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"Stage One is 130km from Framlingam to Southwold, and predominantly flat meaning a bunch sprint is looking fairly likely… So all eyes are on the sprinters; the likes of Kirsten Wild, Giorgia Bronzini, Coryn Rivera, Jolien D’Hoore - back from a broken collarbone - and Commonwealth champion Chloe Hosking.
But what about the dark horses, the outside chances? Our pick for stage one is Alice Barnes. With the might of Canyon Sram leading her out, who of course have defending champion Kasia Niewiadoma in their ranks, the young British sprinter should be in the mix if the stage come to a bunch finish as predicted. She was in the thick of the sprint in stage one of the Tour de Yorkshire, finishing third after a stellar lead out from the likes of Hannah Barnes, Alexis Ryan and Alena Amialusik, so clearly has some form.
Just 22 years old, she signed for the World Tour outfit Canyon Sram from Trek Drops this season. A multiple national Under 23 champion, Barnes hails from mountain biking and is also a Under 23 European bronze medallist. One to watch on Stage One..."
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
"Stage Two is markedly different to Stage One, which as expected ended in a bunch sprint - won by Jolien D’Hoore. It starts in Rushden and finishes in Daventry, the start of last year’s tour, as the peloton race 145km across the Northampton countryside. And it is all about the climbers as the battle for the GC begins - think Kasia Niewiadoma, Christine Majerus, Hannah Barnes, Lisa Brennauer and Elisa Longo Borghini. The second ascent of the category two climb Newnham Hill - 1.6km long at an average gradient of 5.2% - comes just 2km before the finish.
But what about Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig? Though her name isn’t being touted as an out-and-out favourite for a stage win or the overall general classification, the Danish rider - and one of the Voxwomen bloggers - can certainly climb with the best of them and often makes the selection at the pointy end of tough European one-day races, even when racing in support of thoroughbred climber Ashleigh Moolman Pasio.
Uttrup Ludwig, who was the UCI WWT best Under 23 rider last season, has told us the undulating, lumpy terrain that features in the Ovo Energy Women’s Tour is her favourite kind of racing, so she will certainly be one to watch today for stage two."
Stage Three is the longest stage of the Women’s Tour. 151km long from Atherstone to Leamington Spa, the route is almost identical to the same stage last year, won by Chloe Hosking. On paper, the long, undulating stage, with a flat final 3km, suggests a reduced bunch sprint.
The rider to watch here is Marianne Vos, riding for Waowdeals. Though it feels odd picking one of the greatest cyclists in the world as an outside chance, the European champion is battling her way back from a broken collarbone sustained at Liege Bastogne Liege, and tweeted she “messed up her sprint” in the technical finish on stage one to finish sixth. Ironically, she also crashed inside the final 10km of this exact stage last year, breaking her collarbone.
Vos, a multiple road and cyclocross world champion and London 2012 Olympic champion, has to make it over the lumps and bumps on the run-in to the finish however, and over half the field were distanced last year. There are two categorised climbs 36km and 26km out from the finish respectively. Edge Hill is just 800m long but almost 10% average, and Burton Dassett is 1.7km long and averages at 4.9%.
Vos should remain in contact with the lead bunch, so watch out for her sprint finish. She is certainly a rider who knows how to win a bike race.
"All eyes are on WNT-Rotor Pro Cycling for Stage Four - and initially their team leader, Hayley Simmonds, who hails from the area of Worcester and has been in sensational form this season after a Commonwealth bronze on the Gold Coast. She was using Women’s Tour as a run-in to another crack at the national TT title at the end of the month, but a crash yesterday saw her abandon the race. Heal fast, Hayley!
In her absence our attention turns to her teammate, climber and time trial specialist Aafke Soet. The 20-year-old Dutch rider has been in scintillating form already this season, winning a stage of the Healthy Aging Tour and claiming the best young rider jersey at World Tour race Emakumeen Bira. The peloton will race 130km from Evesham to Worcester, taking on the formidable category one climb Snowshill (yes, yours truly has done it!) and cat three ascent Atch Lench along the way. The profile is far from flat besides, and the riders will be tackling lumps and bumps all the way to the line.
Soet is an up-and-coming young rider, a rising star, and Stage 4 gives her another big chance to mix it on the world stage with some of the elite peloton’s best talent, as the race hots up and Team Sunweb look to defend Coryn Rivera’s slim lead in the battle for the general classification."
The Women’s Tour is finely poised - Coryn Rivera in green with just a handful of seconds between her and Marianne Vos. But the one to watch is Vos’ teammate Dani Rowe. She crashed heavily in yesterday’s stage from Evesham to Worcester, but is still best Brit, in the blue Adnams jersey. After treatment to her knee last night, Rowe is doing all she can to make the start line.
She remains third in the general classification with all to play for in the final stage in Wales, now her home nation for whom she won bronze at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, and will be hungry to finish the Ovo Energy Women’s Tour with a bang on Welsh soil.
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