The 2019 OVO Energy Women’s Tour gets underway in Beccles in Suffolk tomorrow morning with a stellar field of riders ready to tackle arguably the hardest edition to date.
Among the star-packed start list are all five winners of previous editions – Marianne Vos (CCC – Liv), Lisa Brennauer (WNT – Rotor Pro Cycling), Lizzie Deignan (Trek – Segafredo), Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon/SRAM Racing) and Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) – plus 23 of the 25 stages winners from the race’s history.
If that’s not enough, there’s five former rainbow jersey wearers among the 96 starters.
And those who roll out of Suffolk tomorrow will have a tough six days ahead of them.
After the Grand Depart in Suffolk, the peloton hit the Kent Cyclopark for a circuit race stage which will see them complete 25 laps of the 2.9km course in a style more akin to Formula One than cycling!
It should prove to be a great spectacle, especially if the crowds are as big as expect around the whole track!
A first hilltop finish on stage four into Burton Dassett Country Park will be followed up on stage five with an arduous stage between Llandrindod Wells – home of the National Cycle Collection – and the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells.
It’s 87km in length but features a total elevation gain of 2,206 metres making it the hardest stage in the race’s six-year history.
Any riders hoping the 125.9km final stage between Carmarthen and Pembrey Country Park will be a procession had better think again, the overall green jersey may well still be up for grabs right up to the line.
Race director Mick Bennett says organisers listened to the teams after last year’s edition failed to attract as bigger list of ‘stars’.
With a tougher course – and an equal prize pool to that of the men’s race for a second year – it looks to have done the trick.
So who should we be watching out for? Here’s Allez! Allez! CC’s five pick of the top five big-hitters.
Marianne Vos – CCC-Liv
The Dutch legend has already tasted success on these shores this season after being crowned Queen of the Tour de Yorkshire last month.
Her record in this race speaks for itself, she won the very first edition back in 2014 and has picked up the points classification jersey on three occasions (2014, 2016 and 2018).Embed from Getty Images
The CCC-Liv team come into the race with a relatively young squad but current South African national champion Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio – who was second to Lizzie Deignan in 2016 – should prove to be a formidable pairing with the three-time World Champion.
The hilltop finish on stage four and the hilly fifth stage could be key for Vos if she is to become the race’s first repeat winner.
Marta Bastianelli – Team VIRTU Cycling
The vastly-experienced Italian sprinter is enjoying a stellar season with a string of good results in the early season classics.
She won at both the Ronde van Vlaanderen and the Ronde van Drenthe and hit the top ten in four other World Tour races – including a fourth place at Strade Bianche – to move to the top of the WWT rankings, albeit just for a little over a month.Embed from Getty Images
Bastianelli finished second on the first stage of last year’s edition and secured a top ten spot in both the mountains and points classifications but the European road race champion is still waiting for her first stage win in the race.
The 32-year-old comes into the race on the back of a stage win at the Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour and will probably have an eye on the Grand Depart from Beccles to Stowmarket as an opportunity to snare that first Women’s Tour win… and the first leader’s jersey of the 2019 edition.
Lizzie Deignan – Trek-Segafredo
The Women’s Tour will be the second race on British soil in six weeks for new mum Lizzie Deignan after her appearance at the Tour de Yorkshire at the start of May.
We saw glimpses of her pre-maternity form, especially on the wet and windy second stage from Bridlington to Scarborough when the former World Champion launched a couple of aggressive attacks before drifting back into the bunch.Embed from Getty Images
Since then she’s secured two top-ten stage spots in the Tour of California while a 14th place finish on the second stage to Mount Baldy will have given her plenty of confidence that the legs are still with her.
The Trek-Segafredo squad looks very strong with Ellen van Dijk and Elisa Longo Borghini both sitting in the top 20 of the Women’s World Tour rankings as it stands.
Kasia Niewiadoma – Canyon/SRAM Racing
Another former race winner, the Polish star has been on fire this season so far.
A win at the women’s Amstel Gold Race and top ten finishes at Strade Bianche (where she was third), the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege have been followed up with an impressive outing at the Tour of California.Embed from Getty Images
She has the measure of the English roads and, in Hannah Barnes, has the perfect teammate to guide her through what promises to be a challenging course.
Her current second place in the Women’s World Tour rankings is no fluke and there are one or two stages which she’ll have in her mind as ones to target.
Like most of our big contenders, she’s backed up by a team with plenty of talent in its ranks including the Italian Elena Cecchini, who managed to hold off Coryn Rivera and Jolien d’Hoore in the final sprint at Thüringen.
Coryn Rivera – Team Sunweb
Last year’s winner will have a tougher task on her to retain the green jersey, especially given the course features more for the climbers than the sprinters this time around.
The hillier course may not be a natural fit for the American sprinter’s talents but she might fancy the first two stages.
She comes in with her form at a decent level after finishing in the top ten of three stages of the recent Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour but is still to find her first win of the 2019 season.Embed from Getty Images
Rivera admitted last month that her Spring Classics campaign hadn’t been great and that the Women’s Tour and the US national championships were her next targets.
The Sunweb squad has plenty of options at its disposal, including the 21-year-old German Liane Lippert who is developing into a great GC contender having finished 10th at the Tour de Yorkshire and producing a strong showing at Thüringen.
Main image courtesy of SweetSpot/Above Air Media.