all of the fans along the roadside and I have amazing memories from last year! I'm coming into this race with no pressure and no expectations on myself. It will be pure racing for the team. At the moment, I feel happy and complete on my bike and that's all that matters."
The Polish all-rounder will face a tough field that includes former winners Lisa Brennauer (Wiggle High5) and Marianne Vos (Waowdeals).
Brennauer proved to be in top form after recently winning the Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour. She will line up with teammates Elisa Longo Borgini, who was third in the 2016 edition, along with Kirsten Wild and Nettie Edmondson for the sprints.
"I'm feeling well, and of course it was a good time in Thüringen, so I hope I can take my good form into the OVO Tour as well," Brennauer said.
Despite not fielding van der Breggen, Boels Dolmans will have several strong contenders, with world champion Chantal Blaak, former world champion Amalie Dideriksen and all-rounder Amy Pieters.
Mitchelton-Scott will also have a strong team with Jolien D'hoore, who returns after recovering from a broken collarbone. Sunweb will bring triple threats in runner-up at Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour Ellen van Dijk, Coryn Rivera and Lucinda Brand.
Vos, who hasn't raced since Liège-Bastogne-Liège, arrives with a strong team that includes Jeanne Korevaar, who is currently third overall in the WWT young rider classification, and Sabrina Stultiens, who won the opening stage of Emakumeen Bira.
Moolman-Pasio finished seventh overall last year but will not be participating in this time around. Her team Cervelo Bigla will field young riders Emma Cecilie Norsgaard and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, along with all-rounder Lotta Lepistö.
Giorgia Bronzini (Cylance) will be one to watch, as will Marta Bastianelli (Ale Cipollini). Both former world champions could play key roles in both sprints and breakaways over the flat to punchy stages.
Also watch Chongming Island winner Charlotte Becker (Hitec), Eva Buurman (Trek-Drops), Hayley Simmonds (WNT Rotor), Mieke Kröger (Team Virtu), Maria Confalonieri (Valcar PBM), Roxsane Fournier (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope), who had a successful Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour, and Eugenia Bujak (BTC City Ljubljana).
Hillier route on tap for fifth edition
The race will start in a sprint stage in Framlingham, Suffolk on Wednesday, June 13, and for the first time in its history will venture into Wales with the final stage full of climbing before finishing in Colwyn Bay on Sunday, June 17.
In between, stage 2's 145km race from Rushden to Daventry will feature a climbs over Weedon Hill and Newnham Hill, but the lumpy course is likely to end in a reduced bunch sprint.
Stage 3 is identical to last year's 151km race from Atherstone to Royal Leamington Spa, covering two category 2 climbs - Edge Hill and Burton Dassett near the end of the stage - but still finished in a sprint last year, won by Chloe Hosking (Ale Cipollini).
Back to the bigger hills for stage 4, a new parcours from Evesham to Worcester, which takes on peloton up category 1 Snowshill (1.7km at 8 per cent) mid-stage.
The race will finish with stage 5's 122km race from Dolgellau to Colwyn Bay, climbing over the category 1 Nant Gwynant (6.9km at 4.4 per cent).
Brennauer noted the difficulty of the stages in a recent press release: "I looked at the profile, and I think some of the cities sound familiar, let's put it this way. It looks like the first part of the tour - I mean it's always up and down the whole time - but the later stages look super-hard to me, towards the end of the week."
2018 OVO Energy Women's Tour:
Stage 1: Framingham to Southwold, 130km
Stage 2: Rushden to Daventry, 145km
Stage 3: Atherstone to Royal Leamington Spa, 151km
Stage 4: Evesham to Worcester, 130km
Stage 5: Dolgellau to Colwyn Bay, 122km
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