Towns in two counties in Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Bedfordshire will host the opening two stages of next year’s inaugural Women’s Tour, the new five-day stage race being put together by Tour of Britain organisers, SweetSpot.
Oundle in Northamptonshire will host the start of Stage 1 on Wednesday 7 May, with the finish in Northampton. The following day will see a stage set off from Hinckley in Leicestershire and finish in Bedford, heading back through Northamptonshire on its way.
The race, which will finish on Sunday 11 May, has been granted UCI 2.1 status, equivalent to the biggest women’s stage races such as the Giro Rosa, and is likely to attract a star-studded field.
Heather Smith, the deputy leader of Northamptonshire County Council, commented: "We are very excited that Northamptonshire has been chosen to host the first stage of The Women's Tour.
“This is an opportunity to showcase our beautiful county to the rest of the world as well as promote cycling and women's sport locally, and will be the start of a summer of cycling events.
"I am particularly pleased that Oundle will be the location for the start of the first stage as this beautiful historic town will make a very memorable setting for the first-ever Grand Depart of The Women's Tour.
“And of course Northampton, the county town, is a fantastic place to end this historic first stage,” she added.
Oundle’s mayor, George Higgins, said it was an “honour” for the small market town, home to 5,800 people, to host the opening stage of the inaugural edition of the race.
"We are extremely proud that Oundle has been chosen for the start of the first-ever Women's Tour.
"The picturesque surroundings of our historic town will provide a stunning backdrop to the Grand Depart for cyclists and supporters alike, and we are also planning to organise an exciting programme of activities to celebrate this significant event.
"It's a real honour to host the first stage and the Grand Depart, and we are looking forward to welcoming everyone to Oundle next May.”
Earlier this year, outlining initial plans for the race, SweetSpot’s Guy Elliott told road.cc that it envisaged basing the entire event around the East Midlands and the East of England and the locations of the opening two stages seem to confirm that.
Speaking to us in July, he said: “We are planning to take each stage to an old-fashioned county and give each stage its own theme around the county, like Cambridge with the spires and punting on the Cam and so package the race for TV.”
“It’s an area that has not been visited so frequently by the men’s Tour of Britain, but there’s a great appetite for cycling from the local councils,” he went on.
“For example we get great support from Colchester for the Tour Series; last year the start of the Tour of Britain was in Ipswich.
“We want to make sure that to start with the race is on flattish or undulating courses and in future years we will move towards more hilly region.
He added: “We don’t want the race to be decided over one mountain with someone having five minutes lead.”
For Leicestershire County Council, hosting the start of Stage 2 in Hinckley enables it to build on existing initiatives aimed at boosting levels of cycling.
The town sits in rolling countryside and is close to the site of the Battle of Bosworth where King Richard III, whose remains were discovered in Leicester last year, was killed in 1485, enables it to build on existing initiatives aimed at boosting levels of cycling.
The council’s cabinet member for highways and transport, Peter Osborne, said:
"We are delighted to welcome the Women's Tour to Hinckley.
"This visit builds on the work we have been doing to encourage our residents to discover or rediscover a love of cycling and the associated health benefits.
"These cyclists are a real inspiration and are fantastic ambassadors for women's cycling, and it will be wonderful so see them in action in our county.”
That stage will finish in Bedford, which already hosts the 3 Days of Bedford Women’s International Stage Race.
The town’s mayor, Dave Hodgson, commented: "Bedford Borough has a rich sporting heritage and it is excellent news that we will be hosting The Women's Tour.
"It is very exciting that this prestigious international sporting event will be gracing local roads next May and I am sure local residents of all ages will line the streets and cheer on the world class competitors.”
SweetSpot says that full details of the routes as well as the start and finish towns of the remaining three stages “will be announced over the coming months.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.