The world’s top female cyclists lined up in Oundle yesterday for the opening stage of the inaugural FriendsLife Women’s Tour before racing to a stage one finish in Northampton and Monkston Park’s Harriet Owen was in the thick of the action.
Although a Junior World Track Championship silver medallist in her own right – Harriet came second in the 2010 Worlds Scratch race - the 20 year old admitted to being nervous at the thought of lining up against the top women riders in the world.
Harriet and her five Matrix Fitness–Vulpine team-mates faced stiff competition from the likes of the London 2012 Women’s Road Race gold and silver medallists, the world’s number one female rider Marianne Vos and the current World Cup leader Lizzie Armistead.
The five day, nearly 500km race is the brainchild of the SweetSpot organisation who also manage the men’s Tour of Britain and, in the words of Race Director Mick Bennett, have built the women’s race to create “fair and equal treatment of women’s cyclists not only in Great Britain but the world.”
Based mainly in the East Midlands and the East of England, Thursday’s stage finishes in Bedford before the 96 riders race to finishes in Clacton, Welwyn Garden City and the climax of the race in Bury St Edmunds on Sunday afternoon.
“Really, all my races so far this year have been preparation for this race alone,” said Harriet.
“We have recced the first and fifth stages and we know for sure that, contrary to what a lot of people have been saying, the route for the Tour is certainly not flat!
“There’s a bit of everything in the race so it’s a good route.
“I think we can expect stage 1 to be carnage as everyone tries to keep their team leader at the front but by the time we start stage 2 I think the big hitters with overall ambitions will hit the front big time and so that’s when I expect the most damage to be one.”
With this being the debut edition of the race Harriet recognises that this is a huge move forward for women’s racing and women’s sport overall in the UK.
“This race gives nationally based riders the chance to shine on what is effectively a world stage.
“And it’s a huge opportunity for our team sponsors who’ll be getting so much coverage on the road and on TV from the race.”