Race Design Thread

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Well, after they turned left at the pass, the road through Ventas de Ibardin actually is the border for much of the journey through the village. The actual finish was at the little opening between Venta Elizalde and Mendimendian Benta with the presentations done in the car park behind that. Mendimendian Benta is in Spain although it is north of the road, the only such case in Ibardin, so the last left-right flick corners take the road back into Spain after being on the border, so the finish was about 20m from the actual national border, but the presentation was held on it.
 
It's funny, Mayomaniac, the week following the Tour route presentation, I created my own route as a response to what I didn't like about that route (but overall I had mixed feelings as there were a lot of good stuff too), and while the overall structure and balance is somewhat similar, the only start or finish town we share is Paris and the 7 passes we both use (5 in the Pyrenees, no surprise) are all opposite sides. With your route being counter-clockwise and mine clockwise and the both of them together covering most of France, they fit perfectly as successive editions! Only trouble is that we both omit Pau, which is a bit unrealistic as we haven't had two years in a row without the city since '69, '70. The horror ...

First for the overall impression: As for balance and overall structure, it's obvious from my first paragraph that I'm quite happy with that. Your route is a bit short though: Overall distance is ~3300 km. Not trusting Cronoescalada's categorization of climbs and not having yours, by my own count you have 30 climbs, 10/12/8 (HC/1st/2nd). It's the same as this year's edition had, but with twice as many HC climbs. 2018 was the edition with most HC climbs (9) and a total 26 climbs of cat. 2 or higher, so you are certainly not lacking in that department. I personally think that is quite fine, especially so with a more normal amount of TT'ing than in recent years. I too share the view that we need more of both, but it does make it hard for me to suggest changes that would add to the tally.

It's a good domestic Grand Depart, and I can definitely imagine something not too dissimilar happen in the future. But I have to object to the finish of your 2nd stage. I don't think the short finish circuit can work in this context. Just like the 2018 edition had a Tour du Finistère stage that was modified so it was without the small circuit in the end. I think the larger circuit is quite fine. I don't watch Tro-Bro Léon, so I can't say how much else would need modification, but given the rumours in recent years, it's clear that Ribinoù are on the table.

While I know of cases nearby, the Tour has never had a finish on a border before and I'm not sure if it's the case with the other GTs. I don't really think it's a problem, but it got me wondering, and I definitely prefer the full Larrau ascent over a finish at Col d'Erroymendi. The next day is absolutely fine, I'm not sure if it's too overused (here) to finish straight after Tourmalet with something extra in-between. Beyrède is always an alternative for either of the two final climbs, but not really a clear improvement.

I have to say that Ventoux here feels a bit weird to me. I appreciate that it serves a function and that it's the rare side, but wouldn't climbing to Chalet Reynard by the traditional side be fine too? I think it makes sense to insert Col de Lagarde-d'Apt afterwards, but I'm aware that it adds to the tally without adding crucial quality to the stage. I think Tonton's idea work too, but I'm not sure what to have afterwards, as it would be pointless to go directly to the ITT.

I don't have anything to add to your Alp stages. I really like your Jura stage and its circuit shouldn't be too short to cause trouble - I think it's an excellent combination of the climbs. My only suggestion would be to change the beginning and go over Sapenay instead (or alternatively move the start to Rumilly and go over Clergeon) and also use the fourth side of Grand Colombier from Anglefort so that all four sides are in use. An illustration.

I like the nod to Puy de Dôme in the end, giving the route a retro feel. All in all, I quite like it. 8/10
8/10 :p.

I missed you Netserk!!!
 
I took an extra look at your stage 20 as I really like it as the final GC relevant stage, and while only changing a bit in the finale, I've tried to make an alternative with a different start. If you want it longer, it's straightforward to move the start to Saint-Étienne and skip some of the detours after Issoire.



And a more radical alternative, also changing the place of the finish. That has some upsides and some downsides, and is less fitting as the final GC relevant stage, I think:

 
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I'd prefer the first version of your stage.
I'd like to see your Tour de France route.
Overall the Tour route for 2020 would be solid, if it would feature a mid length ITT early in the 2nd week, even one that was just 25km long in the first week would be acceptable. My big fear is that it will turn into a waiting game until stage 15 or even 17.
 
Given that you sought feedback, I found it only natural to give you that and afterwards some space. Like you, I too have a route with many climbs, and I have been in doubt if I should alter the standards for the categorization of climbs to counteract the inflation that has been going on. I would like you, and others, (perhaps after the publication of my route) to reflect a bit on that, and maybe also on how many is too many? For sure, standards have changed over this decade, and we now see significantly more climbs than during Jean-Marie Leblanc - especially during the first week. Who would have thought that we would see a HC climb in the opening weekend a decade ago :O

I wondered previously if there had been a finish on the exact border before, but especially with regards to finish locations, we've recently seen less restrictions. I think stage finishes as Culoz and Espelette are good examples of that.

I'm a bit mad with the limitation of 20 images per post (this calls for veteran privileges!), as I would prefer to post it in one go (but using the spoiler-tags to not bomb the page). When I figure out how to present it, I will post it. I already have the overall map and stage profiles, but I have also wanted to tweak a few things since then...
 
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I've got a few routes for shorter stage races up my sleeves, one of the most interesting is probably my Tour of Hawaii.
The original version had 8 stages, but I've been thinking about cutting it down to 7 stages, you could market it as "the hardest week in cycling".
About placing inmt on the calender, it could take the spot of the Tour of California and teams could also use Big Island fof altitude training camps.
 
I've got a few routes for shorter stage races up my sleeves, one of the most interesting is probably my Tour of Hawaii.
The original version had 8 stages, but I've been thinking about cutting it down to 7 stages, you could market it as "the hardest week in cycling".
About placing inmt on the calender, it could take the spot of the Tour of California and teams could also use Big Island fof altitude training camps.
Mauna Kea MTF to be balanced with Ironman Hawaii ITT?
 
Well, been a while. But given we’re likely not to have any actual racing to watch for a while, it’s a good opportunity to go back to this, and this particular race is one where I am gonna have to put my money where my mouth is.

For several years, the Women’s Tour (i.e. of Britain) has been one of the best covered women’s races of the season, and definitely one of the, if not the outright, best attended. The pictures of Emma Johansson taking selfies on the podium at the end of the first edition because of the excitement of the huge swathes of fans have made it a must-attend for the women, as has the impressive prize pot, plus obviously with hour-long highlights packages daily and featurettes on riders and teams, it’s also a pretty crucial race for sponsor showcasing. It has risen quickly to a position of prominence on the calendar.

At the same time, some of the race’s own hype has fallen a little flat; the continual pushing of themselves as one of the most important and prestigious races of the year has seen mixed reaction, with the parcours being the main culprit. The first two editions were won by riders who had never left the confines of the péloton, taking the win on bonus seconds ahead of the winners on the road, who were Rossella Ratto and Christine Majerus respectively. Despite having been one of those most vocally supporting the race and celebrating the support it received in 2014, after the 2015 edition Emma Johansson shot back at the race organisers, demanding a better, more decisive parcours or she wouldn’t be back. Fortunately, the race organisers heeded her demands and 2016’s edition saw a couple of punchy stages and a more Classics-styled stage, leading to a dominant quartet of Longo Borghini, Moolman-Pasio, Spratt and eventual winner Lizzie Armitstead. 2017 also looked like it had potential, and the race was both made and simultaneously ruined by a miscalculation in the first flat stage, as Kasia Niewiadoma was handed a near two-minute lead that she had to defend for the rest of the race. 2018 was a real regression, a very flat race which was won from the bunch on time bonuses again, but 2019’s edition was far better, with a puncheur finish and then a tricky stage in Wales that saw Armitstead wrest control of the race from breakout Liane Lippert before she and Trek teammate Longo Borghini played the numbers game on Niewiadoma. However, the introduction of a hilltop finish was an excellent development for the race, which had been plagued by ineffectual use of terrain on loops which would have been better served in different directions, and the effect on finales that the determination to finish in towns and cities to help establish the race had had.



So I have taken it upon myself to make a Women’s Tour that would showcase all of the types of riders in the péloton and help the race to establish itself with a grander role as both a prestigious point of honour on the racing palmarès as well as a high point on the calendar for coverage and financial compensation. But, crucially, it has to be realistic. No HTF/MTFs in the middle of nowhere without cycling heritage. No use of crucial nodal roads beyond the most minimal of usage. And no Yorkshire or Scotland - they have their own women’s races. I have also tried to stick to realistic stage hosts and locations. Transfers are a bit on the large side sometimes, but they are in the real Women’s Tour too. Almost all of the stage hosts have shown support either as individual locations or as counties and regions which have brought major British cycling events into town, so could be justified as realistic, achievable hosts of the Women’s Tour. The route follows a similar kind of format to that used by the real-life Women’s Tour, and uses several of its established hosts. But, crucially, without the issue that has plagued the real race, which is that like its male counterpart the Tour of Britain, there is some trouble for the Women’s Tour in really communicating its use of difficult obstacles into decisive stages, with for example a stage over one of the toughest mountain passes in the southern half of Great Britain resulting in a sprint of 55 riders, similar to the 2009-10 era Tours of Britain where a climb like Gun Hill - less than 2km in length - would be placed 40km from home and because of its perceived difficulty, would be granted cat.1, but would inevitably result in HTC-Columbia dragging any moves back to enable Greipel or Boasson Hagen to win a sprint. Even in the least interesting parts of the country, the UK does offer quite some opportunities for something a bit more interesting. After all, Britain is rather a strong home of complex, technical finishes, with its road furniture and a lack of finishes on the kind of long, straight, wide boulevards that characterise countries with grid-layout cities. Even the most topographically dull area of all, East Anglia, offers at least something, if not much.

Which is good, because East Anglia is one of the most cycling-supportive regions in Britain, and has hosted the Women’s Tour in 5 of its 6 editions to date. So it’s where I’m starting my race.

Stage 1: Newmarket - Norwich, 122km





GPM:
Gas Hill (cat.3) 320m @ 10,7%
Gas Hill (cat.3) 320m @ 10,7%

The need for an East Anglian stage is one of the biggest problems with the Women’s Tour, if we’re honest. As mentioned, it is an almost ever-present region in the race, and the one year that no Women’s Tour stage passed through, the men’s Tour of Britain featured a stage in the vicinity to compensate. I’m not going to complain about the administration of the region’s counties bringing the race in - women’s cycling needs supportive hosts and the fact they keep bidding suggests they’re getting something out of it too, which is mutual benefit. However, from a racing point of view, the region offers very little of topographic interest, and especially after the bunch’s catastrophic miscalculation on stage 1 in 2017 (for them, at least. I didn’t mind at all), the stages in East Anglia on the first day since have seen very tight, restrictive control placed upon the race by the péloton and it has been difficult for any attack to even think about getting away.

Between the four counties that make up the region - Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire - enough races have come through the area in the last decade to make it the second most supportive region in the UK, after Yorkshire, for road cycling. The recent history of cycling in the region begins with the 2010 Tour of Britain, in which two stages at the tail end of the race took place in the area. Both were poorly conceived; the first was all along the coast for the first half, then moved away from anywhere where echelons could potentially be decisive, and André Greipel won. Borut Božič then won a similar stage from Bury St. Edmunds to Colchester although there were some surprising time gaps opened up in the technical run-in. The following year, the area was back, after a ridiculous transfer from the southwest of the country, as once more Bury St. Edmunds played stage start, with the royal estate at Sandringham hosting the finish. The breakaway was allowed to go the distance, and Gediminas Bagdonas won the stage. A year later, and cycling fever had hit the UK, in the wake of gold fever in the London Olympics, and fans crammed into Suffolk’s capital, Ipswich, for the Grand Départ of the Tour of Britain, and a chance to glimpse Britain’s then golden boy, Bradley Wiggins. Of course, it was little more than a lap of honour for the Tour winner, although Team Sky did win the stage which finished at the Norfolk Showgrounds in Norwich, after a huge crash in the final kilometre.



2013 saw the region sit out the national Tour, however Ipswich did host the domestic crit series that is the most lucrative part of the UK national road calendar. In 2014, two of the five stages of the inaugural edition of the Women’s Tour took place in East Anglia. Stage 3, from the port town of Felixstowe to rundown resort town Clacton-on-Sea, and Stage 5, from fellow eastern port Harwich to (once more) Bury St. Edmunds (the Pau of Great Britain?), were both won by Marianne Vos en route to the race which launched itself with the intention of becoming the greatest women’s race being won by the all-time greatest women’s racer.



The following year, it was the first two stages that would take place in East Anglia, with the grand départ starting up where the previous year’s race left off, before finishing in the coastal town of Aldeburgh. Home favourite Lizzie Armitstead won the stage to take the first maillot jaune of the race but never got to wear it, crashing heavily into a cameraman after the line and having to withdraw. Jolien d’Hoore won the second stage, running from Braintree, home of electronic music icons The Prodigy, to Clacton-on-Sea again. Meanwhile, the men rocked up into town again, with the Tour of Britain holding a stage from Fakenham to Ipswich which was won by André Greipel.
2016’s Women’s Tour returned to East Anglia but was further north this time; new sponsors Adnam’s Ales successfully brought the race to the small coastal town of Southwold, a well-to-do seaside resort where the company’s main brewery is, and the finish was in the region’s largest city, Norwich, which is also home to one of Britain’s finest cyclists (but more on that later). The stage was a complete shambles, however, with a super technical run-in including a pinch point, cobbles and three difficult technical corners in the last 400m which resulted in Christine Majerus winning the stage and time gaps being opened left right and centre, before being annulled, as Alison Tetrick had been in an escape that lasted all the way into that final technical section, the pinch point caused a big crash, and motos that had been following Tetrick didn’t have anywhere to get out of the course as the péloton hunted her down until the diversion shortly before the line. This will not be a problem in MY stage.

2017, as a result, stayed away from East Anglia, but in 2018 the race was back, with a stage from the picturesque Framlingham (where the ubiquitous, painfully unavoidable Ed Sheeran was brought up) to finish in Southwold on the coastal promenade. Promised winds did not show up, and with 2017’s miscalculation fresh in the memory, a very dull stage ensured. The same could be said of 2019’s stage from Beccles to Stowmarket where the group stayed together until 20-25km to go when Abby-Mae Parkinson tried to chance her arm solo, though terrible weather was also a culprit on that occasion. The national Road Race Championships have also been held in the locale recently, with Norwich playing host to these events in 2019. The women’s road race wasbroadcast in full, albeit with some severe issues that included picture dropout for half an hour in the middle. As the national championships are unlike most road races, a breakaway stayed away, with Alice Barnes triumphing over break mates Abby-Mae Parkinson, Anna Henderson and Elizabeth Holden, despite Parkinson and Holden being teammates. As for the men, they’ve only been back the once lately, which was in 2017, for two stages of the Tour of Britain. These consisted of an ITT around Clacton-on-Sea, before a road stage that finished in Aldeburgh - thankfully stage winner Caleb Ewan did not see fit to mimic Armitstead/Deignan’s post-finish-line hi-jinks - after departing from the iconic horse racing town of Newmarket. It is this latter town which I have chosen as my host town for the grand départ of the Libertine Seguros Women’s Tour (I am replacing OVO as sponsor, obviously, as in this fictitious universe I have infinite money and can therefore host these races on a whim and force parcours decisions on the public).



The chances are, if you’ve heard of Newmarket, it’s because of its horse racing heritage, which dates back to the 12th Century but has really accelerated in prominence since the early 17th Century. It’s one of the most famous places around for the so-called sport of kings (I personally couldn’t care less about horse racing, but if it is for you, then the town has a lot to offer), being seen as the centre of the sport in the UK and the cradle of flat horse racing as we know it. The town is heavily dependent on the sport and its associated industries - from breeding through to gambling - and 1/3 of its inhabitants are employed in jobs related to the horse racing industry or at one of its two racecourses. There is one racehorse for every five inhabitants of the town, but it does have some sporting heritage outside of equestrianism - 2008 Olympic keirin silver medallist Ross Edgar is from the town, although when winning Commonwealth Games medals (one gold, one silver, two bronze) he did so representing Scotland due to his family heritage on his father’s side.

I was going to use Bury St. Edmunds for this role, owing to its regularity in the real life races, but partly I wanted to use the uncategorised climb toward Gazeley to try to generate an early breakaway in order to improve action over the last two East Anglian stages in 2018 and 2019, which have seen the bunch ride together until around 30km to go - this is about 1,2km at about 4 to 4,5% - which for East Anglia is pretty much HC - and with most of the more sustained “hills” in the region being in the western part of it, this meant Newmarket was the most sensible option as a host. I have, however, granted the market town an intermediate sprint, in recognition that it does deserve some notice for its continued support of bike racing - after all, it has some of the longest velosport roots in the whole world, being the hometown of 19th-century racer James Moore, who won the first Paris-Rouen in 1869 and is popularly regarded as the winner of the first ever recorded bike race. He also held an Hour Record back in the most primitive of days. It is also twinned with Compiègne, the départ town of Paris-Roubaix.



Following this the route travels through a few of the areas that have characterised Women’s Tour stages and Tour of Britain stages through the area, minimising time on larger “A” roads, before turning northwards. The route toward Norwich is largely flat (of course) but with some twisty, technical roads to try to keep any breakaway out of sight and out of mind. The most interesting point through the middle section of the stage is the old factory for Lotus Cars, a popular brand of nimble, lightweight sports cars which have been built in the area since 1948 when the company was founded by legendary designer and chassis builder Colin Chapman. The company has its own test facility and racetrack on-site, and also uses the nearby Snetterton facility for testing. For many, the company’s road cars will be known for their exciting handling but questionable reliability (an old British joke in the 70s and 80s was that Lotus was an acronym for “Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious”), but for many, the legendary Formula 1 team which ran from the late 50s through to the late 90s will be the most memorable thing about the marque.



The Lotus Formula 1 team is iconic in many different ways. It gave the world not one, not two, but three iconic liveries - the red and gold Gold Leaf livery, the classic British Racing Green with a gold stripe, and the still-beloved-to-this-day-despite-the-tobacco-sponsorship-ban JPS Lotus black and gold which is renowned as one of the greatest-looking car liveries ever. The team won seven Constructors’ Championships in its tenure, and underpinned six World Drivers’ Championships - Jim Clark in 1963 and 1965, Graham Hill in 1968, Jochen Rindt’s posthumous triumph in 1970, Emerson Fittipaldi’s first championship in 1972, and finally Mario Andretti’s in 1978. The legendary Lotus 72, introduced in 1969, was one of the most forward-thinking cars of all time, but Lotus also developed a stigma that the cars had similar traits to the road-going Lotuses - lightweight, unreliable - and while their pace was undeniable and they remained a coveted seat, it was also notable that a number of drivers were killed while piloting Chapman’s machines - including Jochen Rindt and Jim Clark (the latter in an F2 race). The team also brought in various promising drivers through the latter part of its F1 tenure - including Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet - but the team drifted back into the midfield before a merger with back markers Pacific - also an East Anglian team, based in Thetford - signalled their demise.

The riders will then arrive in Norwich from the south and make a beeline towards the river Wensum, which divides the city, for a finishing circuit which is significantly more interesting than that used in the 2019 British National Championships, or indeed any courses used on previous cycling trips to Norwich, which begin back in 1977 when Eastern Bloc superstar Ryszard Szurkowski won a stage into the city in the Milk Race (the same route was used 3 years later, with the Swede Bengt Asplund victorious). This circuit starts on the eastern side of town, close to the football stadium which is host to underdog side Norwich City. Dubbed “The Canaries” for their distinctive bright yellow shirts, the team had a brief moment of glory in the early 90s where they went on a European run beating teams like Bayern München, but since then have settled into a role bouncing between the top two levels of English football. The circuit itself is 9,5km in length and the riders will undertake it twice. Early in the circuit there is a short, sharp brute of a ramp - not long enough to merit categorisation in a lot of races, but certainly a much more significant and potentially selective obstacle than has been used in East Anglian stages of either women’s OR men’s races to date: Gas Hill.



Gas Hill is only 300m long, but it averages 12%, which is rather a tasty potential obstacle to prevent the race being a pure bore sprint. It’s not likely to be long enough for, say, Niewiadoma or Longo Borghini or other non-sprinting climbers to turn it into a fulcrum for victory, but it’s steep enough that the pure sprinters like d’Hoore and Wild might be on the back foot a bit and make the run-in a bit more hectic or offer more of a platform for attackers. It hosts its own small hillclimb event called the ‘Gas Hill Gasp’ which is basically an uphill drag race but looks like it draws a decent crowd. Being 8km out, I suspect this is likely to all come back together, but this could bring more durable sprinters into play somewhat more than they have been on East Anglian stages in previous years. There’s also a brief stretch of cobbles on the city centre part of the circuit (plus another short but far less steep uphill section) but these are of the well-maintained city centre type and won’t be any real impediment.



It was a nice bit of serendipity to find the little climb that adds a bit of flavour to the circuit, however, because the main reason I chose Norwich as a stage host was simple: Norwich is the hometown of one of British cycling’s greats, a very underrated part of the sport’s revolution in the UK, and one of the key riders, if not the key rider, whose exploits brought me into following women’s cycling in the first place: take a bow, Emma Pooley.



A late starter in pro cycling, Pooley took up the sport while studying at university, after her original sporting goal, cross-country running, resulted in knee problems. She took up triathlon but swiftly developed a knack for the cycling part of the sport - and took up a professional contract after a surprise 4th place in the national championships in 2005. Joining Specialized in 2007, she relocated to Switzerland and learnt that, standing barely 1m 50 in height and weighing around 50kg, she was compactly built and perfect for climbing, which she would use to great effect for the rest of her career, building off strong results in the Grande Boucle Féminine and the Thüringen Rundfahrt. She was unable to capitalise on her climbing strength in the Tour de l’Ardêche, however, thanks to another characteristic of hers that she would use to great effect for the rest of her career, that being suffering bad luck, crashing and descending horribly. I mean really horribly. Like, would cost her at least one, possibly two Giro wins horribly. Like, poking fun at herself by reminding people of Bahamontes horribly. But even so, not quite Mara Abbott horribly.

Another characteristic of Pooley’s that she showcased in that 2007 season was her propensity for racing against the clock at a level far above that you might expect from a pocket rocket type rider as she was. This would be something that she would have in her arsenal as a weapon in future, but unfortunately not too frequently given the paucity of real lengthy ITTs in women’s cycling. Nevertheless, she did pick up a World Championships in the discipline in Geelong. In 2008 she was briefly in the good graces of British Cycling too - after winning her first World Cup at the Trofeo Binda, her climbing skill was noticed with the Olympic parcours supporting that type of rider, and before you knew it she was helping with some top quality domestique work to contribute to Nicole Cooke’s gold medal in the Beijing Road Race, as well as winning a silver of her own in the Time Trial, which kickstarted Great Britain’s enormous haul in the Olympic cycling events - much as though they try to sweep it under the carpet nowadays as the success of a perceivably more on-message road woman in Lizzie Deignan (note I said perceivably, not necessarily actually) meant that Nicole especially and to a lesser extent Emma have been airbrushed out of British Cycling history.

Another classic characteristic of Emma Pooley was the tendency to ride a never-say-die race. Nowhere is this more perfectly summed up than in 2009, when she moved over to the nascent Cervélo Test Team, and after playing second fiddle to Kristin Armstrong and her fellow climbing prospect Claudia Häusler in the early season, she travelled across to contest the Coupe du Monde Cyclist de Montréal (taking place on a shortened version of the circuit used in the GP Montréal to this day - the men’s race effectively killed the women’s race with its introduction, in fact). Observing that the hilly parcours suited her style, Emma dug deep into her box of tricks and pulled out a relic from the Sergey Sukhoruchenkov playbook; as soon as they left the neutral zone she attacked, then she attacked again to get rid of her fellow escapees as soon as they got to her, because she wanted to be alone. And alone she was; nobody would see her again until she climbed onto the podium to claim the spoils of victory - 110km solo and a victory by over a minute. She then won the Grande Boucle (then spluttering to an ignominious demise and endearingly derided by Pooley as a “Petite Boucle”), before showcasing a vision of how the big climbs would be for the next few years as she and Mara Abbott rode away together on Monte Serra in the Giro; Abbott won on the line but Pooley acquired the maglia rosa; sadly despite her climbing excellence Pooley would never take the jersey to the finish, largely because of her descending - here it cost her in stage 8 as she was dropped and would eventually lose nearly six minutes, at least handing the jersey over to teammate Häusler rather than losing it outright. Wait: winning races with 110km solo attacks? Climbing like a goddess? Losing races not on strength but on blatant, obvious lopsidedness? Terrible luck? Is it any wonder I became an absolute mark for Emma Pooley?

2009-12 was very much Pooley’s heyday, beginning with that Montreal solo win and ending with her annihilation of a decent climbing field at the 2012 Tour de l’Ardêche. In between these points, she won the GP de Plouay twice (nicknamed the GP de Pooley because of the dominance of her wins), La Flèche Wallonne, the GP Elsy Jacobs, the GP de Suisse (a Lausanne TT on the same course used in Romandie), the last ever Tour de l’Aude (a ten day race!), the Giro del Trentino, the Trofeo Binda, the Tour de l’Ardêche twice, the Emakumeen Saria and several stages of the Emakumeen Bira, the Thüringen Rundfahrt and the Giro d’Italia. This went alongside several national championships in the time trial, one (2010) in the road race, and of course her most prestigious of all wins, the World Championships ITT.



She even found time to lose the leader’s jersey in the Emakumeen Bira on the final day due to poor descending in the Basque rain at the same time as British Cycling were allegedly delivering a jiffy bag to her in the French Alps (how about that?), because all the road women are to British Cycling is a source to redirect some funds from and patsies to pin their suspicious activity on. All this despite a rather tumultuous team history with Jonathan Vaughters shifting funds allocated for the Cervélo women’s team in order to sign Thomas Dekker, and then the team collapsing, cyclocross sponsors AA Drink coming in to set up a new team that only lasted a season and so on. Pooley’s rivalry with Mara Abbott in the mountains became the thing of legend, with Pooley comprehensively dusting the American in the Tour de l’Aude, only for Mara to get her revenge by beating Pooley in the two’s epic battle on the Stelvio for the lead of the Giro. After Mara’s health problems held her back, Emma had her chance but was unable to take them due to a combination of poor descending (losing the 2011 Giro descending the Mortirolo) and disappointing parcours (2012 had very limited mountains), coupled with a certain Miss Marianne Vos being, well, Marianne Vos, so had to settle for a career best of 2nd, which she held in 2011 and 2012.

Pooley did compensate with success in the way she should, though, taking the maglia verde of the Queen of the Mountains in 2010 and 2012, before retreating to a part time ride as she completed her studies in 2013. She did beat up on a relatively middling péloton at the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon, but was back in 2014, on Lotto-Belisol, racing a limited calendar based around Giro buildup. She was every bit the Emma Pooley we know and love - being comfortably the best climber in the race, winning 3 stages, all of which the big mountain stages, over La Crosetta and the summit finishes at San Domenico and the Madonna del Ghisallo, to take her third maglia verde, drawing her level with Svetlana Bubnenkova in second place all-time, behind Luperini with five. However, this was also made possible by some severe time losses in the first two days due to chronic nosebleeds which made breathing difficult. She announced her retirement after the Commonwealth Games, where she slaved away all day despite it being her retirement parade for Lizzie Armitstead (as she was then), controlling breaks, making countermoves and pulling Lizzie up in the bunch, and made an attack to tire out others in the group when Lizzie then attacked her, rode over her without even so much as looking at her, then claimed all the credit in the post-race press without as much as a cursory mention of the work Pooley had done. Am I bitter? Hell yes.

Anyway, Emma had a brief return in 2016 but the spark was gone, with the only really notable feature of said comeback being an informal protest of turning up late to the road race leaving Armitstead/Deignan to face the media alone in the wake of her controversial reprieve from her suspension for missing tests which had been swept under the carpet and she had tried to pretend wasn’t happening. So in the end, by my reckoning, Emma Pooley retired having won 37 pro races - of which 35 were solo victories. The only 2 race victories she had which were not solo were stage 4 of the 2008 Tour de l’Ardêche and stage 8 of the 2011 Giro d’Italia - both of whom were two-up finishes with deals in place. You could argue that the Roquefeuil stage of the 2010 Tour de l’Aude, where she bested Abbott by 8 seconds and the rest of the field were over 2 minutes behind, should also count, but this shows you the kind of rider she was.

Since retirement she’s gone on to win multiple titles in duathlon and compete in triathlon, as well as a stint hosting on GCN, but let’s face it, what we’re mainly going to remember Emma for is being the queen of the mountains, wrestling that oversized bike for that tiny frame over whatever gradient she can find, usually in a solo attack.

Emma Pooley is pro cycling how it should be, and for that she should be honoured.


My kind of racing!
 
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Great job Libertine!
I've also decided to post a new race, a 4th version of the Österreich-Rundfahrt.
8 stages and only one uphill finish on a
Here we go

Österreich-Rundfahrt stage 1: St. Pölten - Grieskirchen; 166km



The race starts in a rather unusal way, an easy sprint stage. We could call this one the calm before the storm.
It's a rather boring sprint stage without any real ostacles that the sprinters and their train would have to overcome to earn the right to sprint for the win.

Grieskirchen:
 
Stage 2: Kettering - Lincoln, 138km





GPM:
Uppingham Hill (Stockerston)(cat.3) 1,7km @ 5,2%
Michaelgate (cat.3) 410m @ 10,0%
Michaelgate (cat.3) 410m @ 10,0%

For the second stage of the Women’s Tour, we link a classic stop off for the race with one of Britain’s most famous cycling towns, for another race which will likely suit the classics specialists, but without the chance for the sprinters to get back on, so they’re going to have to be durable. There’s a reasonably lengthy transfer from Norwich to Kettering, but it’s far from the most ridiculous you’ll ever see, either from the Women’s Tour or Tour of Britain (that transfer from Dartmoor to Bury St Edmunds in the men’s Tour of Britain a few years ago is Angliru to Madrid level stupid), or from elsewhere in women’s cycling (Giro Rosa, I’m looking in your direction here…). Google suggests it should take somewhere just over 2 hours, which is not unreasonable. It’s similar in distance and time to the transfer from Burton Dassett to Llandrindod Wells in the 2019 Women’s Tour for example.



Kettering is a fairly nondescript town of around 80-90.000 people in north eastern Northamptonshire, on the edges of where East Anglia and the East Midlands regions of the UK meet. Despite a long history it has only come to prominence in the last 200 years, when the area became significant for its cobbling industries, and several boot and shoe manufacturers set up in the town, most of which have since left. However, in contrast to some of the other nearby towns, Kettering remains relatively prosperous, with high employment and good transport links. Its cycling heritage is pretty much all recent, although it was the hometown of pre-boom British track cyclist Angela Hunter, who won some national titles in endurance track disciplines as well as racing at the Commonwealth Games. I’ve dug through my annals of history and as far as I can tell the only time Kettering hosted a professional cycling race until the inception of The Women’s Tour was the 1991 edition of the Milk Race, one of the last to bear that name I think? Either way, a semitappe from Kettering to Leicester took place on stage 6 and was won by Mark Gornall, a veteran of the British domestic scene.

Since 2015, however, Kettering has become an established host of the Women’s Tour, playing host to a stage finish each year from 2015 to 2017. The 2015 stage was the only one where a bunch gallop didn’t decide the race, with a complex and slightly uphill finish generating some time gaps due to a well-timed final kilometre attack from Christine Majerus, who dropped Barbara Guarischi on the final corner. Britain is well-renowned for these complex finishes to stages which are relatively flat, and this is one of the most typical of such finishes, with a slalom of roundabouts approaching the final corners. As such, it was little surprise to see, on the more tricky 2016 route that was a response to rider criticism of the sprint-heavy nature of the race’s first two editions, the only stage that had created time gaps the previous year repeated on the final day. However, the racing that day was a bit of a damp squib; Deignan had the race lead and the strongest team, Moolman-Pasio and Longo Borghini didn’t fancy their chances against the Briton in a sprint and Vos was too distant to open up the kind of gap required. Furthermore, a breakaway developed which included a number of riders that meant most of the big teams were happy with it and it was allowed to go. The break also included strong finishers like Lotta Lepistö and Marta Bastianelli, and so it was little surprise to see the Finnish sprinter take the win after Bastianelli left herself poorly placed leading into the finale.

The following year, Kettering played host to stage 1, and so there was some belief that, with a trickier route bookended by flat stages, that this would follow a similar pattern to the 2015 race. But of course, it didn’t. That’s a 45 minute highlight program, but really, the main highlight came 50km from the finish when the decisive move of the day was made: the ailing WM3 team, a reduced-budget continuation of the formerly dominant Rabobank team, decided to take up the pacing just after an intermediate sprint, before sending Polish national champion Kasia Niewiadoma up the road with around 50km remaining. The escaladora had only just returned from a knee injury so her form was underestimated by the bunch, especially considering who would have expected a wafer-thin climber to try to time trial in for an hour on flat roads? With the super-strength Boels team housing defending champion and home favourite Lizzie Deignan, other teams wanted to see Boels take up the task of chasing Niewiadoma; they didn’t learn that, in fact, Deignan didn’t have the legs for the race at all, until it was too late and that gap was too big; Niewiadoma was then left with a lead of nearly 2 minutes which she managed throughout the race. The race organisers and press did try to sell it as a coming out party, despite the fact that anybody who had been following women’s cycling in May 2017 who had yet to hear of Kasia Niewiadoma really couldn’t have been paying much attention. Nevertheless, she acquired a bit of cult status with the British fans owing to her charm and tenacity, and remains the last rider to win a race in Kettering.

The first notable moment of the stage comes just 10km in, in the town of Corby. Neighbouring Kettering, Corby is one of the less prosperous towns in the area and in fact, when it was passed through by the inaugural Women’s Tour, it was commented on that the organisers had specifically wanted to bring the sport to some of the more deprived areas, of which this was the most notable. Having expanded too rapidly for its economy to sustain a few decades ago, leading to it becoming a centre for internal immigration from Scotland, it is currently undergoing a significant regeneration process. Shortly after passing through the town, which hosts an intermediate sprint, we will descend into the village of Rockingham down the face of a hill which was included as a QOM climb in the 2017 Tour of Britain. Rockingham is, at least in recent history, best known for Rockingham Motor Speedway, the first banked oval racetrack in the UK since Brooklands.



Better described in American parlance as a “roval”, that is, a combined oval and road course, the original intention in constructing the circuit was to bring top level oval racing to the UK, but the 1,5 mile, 7º banking level left it too cramped and slow for NASCAR type vehicles, and the straights were too short for real action when the Champ Cars raced on the circuit in 2001 and 2002. In a sense of misfortune that would plague the circuit, the 2001 race had to be shortened as it was scheduled too soon after the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks to enable the flights and logistics to provide adequate pre-race practice, and after that racing was restricted to various British domestic formulae on the road course; with the value of the track’s unique feature (other than Lausitzring it was the only true oval in Europe) eroded, its proximity to more historic, interesting and popular circuits like Silverstone and Donington Park rendered it moribund, and the racetrack was sold and converted into a logistics hub in 2018.

Soon after this, we take on our first categorised climb of the day, from the village of Stockerston into Uppingham as we enter Rutland, England’s smallest non-urban county. From here we pass by Rutland Water, an artificial reservoir which provides a range of leisure facilities for sailing, cycling and similar, alongside some of the country’s better-known inland beaches.



This leads us directly onto our second intermediate sprint of the day in Oakham, the county town of Rutland, and which serves as the starting point of Britain’s attempt to answer Paris-Roubaix, a dirt-road classic called the Rutland-Melton CiCLE Classic, incepted in 2005, before a long and rolling stretch of stage, including nearly 20km in an absolute dead straight line along a former Roman road, along the similar lines to stages in the UAE and Qatar and similar where the route is absolutely ramrod straight, as we detour past Grantham, best known as the hometown of controversial and divisive former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose period in charge of the UK in the 1980s are every bit as cherished by her followers and reviled by her detractors now as they were at the time. However, the turning onto this diversion past Grantham is in Woolthorpe by Colsterworth, the hometown of a less divisive British icon - the legendary physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton, whose theories I so clumsily misquoted in a post about the similarities between the career arcs of Geraint Thomas and George Hincapie a couple of years ago.

We then turn to the east again for a short run toward the final intermediate sprint of the day, in the town of Sleaford. With a population of just under 20.000 it’s hardly a metropolis, but it’s sufficient to put on a bit of a show, and hopefully the performance of the bunch through the town will be a bit more substantial than are usually obtained from the town’s namesake musical duo, Sleaford Mods, whose angry, aggressive programmed post-punk is usually performed live through the medium of one man playing the tracks on a laptop and drinking beer whilst watching it to ensure no blue screens of death, while another man berates the audience in a regional accent. Sleaford’s other musical heritage is a bit less contentious and undergoing a bit of a career credibility renaissance at present - Elton John’s long-time lyricist, Bernie Taupin, was born in the town. After this, we have a long flat run in towards Lincoln through the edges of a fenland area known as The Wash, which has the potential to be very exposed to the wind. And then, we arrive in Lincoln, and it’s time for the classic.




Anybody who knows anything about domestic cycling in Britain knows about the Lincoln Grand Prix. The nearest thing the British péloton gets to see to Flanders (there are a lot of cobbled climbs in Britain, but this is one of the only ones with a regular reason to be seen), this has long been one of the most prestigious national races, since its inception all the way back in 1956, making it Britain’s oldest continuous one-day race (disputable, see next paragraph). With the exception of a couple of editions in the early 2010s where Sky sent a delegation to win the race (doing so successfully with Russell Downing and Peter Kennaugh) it has been a plaything of the national péloton, and various familiar names crop up in its results sheet over the years - Malcolm Elliott, Stan Brittain, Darryl Webster, Brian Smith, Shane Sutton, Roger Hammond, Matthew Stephens, Bradley Wiggins, and so on up to the present day. Point being: it’s something of an institution in British cycling.

In 2015, the circuit from the Lincoln Grand Prix was used as the British National Championships, thus effectively serving as the Lincoln Grand Prix that year. Therefore there is no official winner of the race in 2015 and it is seen as not having taken place, although the organisers still treat it as a continuous race because the championships served that purpose that year and are regarded as the 60th running of the Lincoln Grand Prix. Peter Kennaugh won the men’s race; I’m struggling to find coverage of it now, but it was 2015 so you can probably already guess that Lizzie Armitstead comfortably won the women’s race, breaking away with a lap or 2 to go and pulling out a comfortable margin during her reign of absolute terror which began early in 2015 and ended just before time came for her to defend her national title pre-Olympics - one too many missed tests left her banned, which she publicly lied about to assuage concerns, before being put into a PR disaster of having to try to defend herself not just from the press and the fanbase but from her fellow competitors after a controversial pre-Olympic reprieve.

The national championships went well, though, and since then the Lincoln Grand Prix has been added to the women’s national calendar in Britain, Alice Barnes winning the inaugural edition as Drops locked out the podium, before doubling up in 2017. In 2018, with Barnes now racing for Canyon, Rebecca Durrell, who had been second two years prior, stepped up to take the win, and she too was able to double up with a win in the 2019 edition, using her experience to take a two-up sprint against 20-year-old Jessica Roberts. You can feast your eyes upon 24 minutes of highlights here and, as a bonus, because I’m using this course as a finishing circuit, you can see the final 13km or so described in detail from 3:30 on, as well as get some good footage of the women struggling their way up the cobbled hill. This is only 350-400m long, but it averages 14% and will therefore produce some likely noteworthy gaps, a bit like Constitution Hill or the Steiler Wand von Meerane.

And besides, who doesn’t love seeing riders forcing their way over cobbled hills?

 
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Österreich-Rundfahrt stage 2: Wels - Hinterthal; 176km



Stage 2 of my Österreich-Rundfahrt starts in Wels, the 2nd largest City in Oberösterreich and the birthplace of Felix Großschartner. I got to meet his parents and the rest of his family at the start of the Piancavallo stage in my hometown a few years ago.
The first 85km are just flat/rolling terrain, then the first climb of the race starts and it's already a cat. 1.
It's the Lienbach Sattel, 16km at 4.7% with a 4km long steep section in the middle of the climb.

The following descent is pretty similar to the ascent and besides a few tricky hairpins it's not that technical.
After that we've got 41km of roling terrain, the first half slightly uphill, the 2nd half slightly downhill before the next climb.
It's the Dientner Sattel, 15.9km at 5.2% with 3km that feature an average gradient of over 11% and ramps up to 15%, this one shouldn't be underestimated.

The following descent is only 4km long and pretty fast, after that the riders will have to face the final part of the Filzensattel, 2km at 9,5%.
(the final 2km)
The climb crests with just a bit over 3km too go, the following descent is short and steep and will bring the riders to Hinterthal, a rather well known ski resort, even if it's not one of the really big ones. The final 300m are flat.
Hinterthal:


This one should be interesting. The climbs are steep, but the hard sections are not that long, so maybe the puncheurs and Ardennes specialists can hang on/get back on the descent and beat the climbers on the finish line.
 
Stage 3: Chesterfield - Matlock





GPM:
Winnats Pass (cat.1) 2,3km @ 9,4%
Blackwell Hill (cat.3) 1,2km @ 6,4%
Rowsley Bar (cat.1) 1,1km @ 12,2%
Salter’s Lane (cat.2) 2,9km @ 6,4%
Middleton Bank (cat.2) 1,2km @ 8,0%
Bank Road (cat.2) 1,0km @ 11,0%
Riber Castle (cat.2) 1,8km @ 9,0%


On day three, it gets serious. Really serious. A lot of climbing to be done on this loop-de-loop stage around the Peak District which shows what the race could be doing with its stages around this area. Because it has come up here a couple of times before and we’re only an hour’s drive or so from yesterday’s finish in Chesterfield, a city of just over 100.000 inhabitants fabled for its cathedral’s near-unique twisted spire, which dominates the city’s skyline.



The iconic structure is tied to the city to such an extent that it permeates the sports scene, with the local football team being known as the “Spireites” and featuring the twisted, curved spire on their crest since rebranding in 2009. The club’s main claim to fame is as the original team to develop England’s World Cup winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks, fabled as one of the best to play the position in the history of the sport. A number of other, less prominent, players have come through or from the city, as well as an intriguing musical history that is tied to neighbouring Sheffield, with synth pop artists and Britpop guitarists rubbing shoulders with “Philthy Animal” Taylor, long-time Motörhead drummer. A bit like Bury St. Edmunds, it also has a long cycling heritage that may have influenced its interest in hosting races during the recent cycling boom in the UK - but also like Bury St. Edmunds, they have to go back right to the inception of the sport to see it: the city is the hometown of Thomas Gascoyne, a late 19th Century pioneer of the sport, holding records ranging from the quarter mile to 25 mile (40km). He also raced against - and twice beat - the legendary Major Taylor, heralded as America’s first cycling star and a significant figure in the development of the sport. However, after emigrating to Australia in his early 30s, he was tragically killed in action in World War I.

More recently, the city has appeared in the Women’s Tour twice, in 2016 and 2017, as part of the race’s move to produce a more competitive parcours following criticism of the lack of selectivity in the first two editions, and this move was largely effective - 2016’s stage was a 110km slog from Ashbourne including some notable puncheuse ascents, and proved the most selective in the race’s history to that date, which produced some excellent racing, with Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio attacking the Bank Road climb - more on that later - alongside Elisa Longo Borghini, with Armitstead and Amanda Spratt chasing their way onto the duo, and staying away with an advantage of 36 seconds at the line. The following year, the city was back, with the last reasonable opportunity to take time back on the large lead that Niewiadoma had acquired - especially as at that point Marianne Vos, easily WM3’s best domestique (the most luxury domestique one could ever imagine having), had left the race with a broken collarbone. In what has sadly been a not atypical issue of course design in British races, the stage was kind of back to front, consisting of a hilly loop to the west of the city, then a flatter one to the east, when doing the loops the other way round would likely have resulted in better racing. Sarah Roy won from a breakaway group including Christine Majerus and Leah Kirchmann.

On my stage we make a beeline directly into the Peak District, going west-north-west through Dronfield over towards Hathersage, which served as the base of the final climb of the old Men’s Tour of Britain Leeds-Sheffield stages from the mid 2000s. We then head directly towards the Hope Valley, one of this part of Britain’s most renowned beauty spots, for our first cat.1 climb of the race, the incredibly scenic Winnats’ Pass.



Sitting under Mam Tor, one of the Peak District’s highest summits, and known as “mother hill” because its susceptibility to landslides has resulted in a number of neighbouring lower summits, which have also rendered the old, steep valley road the only viable route to connect the Hope Valley to the west - there was a newer, wider, less steep road to the north of it, and indeed you still need to turn off of this road to take Winnats Pass, but this has been destroyed by continual landslides and is no longer passable. The bottom and top parts of the road still exist as means to get to local caves, however, but the only way to traverse from the Hope Valley to the western areas of Chapel-en-le-Frith and beyond other than Winnats Pass is a 25km detour to the north over a similarly steep and narrow ascent from Edale. So we’ll take Winnats’ Pass.

According to Climbbybike, Winnats Pass is 1,7km at a pretty stonking 11,6%, across a double-stepped incline which reaches up to 28% before a more gradual short stretch and then a second ramp up to 24%. This is pure Ardennes territory, of course. Strava agrees with the overall stats but suggests that the flattening out is not quite so pronounced and so the ramps aren’t quite as extreme. The profile generated by google maps would suggest the truth lies somewhere in between - there is definitely a flattening out and a second kick up, but the plateau section is probably not as long as stated by Climbbybike, and so the original incline is probably not quite as severe, but the second ramp including 24% at its base is quite likely. Either way, it’s the first climb of the day - at least categorised - and Cycling Uphill has done a more detailed profile which includes some of the lead-in for a total of 2,3km at 9,4%, so this should ensure that we get a pretty strong breakaway, and the stage in general should mean that the heavier rouleuses will be eliminated from contention and can focus on the points classifications. Like should be the case in a world class stage race.

After the descent into Chapel-en-le-Frith, the riders turn left just south of Whaley Bridge to take on what might look from the profile to be a significant ascent, but Long Hill is just that - it averages only around 2,5-3%, and so I have not categorised it. There is then a winding downhill into Buxton, which hosts the first intermediate sprint. The town hosted the start of a stage in the 2005 Tour of Britain, which was won by Sergey Ivanov, and is seen as one of the gateways to the Peak District, especially for those coming from cities like Manchester to the west.



As a well-to-do spa town, Buxton has many famous sons and daughters, including the film director Robert Stevenson and the singer Lloyd Cole (famous for his Commotions), and is also of some renown for its sport climbing facilities as well as an acclaimed brewery. It should make a scenic first intermediate sprint, before we start looping back to the east via a smaller climb up Blackwell Hill, which is the sole cat.3 climb of the day. After a stretch on the high plateau, the riders will descend into the town of Bakewell for the feed station - which is a minor joke, based on the fact that Bakewell is famous for its confections - the Bakewell Pudding and the Bakewell tart are both traditional sweet treats of the British Isles, with the key features being cherry jam and ground almonds. This then leads to the second intermediate sprint as the riders head around the B6012 road which heads through the grounds of Chatsworth House, a famous country residence which has been the residence of the Cavendish family of aristocrats for 500 years and has featured in a number of television and film appearances, including Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and recent hit The Crown. It was also mentioned by name in Jane Austen’s most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice.



It also leads into the second cat.1 climb of the day, a steep killer of an ascent called Rowsley Bar. The overall ascending is around 2-2,5km but I’ve only categorised the first, super steep part, which is 1100m at over 12%. Here's CyclingUphill’s summary. Cresting 44km from home and with four more categorised climbs remaining, I don’t expect it to be totally decisive, but it will at least give some indication of who is feeling it and who isn’t. After a short trip along the plateau we descend back into the valley and into the western outskirts of the town of Matlock, which serves as the main hub around which the finale is built. It has a population of 9.500, with the extended municipality (including Matlock Bath, the outlying spa town where I have placed the actual finish) doubling that figure. The town in general owes its prominence to the discovery of thermal springs in the area in the late 17th Century, leaving a range of iconic 18th and 19th Century architecture that enhance its chocolate box appeal and due to its steep hills, the town even once had a tram system inspired by that of San Francisco, though this was removed and replaced in the early 20th Century. This scenic nature led to it being used as a substitute for the fictional Beldover in Ken Russell’s Women in Love, as well as in various period dramas in both film and television. It is also the hometown of 90s cyclocross and MTB pro Tim Gould, a member of British Cycling’s Hall of Fame.

We don’t do the ‘iconic’ parts of Matlock yet however, instead only reaching the outskirts before heading via Matlock Spa Road onto Salter’s Lane, a climb of just under 3km at 6,4%, with a middle kilometre at 9%. This is a fairly standard type ascent which crests at 30km from home, so again I don’t expect it to be the decisive one, however there is very little flat between this and the subsequent 1200m at 8% up to Middleton Bank, which is akin to the final uncategorised climb that turned out so devastating to race leader Liane Lippert in the 2019 Women’s Tour, who had gone very deep on the preceding Epynt climb to stay with Deignan, Longo Borghini and Niewiadoma, being dropped toward the end of that climb and then blowing up completely on the ensuing ascent to fall all the way out of the top 20 in the final GC. The long descent from here leaves us on the A6 Dale Road, which heads through the valley of the river Derwent, and passes the finishing line in Matlock Bath, with its riverfront arcades and air of seaside resort town, for an intermediate sprint with 16km remaining. And then, things get serious.



One of Britain’s steepest sustained urban streets, Matlock’s Bank Road is familiar to most of the bunch from the 2016 Women’s Tour, where it was the decisive climb in the Chesterfield stage mentioned above. It has. Hosted the British national Hill Climb championship in both 2008 and 2016, and at 1km @ 11% it fits perfectly into the bill as a potentially decisive ascent, coming just 13,5km from the line in what is a pretty long stage for a women’s cycling stage race. It attracts pretty strong crowds for a small event, due to the intensity of the ascent. It is also used, according to Cycling Uphill, as a double-ascent hillclimb competition with the nearby Riber Hill, which is exactly the function. I have for it here, descending through the more gradual main road which runs down to the town again from the Chesterfield road, and then along to Starkholmes, where Riber Hill begins.



Riber Hill is 1,8km at 9%, with a max of 25%. A well-known hillclimb in the UK owing to its minimal disruption to main roads with there being more popular wider roads parallel to the ascent and to the base road from Matlock, and hosted the 1986 national Hill Climb championships, which were won by former CN forumite Darryl Webster. There are differing versions of the climb in hillclimb competition - 1,1km @ 11% or 1,3km @ 9,8% - as this is part of a full road race, however, we’re going to see the full ascent as we pass through, and cresting the climb with just 10km remaining, this therefore should see some serious action before we head back into Matlock Bath to finish underneath the Heights of Abraham Cable Car station. This double punch of Bank Road and Riber Hill should see a lot of action, and this will be where the GC starts to take shape.

 
Riber is a monster through the hairpins, Winnats wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be so maybe not as steep as 28%. Riber then bank might be a better finish as everyone will wait for Riber so not to blow up through hairpins
 
The problem would then be the direction of the circuit in order to be climbing the proper climbs rather than descending them, that was a bit harder to put together, unless we returned to Chesterfield like they did in 2016, but I wanted to keep the main climbs near to the finish because there's a more serious climbing stage later in the race so I thought racing from distance is only likely across the last couple of climbs here.

Stage 4: Stoke-on-Trent - Worcester, 164km





GPM:
Bewdley (cat.3) 1,2km @ 5,8%
Clee Hill (cat.2) 4,2km @ 5,2%

Stage 4 is a flattish affair, but it makes up for that by going all for the women’s equivalent of Milano-Sanremo in distance, exceeding 160km in length and ensuring that this will not be one for the crit types, more that it will favour the durable and tough sprinters/classics hybrids that have made the Women’s Tour their preserve, such as Christine Majerus, Lisa Brennauer, Hannah Barnes, Marta Bastianelli or Lotta Lepistö. Or, you know, Marianne Vos.



The stage sees us move southward through the West Midlands region, beginning not far from the Peak District through which we raced yesterday, in the ever-cycling-supportive city of Stoke-on-Trent. Often, as many of these named-for-their-rivers cities are, it is often referred to simply as Stoke, in much the same way as “Frankfurt” omits the “am Main” unless it is in specific comparison to “an der Oder”, “Newcastle upon Tyne” is commonly just “Newcastle”, or “Brive-la-Gaillarde” is just “Brive”. It’s a relatively large city in Britain - over 250.000 inhabitants - formed as the result of industrial revolution era expansion of a group of towns, circled around its largest constituent part, Hanley, into a conurbation that merited treating as a single entity. This also gives it an unusual poly centric model and a north-south layout along the main road which runs through the former towns. The name of “Stoke” was taken from the oldest settlement in the area. Stoke is an industrial city, as many in this region are, although it is comparatively unusual in having a two- or even three-pronged industrial heritage; it is - or at least was - a large producer of coal and also of steel, though far outstripped by Newcastle for the former and Sheffield for the latter in terms of esteem (“coals to Newcastle” is a British idiom for something unnecessary, while Sheffield is, like Toledo or Pittsburgh, popularly known as the steel city). But when it comes to pottery, however, Stoke is peerless, and it is for this trade that the city has become well known, which reflects to the extent that its football team is known affectionately as the Potters. Particularly desirable and renowned pottery firms such as Wedgwood and Royal Doulton are based in the city, and this is its main heritage in public esteem. However, that is not to belittle the other industrial heritage - once the conurbation boasted the deepest coal mine shafts in Europe, while the steel mills in the city were of particular importance to the RAF during World War II. However, with the increasing transition towards service industries, the mines and mills are now either closed or on highly limited capacity, and the slag heaps and other scars they have left on the landscape now characterise the region, making it also one which gets some stick for being unattractive, a little like, say, Charleroi.

Many famous faces have come from the city, largely in the last 2-300 years subsequent to the expansion of the pottery industry. Arnold Bennett, the late 19th-Century writer, brought the city to life in real or fictionalised versions, while it has developed a slightly unusual heritage - dispersed wildly - for rock and roll; while none of its rocking sons ever really tied themselves down to Stoke, it is nevertheless the hometown of punk anarchist Steve Ignorant, from Crass, and Ian Kilmister, the iconic bassist known to the world as Lemmy, whose tenures first with Hawkwind and then as frontman of speed metal pioneers Motörhead have left him a deified figure of outlaw rock - his Ace of Spades will forever go down as one of the all time anthems of heavy music, setting the boundaries for how fast and how hard a record needs to be. You can be faster, you can be harder, but you don’t need to. Also, Stoke on Trent was the childhood home of Guns ’n’ Roses guitarist Saul “Slash” Hudson, though of course his British background is oft forgotten now. In the field of sports, the city’s most famous progeny is probably Sir Stanley Matthews, an iconic footballer of the immediate post-war era who continued to play to the highest level into his 50s, and the regionally popular Phil “The Power” Taylor, considered the best ever player of the sport of darts, largely confined to Britain and British expatriate areas, with some popularity in areas of the Netherlands and Germany.

Stoke-on-Trent was also the hometown of marathon cycling specialist Tommy Godwin, who set a number of endurance titles including the most distance covered in a year award, set before the outbreak of WWII and which stood until 2015 - averaging over 320km a day for an entire calendar year. More recently, Les West brought fame to the town, riding in the era of Tommy Simpson. He was a fortunate winner of the Milk Race in 1965 - thanks to a positive drugs test meaning the Spanish team, including race leader Luís Pedro Santamarína, was ejected from the race (of course, the Spanish and Italians are the only ones who have the reputation for manufacturing situations around home wins - at the time punishments for doping were in their infancy, and some races just applied time penalties, others ejected single riders, others ejected teams). He relocated to the Netherlands to compete more regularly in pack races, which rewarded him with a silver medal from the amateur World Championships on the Nürburgring, after losing the sprint to Evert Dolman. He was scheduled to join Bic for 1967 but due to administrative issues remained an amateur, winning the Milk Race once more, and then held off until after the 1968 Olympics to turn pro. He largely remained within the relatively insular British professional scene through the 1970s, but did distinguish himself by being part of the decisive break in the 1970 World Championships on home roads in Leicester - however he was the one member of the break to miss the medals after cramping up in the sprint.



It is perhaps due to this heritage that the city was chosen by Cycling England to be a “Cycling City” (capitals due to branding) and invested large amounts of money into building a cycling infrastructure in the area. This was promoted through bringing numerous bike races through the city following the relaunching of the Tour of Britain in the early 2000s, and has continued on through the cycling boom in the United Kingdom. On the shingle-inducing routes of the late 2000s, when the organisers hadn’t quite got the placement of obstacles right and HTC-Columbia were strangling the life out of anything that wasn’t hilly-to-mountainous, it frequently hosted the “queen stage”, albeit on stages that looked like this. 2008 featured a stage from Worcester to Stoke-on-Trent, so the reverse of my stage, with some small time gaps being opened up by Edvald Boasson Hagen and Giairo Ermeti; from 2009 to 2012, each year featured a stage which both began and ended in the city, known somewhat ominously as “The Stoke on Trent Stage”. Boasson Hagen won a sprint in 2009 and so did Lars Boom (!) In 2011. In 2010, Gregory Henderson won from a breakaway which was given ten minutes of leeway as HTC were happy that their not-yet-outed-as-a-racist puncheur Michael Albasini would be best placed to profit in the subsequent Constitution Hill stage (and they were right), while in 2012 Marc de Maar held on for a solo win. In 2013 and 2015 it served only as a départ town in the Tour of Britain, but it did resurface as a finish town in the 2016 Women’s Tour, with Marianne Vos winning from a group numbering around 20, and then again in 2017, with Amy Pieters winning as the group split up in the late going as attacks came in from those trying to win back time lost to Niewiadoma the previous day.

The city has also hosted the nation’s Tour Series, a collection of city centre crit courses designed to bring cycling to the masses as well as produce a coherent ranking for wildcard teams to be selected for the Tour of Britain out of the national péloton, nearly every year since the inception of the series in 2009. Familiar faces have won a number of these, including Russell Downing, Ian Bibby, Scott Thwaites and Christopher Lawless, while points winners have included track specialist Sebastián Mora, now racing for Movistar. Women’s events were appended to the series in 2011, with Dani King/Rowe, Helen Wyman and Katie Archibald among the winners. So yes: lots of reasons to believe Stoke would be a viable and willing host.

The stage begins with a bumpy but uncategorised first section over some small hills towards the town of Market Drayton. The profile makes it seem worse than it is - that spike on the profile is 2,8km @ 3,4%, so really not that brutal. It is the alleged hometown of Oswald Mosely, the notorious British fascist leader, but this is unofficial. We then wind southwards through small villages and twisty roads through exposed countryside to an intermediate sprint in Telford. This is actually somewhat uphill - 1km at 5,6% according to Cronoescalada, so take those numbers with a pinch of salt - in a part of town known as The Rock, not to be confused with Dwayne Johnson of course.



Telford is a post-war “New Town”, with a rapidly increasing population of 175.000 and seen as a hotbed for investment as its growth in the post-industrial landscape was largely tied to the service industries rather than being an old-fashioned industrial town built around mining or commodity production like many around it. It was largely built in the 1960s and 1970s, designed to house overspill and commuters from the West Midlands conurbation clustered around Birmingham, which had grown into a megalopolis. With such a short history, the town doesn’t have too much by way of famous children, though British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was educated in the town, and leftist comedian Stewart Lee was born in the vicinity. It also hosts a theme park known as “Wonderland”, which one presumes is likely to be ironic.

We then continue south through Bridgnorth and through our feed zone to a second intermediate sprint, this time in the town of Kidderminster. An older overspill town of the West Midlands conurbation, 55.000 people call the city home. This, in earlier times, included the racing driver Peter Collins, killed in an accident at the Nürburgring at the 1958 German Grand Prix, and the team owner and engineer John Wyer, who played a crucial role in Aston Martin’s work in the late 50s and early 60s, and was part of the Ford program that led, eventually, to the famous 1966 Le Mans triumph immortalised in film, although that particular event took over after the team was taken out of his hands and placed in the control of Holman Moody and Wyer’s former Aston Martin collaborator Carroll Shelby. He operated GT40s and modified Mirage M1 prototypes, before switching to Porsche 917s, which have also been immortalised in film of course. John Wyer’s personal connections were the reason for the iconic Gulf Oil livery as well, as he had ties with the company’s director, and they followed him from Ford to Porsche as a result. The town hosted the Milk Race back in 1973 and 1982 but since then has not been involved with cycling at all as far as I can tell.

From here we turn westwards, and cross into the small town of Bewsley for a short climb to Bewsley Long Bank. Some rolling terrain into Cleobury Mortimer then sets us up for the main climb of the day, the cat.2 Clee Hill. This is the shoulder of Titterstone Clee Hill, just about the highest point in the county, over 500m above sea level. We obviously don’t climb to the summit, just to the shoulder road as the last 1200m of ascent are on a dead end road. It’s not very steep - mostly consistent at around 4-5% - though there is a ramp of up to 14% at one point. The first half is tougher than the second. There’s then a long, gradual descent into the scenic Cotswold town of Burford, famous for its cheese.



The climb crests 45km from home, so it really shouldn’t be particularly decisive (notwithstanding the expectations of the 2009-10 era Tour of Britain organisers), but the length of this stage should play a distinct factor in the finale, when after a rolling closing stretch including a couple of uncategorised ascents, the riders arrive in Worcester. For this I have cloned the final couple of kilometres of the 2018 stage from Evesham to Worcester, which was won by Amalie Dideriksen in a sprint of THE ENTIRE PÉLOTON, not really a fitting tribute for a stage which was intended as a tribute to the late Sharon Laws, a Kenyan-born British late-blooming cyclist who grew up in nearby Gloucestershire, and had been a strong climber in her time. She was originally an endurance mountainbiker, who turned into a road pro at age 33, after being approached by Dave Brailsford to ride for the Halfords team that was designed around winning Nicole Cooke the Olympic gold in Beijing - before disbanding saying “mission accomplished” and putting their money into the domestic men’s scene. Her biggest wins were a stage of the Tour de l’Aude and the British national championships, though she did take the GPM at the inaugural Women’s Tour. She retired mid-season, just after her 42nd birthday, but didn’t get to enjoy it as she soon revealed that she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. The silent, remorseless killer took over a year to take her down, but Laws passed away in December 2017 at the age of just 43.



Aside from that Women’s Tour stage, Worcester has also appeared in the Tour of Britain a few times recently, however only as a stage start, with stages in 2007, 2014 and 2017 starting in the city as well as the stage to Stoke-on-Trent mentioned above. It was never a host of the old Milk Race, as the Malvern Hills to the southwest of the city tended to host stages whenever the race came to this neck of the woods. It does however have a long history going back to Roman times, and is famous as the final battleground of the English Civil War in the mid-17th Century, being a Parliamentarian stronghold that was taken by the Royalists and held for several years before being besieged, and then being won back by the Parliamentarians in 1646, then once again in 1651 when a Scottish-backed Royalist force in support of Charles II was forced to flee. In an act of staggering hypocrisy, the city then appealed to Charles II after the restoration for compensation, and branded itself The Faithful City. Much of its medieval centre was destroyed in the mid-20th Century, somewhat inexplicably largely in the 1950s and 60s after surviving World War II intact!!!

Worcester is seen as a somewhat well-to-do, posh city in comparison with many of its neighbours in the outlying West Midlands area; its main sports clubs are the rugby and cricket clubs, which are both prominent, whereas the city’s football team is well down the British football pyramid. It is also the hometown of composer Edward Elgar, as well as a formative influence on fellow 20th Century British composers Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams, both of whom grew up in neighbouring Gloucestershire. However, at the same time, Worcester Woman is a fictionalised swing voter that represents a “median” voter which is frequently used by British political parties in strategic planning, and is more lower-middle/upper-working class in character. It’s also a pretty cool place to host a women’s bike race as it is the birthplace of Hannah Snell, Britain’s earliest attested wartime cross-dresser (a somewhat derogatory nomenclature for what should surely be seen as heroic acts - a woman who at times before this was allowable would dress and pass as a man in order to fight for their country). So it should be fitting that we see a marathon stage being fought out between some heroic, tough women, no?

 
Stage 5: Hay-on-Wye - The Tumble, 148km





GPM:
Pen y Fan Pass (Storey Arms)(cat.2) 12,4km @ 2,3%
Baverstocks (cat.2) 4,6km @ 4,8%
Torpantau (cat.3) 1,2km @ 8,4%
Llangynidr Mountain (cat.1) 5,7km @ 7,0%
The Tumble (cat.1) 4,9km @ 8,0%
The Tumble (cat.1) 4,9km @ 8,0%

I know, I said no MTFs in the middle of nowhere. But there’s a reason this is allowed, and that’s because they’ve already had professional cycling there in recent history, and the very close-at-hand town of Abergavenny has hosted some bike racing in the near past too. It is, in fact, the stage-starting town of Hay-on-Wye that is our first stop off without recent cycling past.



Hay-on-Wye is an idyllic small town in rural Powys, a large county in central-northeastern Wales, one of those resort towns whose permanent population is dwarfed by the tourist numbers. Which is all well and good, for without them the town probably wouldn’t sustain its amenities; like other Women’s Tour hosts such as Southwold (1100) and Framlingham (3000) it is a small town, but holds more amenities than comparably-sized towns in the vicinity. In Hay-on-Wye’s case, this is largely in an interconnected cottage industry in the field in which the town has become famous: books. The town, with a population just under 2000 inhabitants, hosts no fewer than twenty booksellers, a feature which had sprung up organically in the town and inspired the inception of the now-famous town export, the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival, described by no less than former US President Bill Clinton as “the Woodstock of the mind”. This has in recent years been supplemented by a philosophy-based counterpart, the HowTheLightGetsIn Festival. While the number of book stores is dwindling with the Internet proving a worthy adversary, the tradition remains the enduring characteristic of the border town, which lay just to the west of the Dulas Brook, which forms the border between England and Wales at this point. The town is also distinguished by its two castles and remains a popular tourist point today - also combining its two defining characteristics with Castle Bookshop.

The first part of the stage is a southwesterly jog toward the small town of Brecon, eponymous town of the Brecon Beacons low lying mountain range, and more specifically the central section of them, that gave them their name (the Brecon Beacons is originally the name of just the highest, central part of the range which also includes the well-known cycling climb of Black Mountain, itself a rather paradoxical name given to a pass in the… er… Black Mountains range), where the National Park is circulated. The Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons proper are separated by the Usk valley, which we will spend much of the stage hopping around. But before that, we have to get there. That entails crossing the pass underneath Pen y Fan, the highest peak in South Wales, and with a rather rubbish name that, when translated, loosely means “top of the mountain”. This entails climbing along the A470 to the Storey Arms activity centre over a scenic, but not particularly threatening, climb which averages less than 4% but is long enough to already have the sprinters concerned. It will be a long day for them. This climb was included in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Tours of Britain, where it had cat.1 status, as a warmup climb in the Caerphilly stages. The 2011 stage was won by Thor Hushovd, before the following year they instigated a second climb of the Caerphilly Mountain climb at the end of the stage, which enabled Leopold König to win just ahead of the then-late-blooming-phenom, now-disgraced Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, before Sam Bennett in 2013 showed that even those climbs weren’t really a match for a more durable sprinter such as himself.



The orthodox route down from here would be to continue on the A470 through Nant-ddu to Merthyr Tydfil, however we are taking a more complicated route which heads on a twister road to the west of that, which also takes us through the small town of Penderyn, a fairly nondescript town until recently when it became the home of Wales’ only single malt whisky distillery. Descending through this route also enables us to add another middling climb (four and a half kilometres of fairly consistent 5%) from Aberdare to Baverstocks before arriving in Merthyr Tydfil for the intermediate sprint. This section could be abbreviated and the second climb cut out if need be, but I think it doesn’t need to be.

Being nestled within the valleys, Merthyr has been a very well defended location that has been inhabited since pre-Roman times, but whose name is derived from a (possibly apocryphal) story about an early Christian martyr (as that is where the Welsh word Merthyr is derived from). It rapidly expanded in the 18th and 19th Centuries as mining in the mountains nearby took off and the city became a centre for ironworks, exporting tons of iron and steel to Russia for the manufacture of the Trans-Siberian railway. The Merthyr Uprising of 1831 was a key early turning point in the fight for worker’s rights in the Industrial Revolution, but it also meant the town was left helpless and declining when the coal and iron industries declined. It is also the home of BikePark Wales, the UK’s first purpose-built mountain bike venue, which lies just to the south of town.



The stage continues with an - uncategorised - 3km climb of. Around 5% again through the outskirts of the town, toward the Brecon Mountain Railway, before the climb to the viewpoint overlooking the reservoir at Torpantau and its ice-climbing facilities, the first for which I have a profile.



We join the profile at the mark <railway> at around 9km from the summit, although I have only elected to categorise the section after crossing the bridge at just over 1200m from the summit. I’ve even put the feed zone in the run-in to the climb, in fact, owing to its being a relatively slow up and down drag and the longest stretch of flattish terrain near the halfway mark in the stage. A long and slow (after the very steep first kilometre) descent then takes us to our final 50km, the hardest ever conceived in British women’s cycling. Because if this race is serious about the role it wants to have in women’s cycling (and given the support it gets from fans and media, it should be), this is the kind of thing it needs, because Britain doesn’t have that extensive library of mega-climbs and icons of the sport that France, Spain, Italy or Belgium have in their arsenal.

It’s also a significantly tougher final stretch than when the men’s Tour of Britain elected to add a mountaintop finish (of sorts) at The Tumble in 2014; that stage finished with the climb to the summit of The Tumble, sure, but by and large the stage managed to be an homage to all three Grand Tour organisers at once; they largely rode through valley roads ignoring good climbs and better designs that would have been easy - possibly even easier like the Tour does, they stuck a steep climb with little space at the summit as the only significant climb of the day like the Vuelta… and then they gave KOM points out randomly for small ramps mid-stage and not for much larger climbs like the Giro.

One of the very easy-to-add climbs that the stage bypassed was Llangynidr Mountain.



Llangynidr Mountain is a scenic pass which comes in two parts; an initial 4km at around 8% (which starts benign and gets harder), then a short downhill and flat before a kilometre at almost 9% to finish. The overall is 5,7km @ 7% and it is 44km from home. Its summit allows us to descend into Ebbw Vale, but at Beaufort we turn left instead, and descend toward Abergavenny, enabling us to turn onto the Tumble and make this into a sequence of connected climbs with very little flat between them. We don’t quite make it all the way into Abergavenny, though we do use some of the roads which were used in the 2007 and 2009 national championships; in the men’s events, David Millar beat Dan Lloyd in a two-up sprint in the former, while national scene veteran journeyman Kristian House won from a group on the latter occasion, ahead of Lloyd again, a Peter Kennaugh who’d just turned 20 a week earlier, and a little heralded Barloworld guy who went on to get a contract because of his passport and achieve nothing of note for the next couple of years before fading into obscu… wait, what? That guy? Most successful cyclist of his gen… what? Did you SEE his riding style? We’ve got to get a fact check on this.

Anyway, in 2014 the Championships were back - this time Kennaugh won - but only using the long loop to the east and the final circuit with the local climb rather than adding in the second circuit with The Tumble in it. Nicole Cooke won the 2007 and 2009 races among the women, the former solo by a minute and the latter from a four woman group with Armitstead, Pooley and Catherine Williamson. 2014’s race being on a less tricky parcours reflects in the results - no disrespect intended to Laura Trott/Kenny, who won it, but she’s an incredible track rider whose road palmarès basically consists solely of the national championships for three years and a few races ridden for form. Anyway: it’s time for The Tumble.



Unlike the men in 2014, the women will take on The Tumble twice, first with 23km remaining and then obviously at the summit finish. As you can see, the main body of the climb comes in the middle, with 2,5km in excess of 10% there. The climb’s own sign rather exaggerates the difficulty - 6km @ 10% would put it into the frame of climbs like Urkiola, Peña Cabarga, Rifugio Gardeccia and that kind of climb, which it isn’t as hard as. This is more in the realm of, say, Supergà - but nevertheless this is plenty to give a fulcrum for the Ashleigh Moolman-Pasios, the Kasia Niewiadomas, the Elisa Longo Borghinis, the Amanda Spratt and the Cecilie Uttrup Ludwigs of this world to make their moves, while it may even be long enough for the likes of Eider Merino and Katie Hall. Clara Koppenburg won on Xorret del Catí in 2019 so she might like this too, and Liane Lippert is getting stronger and stronger. Or, of course, there’s the veritable parade of Dutchwomen who will like this too. Van der Breggen, van Vleuten, Brand, Vollering, Vos, Ensing if she gets back to her former peak, you get the drift. But it’s not just for the pure climbers, because there’s a pretty useful descent to take on too - and these are often more decisive than the uphills in women’s cycling, albeit often because the uphills aren’t usually this selective. However, there really aren’t any Pooley/Abbott level bad descenders out there in the bunch now, not even really any who are bad like Evelyn Stevens when she first came over to Europe with her very much less-than-developed pack skills, although people like Merino give it a go (she stands at barely 1m 50 and weighs about as much as Chris Froome’s toenail clippings, so that’s no real surprise).

Oh, apparently my sources have come back to me and confirmed that my eyes did not deceive me, and in fact Chris Froome did become quite reasonable at this whole cycling shebang. Who knew?

The time gaps that were generated by The Tumble in the 2014 Tour of Britain were fairly small - Edoardo Zardini won by a good few seconds over Michał Kwiatkowski and Nicolas Roche, but the top 10 only had 16” across them. The top 20 were spread across 52”, so you can see that there’s some reasonable gaps here. In women’s cycling, this is potentially worth adding to, especially given unlike the men’s Tour of Britain stage my race isn’t Unipuerto. For a few guideline routes I took a look at a few different women’s cycling races in order to get a handle of the kind of time gaps to expect.

The Clásica San Sebastián had a top 10 spread over 2’04, but that was with a mixed calibre field. The Emakumeen Bira stage over Jaizkibel in 2017 had a top 10 spread over 1’41 and a top 20 spread over 3’11. Mount Baldy in last year’s Tour of California had a top 10 spread over 1’37 and a top 20 over 3’24. The Olympic Road Race in Rio had a top 10 spread over 1’14 and while the top 20 was spread over 5 minutes, again there was a truncated startlist. The Verbania stage of the 2016 Giro is also worth considering, once you take de Jong and the others from the breakaway out of the results so starting with Niewiadoma at +1’57. From there you get 29” for the top 10 but 1’35” for the top 20. Pracul in the 2016 Giro del Trentino is a good analogue for the climb, but the field wasn’t deep enough really, with 7 within 1’01” from the winning time, but no others until nearly 5 minutes down. 2019’s Setmana Valenciana included Xorret del Catí, which resulted in a win by some 49” for Clara Koppenburg, but the top 10 were within 1’34” and top 20 in 2’28”. The Giro dell’Emilia is a useful guide too, but the fact that the women’s race there is Unipuerto again limits its helpfulness. Annoyingly, I can no longer find the coverage of the 2014 Tour of Britain stage to The Tumble to give an impression of it, but I can find this video of the climb to at least show what it will look like. This should be selective. Especially as the riders will undertake it twice, with a short descent into Blaenavon, where the race caravan will stay, then a short flat stretch and then rejoining the descent that the riders already took from Llangynidr Mountain. Blaenavon’s mining landscape is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and will serve as the backdrop to the riders’ difficult final slog up to the summit finish; the key moves will need to happen comparatively early as the end of the climb is much shallower, which could favour a sprint-at-the-top-of-the-mountain type - in men’s cycling that would mean somebody like a Valverde. There are fewer of this kind of rider in women’s cycling, given that climbs of this size tend to ensure time gaps, but the likes of Soraya Paladin could be mentioned as riders who have more than enough capability to get over this type of ascent, and who have a fast finish if there’s a group of riders together at the summit. Or, you know, there’s always that Vos girl. I hear she’s decent.

 
The problem would then be the direction of the circuit in order to be climbing the proper climbs rather than descending them, that was a bit harder to put together, unless we returned to Chesterfield like they did in 2016, but I wanted to keep the main climbs near to the finish because there's a more serious climbing stage later in the race so I thought racing from distance is only likely across the last couple of climbs here.

Stage 4: Stoke-on-Trent - Worcester, 164km





GPM:
Bewdley (cat.3) 1,2km @ 5,8%
Clee Hill (cat.2) 4,2km @ 5,2%

Stage 4 is a flattish affair, but it makes up for that by going all for the women’s equivalent of Milano-Sanremo in distance, exceeding 160km in length and ensuring that this will not be one for the crit types, more that it will favour the durable and tough sprinters/classics hybrids that have made the Women’s Tour their preserve, such as Christine Majerus, Lisa Brennauer, Hannah Barnes, Marta Bastianelli or Lotta Lepistö. Or, you know, Marianne Vos.



The stage sees us move southward through the West Midlands region, beginning not far from the Peak District through which we raced yesterday, in the ever-cycling-supportive city of Stoke-on-Trent. Often, as many of these named-for-their-rivers cities are, it is often referred to simply as Stoke, in much the same way as “Frankfurt” omits the “am Main” unless it is in specific comparison to “an der Oder”, “Newcastle upon Tyne” is commonly just “Newcastle”, or “Brive-la-Gaillarde” is just “Brive”. It’s a relatively large city in Britain - over 250.000 inhabitants - formed as the result of industrial revolution era expansion of a group of towns, circled around its largest constituent part, Hanley, into a conurbation that merited treating as a single entity. This also gives it an unusual poly centric model and a north-south layout along the main road which runs through the former towns. The name of “Stoke” was taken from the oldest settlement in the area. Stoke is an industrial city, as many in this region are, although it is comparatively unusual in having a two- or even three-pronged industrial heritage; it is - or at least was - a large producer of coal and also of steel, though far outstripped by Newcastle for the former and Sheffield for the latter in terms of esteem (“coals to Newcastle” is a British idiom for something unnecessary, while Sheffield is, like Toledo or Pittsburgh, popularly known as the steel city). But when it comes to pottery, however, Stoke is peerless, and it is for this trade that the city has become well known, which reflects to the extent that its football team is known affectionately as the Potters. Particularly desirable and renowned pottery firms such as Wedgwood and Royal Doulton are based in the city, and this is its main heritage in public esteem. However, that is not to belittle the other industrial heritage - once the conurbation boasted the deepest coal mine shafts in Europe, while the steel mills in the city were of particular importance to the RAF during World War II. However, with the increasing transition towards service industries, the mines and mills are now either closed or on highly limited capacity, and the slag heaps and other scars they have left on the landscape now characterise the region, making it also one which gets some stick for being unattractive, a little like, say, Charleroi.

Many famous faces have come from the city, largely in the last 2-300 years subsequent to the expansion of the pottery industry. Arnold Bennett, the late 19th-Century writer, brought the city to life in real or fictionalised versions, while it has developed a slightly unusual heritage - dispersed wildly - for rock and roll; while none of its rocking sons ever really tied themselves down to Stoke, it is nevertheless the hometown of punk anarchist Steve Ignorant, from Crass, and Ian Kilmister, the iconic bassist known to the world as Lemmy, whose tenures first with Hawkwind and then as frontman of speed metal pioneers Motörhead have left him a deified figure of outlaw rock - his Ace of Spades will forever go down as one of the all time anthems of heavy music, setting the boundaries for how fast and how hard a record needs to be. You can be faster, you can be harder, but you don’t need to. Also, Stoke on Trent was the childhood home of Guns ’n’ Roses guitarist Saul “Slash” Hudson, though of course his British background is oft forgotten now. In the field of sports, the city’s most famous progeny is probably Sir Stanley Matthews, an iconic footballer of the immediate post-war era who continued to play to the highest level into his 50s, and the regionally popular Phil “The Power” Taylor, considered the best ever player of the sport of darts, largely confined to Britain and British expatriate areas, with some popularity in areas of the Netherlands and Germany.

Stoke-on-Trent was also the hometown of marathon cycling specialist Tommy Godwin, who set a number of endurance titles including the most distance covered in a year award, set before the outbreak of WWII and which stood until 2015 - averaging over 320km a day for an entire calendar year. More recently, Les West brought fame to the town, riding in the era of Tommy Simpson. He was a fortunate winner of the Milk Race in 1965 - thanks to a positive drugs test meaning the Spanish team, including race leader Luís Pedro Santamarína, was ejected from the race (of course, the Spanish and Italians are the only ones who have the reputation for manufacturing situations around home wins - at the time punishments for doping were in their infancy, and some races just applied time penalties, others ejected single riders, others ejected teams). He relocated to the Netherlands to compete more regularly in pack races, which rewarded him with a silver medal from the amateur World Championships on the Nürburgring, after losing the sprint to Evert Dolman. He was scheduled to join Bic for 1967 but due to administrative issues remained an amateur, winning the Milk Race once more, and then held off until after the 1968 Olympics to turn pro. He largely remained within the relatively insular British professional scene through the 1970s, but did distinguish himself by being part of the decisive break in the 1970 World Championships on home roads in Leicester - however he was the one member of the break to miss the medals after cramping up in the sprint.



It is perhaps due to this heritage that the city was chosen by Cycling England to be a “Cycling City” (capitals due to branding) and invested large amounts of money into building a cycling infrastructure in the area. This was promoted through bringing numerous bike races through the city following the relaunching of the Tour of Britain in the early 2000s, and has continued on through the cycling boom in the United Kingdom. On the shingle-inducing routes of the late 2000s, when the organisers hadn’t quite got the placement of obstacles right and HTC-Columbia were strangling the life out of anything that wasn’t hilly-to-mountainous, it frequently hosted the “queen stage”, albeit on stages that looked like this. 2008 featured a stage from Worcester to Stoke-on-Trent, so the reverse of my stage, with some small time gaps being opened up by Edvald Boasson Hagen and Giairo Ermeti; from 2009 to 2012, each year featured a stage which both began and ended in the city, known somewhat ominously as “The Stoke on Trent Stage”. Boasson Hagen won a sprint in 2009 and so did Lars Boom (!) In 2011. In 2010, Gregory Henderson won from a breakaway which was given ten minutes of leeway as HTC were happy that their not-yet-outed-as-a-racist puncheur Michael Albasini would be best placed to profit in the subsequent Constitution Hill stage (and they were right), while in 2012 Marc de Maar held on for a solo win. In 2013 and 2015 it served only as a départ town in the Tour of Britain, but it did resurface as a finish town in the 2016 Women’s Tour, with Marianne Vos winning from a group numbering around 20, and then again in 2017, with Amy Pieters winning as the group split up in the late going as attacks came in from those trying to win back time lost to Niewiadoma the previous day.

The city has also hosted the nation’s Tour Series, a collection of city centre crit courses designed to bring cycling to the masses as well as produce a coherent ranking for wildcard teams to be selected for the Tour of Britain out of the national péloton, nearly every year since the inception of the series in 2009. Familiar faces have won a number of these, including Russell Downing, Ian Bibby, Scott Thwaites and Christopher Lawless, while points winners have included track specialist Sebastián Mora, now racing for Movistar. Women’s events were appended to the series in 2011, with Dani King/Rowe, Helen Wyman and Katie Archibald among the winners. So yes: lots of reasons to believe Stoke would be a viable and willing host.

The stage begins with a bumpy but uncategorised first section over some small hills towards the town of Market Drayton. The profile makes it seem worse than it is - that spike on the profile is 2,8km @ 3,4%, so really not that brutal. It is the alleged hometown of Oswald Mosely, the notorious British fascist leader, but this is unofficial. We then wind southwards through small villages and twisty roads through exposed countryside to an intermediate sprint in Telford. This is actually somewhat uphill - 1km at 5,6% according to Cronoescalada, so take those numbers with a pinch of salt - in a part of town known as The Rock, not to be confused with Dwayne Johnson of course.



Telford is a post-war “New Town”, with a rapidly increasing population of 175.000 and seen as a hotbed for investment as its growth in the post-industrial landscape was largely tied to the service industries rather than being an old-fashioned industrial town built around mining or commodity production like many around it. It was largely built in the 1960s and 1970s, designed to house overspill and commuters from the West Midlands conurbation clustered around Birmingham, which had grown into a megalopolis. With such a short history, the town doesn’t have too much by way of famous children, though British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was educated in the town, and leftist comedian Stewart Lee was born in the vicinity. It also hosts a theme park known as “Wonderland”, which one presumes is likely to be ironic.

We then continue south through Bridgnorth and through our feed zone to a second intermediate sprint, this time in the town of Kidderminster. An older overspill town of the West Midlands conurbation, 55.000 people call the city home. This, in earlier times, included the racing driver Peter Collins, killed in an accident at the Nürburgring at the 1958 German Grand Prix, and the team owner and engineer John Wyer, who played a crucial role in Aston Martin’s work in the late 50s and early 60s, and was part of the Ford program that led, eventually, to the famous 1966 Le Mans triumph immortalised in film, although that particular event took over after the team was taken out of his hands and placed in the control of Holman Moody and Wyer’s former Aston Martin collaborator Carroll Shelby. He operated GT40s and modified Mirage M1 prototypes, before switching to Porsche 917s, which have also been immortalised in film of course. John Wyer’s personal connections were the reason for the iconic Gulf Oil livery as well, as he had ties with the company’s director, and they followed him from Ford to Porsche as a result. The town hosted the Milk Race back in 1973 and 1982 but since then has not been involved with cycling at all as far as I can tell.

From here we turn westwards, and cross into the small town of Bewsley for a short climb to Bewsley Long Bank. Some rolling terrain into Cleobury Mortimer then sets us up for the main climb of the day, the cat.2 Clee Hill. This is the shoulder of Titterstone Clee Hill, just about the highest point in the county, over 500m above sea level. We obviously don’t climb to the summit, just to the shoulder road as the last 1200m of ascent are on a dead end road. It’s not very steep - mostly consistent at around 4-5% - though there is a ramp of up to 14% at one point. The first half is tougher than the second. There’s then a long, gradual descent into the scenic Cotswold town of Burford, famous for its cheese.



The climb crests 45km from home, so it really shouldn’t be particularly decisive (notwithstanding the expectations of the 2009-10 era Tour of Britain organisers), but the length of this stage should play a distinct factor in the finale, when after a rolling closing stretch including a couple of uncategorised ascents, the riders arrive in Worcester. For this I have cloned the final couple of kilometres of the 2018 stage from Evesham to Worcester, which was won by Amalie Dideriksen in a sprint of THE ENTIRE PÉLOTON, not really a fitting tribute for a stage which was intended as a tribute to the late Sharon Laws, a Kenyan-born British late-blooming cyclist who grew up in nearby Gloucestershire, and had been a strong climber in her time. She was originally an endurance mountainbiker, who turned into a road pro at age 33, after being approached by Dave Brailsford to ride for the Halfords team that was designed around winning Nicole Cooke the Olympic gold in Beijing - before disbanding saying “mission accomplished” and putting their money into the domestic men’s scene. Her biggest wins were a stage of the Tour de l’Aude and the British national championships, though she did take the GPM at the inaugural Women’s Tour. She retired mid-season, just after her 42nd birthday, but didn’t get to enjoy it as she soon revealed that she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. The silent, remorseless killer took over a year to take her down, but Laws passed away in December 2017 at the age of just 43.



Aside from that Women’s Tour stage, Worcester has also appeared in the Tour of Britain a few times recently, however only as a stage start, with stages in 2007, 2014 and 2017 starting in the city as well as the stage to Stoke-on-Trent mentioned above. It was never a host of the old Milk Race, as the Malvern Hills to the southwest of the city tended to host stages whenever the race came to this neck of the woods. It does however have a long history going back to Roman times, and is famous as the final battleground of the English Civil War in the mid-17th Century, being a Parliamentarian stronghold that was taken by the Royalists and held for several years before being besieged, and then being won back by the Parliamentarians in 1646, then once again in 1651 when a Scottish-backed Royalist force in support of Charles II was forced to flee. In an act of staggering hypocrisy, the city then appealed to Charles II after the restoration for compensation, and branded itself The Faithful City. Much of its medieval centre was destroyed in the mid-20th Century, somewhat inexplicably largely in the 1950s and 60s after surviving World War II intact!!!

Worcester is seen as a somewhat well-to-do, posh city in comparison with many of its neighbours in the outlying West Midlands area; its main sports clubs are the rugby and cricket clubs, which are both prominent, whereas the city’s football team is well down the British football pyramid. It is also the hometown of composer Edward Elgar, as well as a formative influence on fellow 20th Century British composers Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams, both of whom grew up in neighbouring Gloucestershire. However, at the same time, Worcester Woman is a fictionalised swing voter that represents a “median” voter which is frequently used by British political parties in strategic planning, and is more lower-middle/upper-working class in character. It’s also a pretty cool place to host a women’s bike race as it is the birthplace of Hannah Snell, Britain’s earliest attested wartime cross-dresser (a somewhat derogatory nomenclature for what should surely be seen as heroic acts - a woman who at times before this was allowable would dress and pass as a man in order to fight for their country). So it should be fitting that we see a marathon stage being fought out between some heroic, tough women, no?

Big fan of this stage Libertine as it passes through my home town of Kidderminster and would go right by my house on the way up to Bewdley. The climb up Clee Hill is a great ride and has some nice views of the area on a clear day.
 
Stage 6: Cardiff - Cardiff, 9,7km (ITT)





Yes, it’s something never before seen in the Women’s Tour, and something not often seen in general in women’s stage racing: an honest to god test against the clock. One can only presume that closing the roads for a lengthy period of time so as to hold it is the main obstacle, as the Emakumeen Bira ITT a couple of years ago which had riders heading along one side of a road which was open on the other can attest. In fact, in Britain as recently as 2011 the national ITT championships were held on open roads, so you could have general daytime traffic driving past the likes of Wiggins and Thomas, which seems absurd, although open road fixed distance ITTs have long been a fixture of British domestic cycling and one of its most competitive and defining styles of racing.

ITTs have long been part of Britain’s most famous race, with a few in the 1950s before the transformation of the event into its most famous incarnation, the Milk Race. For many years there would be a split stage, with a TT looping around a town in the morning then a road stage to the next host town in the afternoon. Winners of these included future Giro winner Gösta Pettersson, Olympic gold medallist and Tour stage winner Fedor den Hertog, Vuelta stage winner Alfons Sweeck, taken-too-soon Basque talent (and winner of the Dauphiné and multiple Vuelta stages) Valentín Uriona, Warwick Dalton, a New Zealander who paradoxically became Australian national champion in the 60s, and, once the race had been ‘discovered’ by the Ostbloc amateurs, a parade including Romanian legend Constantin Dumitrescu, Vladimir Kaminski, Jan Jankiewicz, Vasily Zhdanov, Oleg Chuzhda Sr, Marek Lesniewski, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov (!), and Igor Sumnikov. Other closer to home names included Sean Yates, Les West, and Cayn Theakston, who from 1988 to 2012 remained the only Briton to have won a three week stage race on the road (point of contention: Chris Froome is now the winner of the 2011 Vuelta, but at the time Wiggins became the 2012 Tour winner he was not recognised as such and therefore it was with Wiggins’ Tour win that Theakston’s achievement came to be toppled. I meant “on the road” as in “road cycling as opposed to MTB or cyclocross”, but it could also be argued that Wiggins is again the yardstick, as Froome didn’t win the 2011 Vuelta on the road, but in the courtroom later when Cobo was disqualified).

It is strange, therefore, given the prominence that time trial riding has within the British cycling mindset, that when the race was resurrected in the mid 2000s, the time trial was a forgotten format. The penultimate stage of the 2005 edition was a 4km ITT in the centre of Birmingham, and 2007 used a London prologue fashioned after the successful use of same in the Tour de France that year, but the TT was then sporadic for a few years before the public got used to bike racing and it was able to be organised more regularly - a 2011 split stage ITT on the same course used for a circuit race afterward was won by Alex Dowsett, a 2013 stage around the Knowsley Safari Park that was only really included as a means to give a parting gift to Bradley Wiggins, and split stages in 2014 and 2016 were then followed by the instigation of a 15-20km ITT as a key component of the race.

In women’s cycling, however, that has not happened, and the ITT remains a rare beast. Oh, there are a good few Team Time Trials, sure, but we don’t need more of those - who really needs to see a race where Boels-Dolmans or Trek are given an even bigger lead to begin with? Case in point, the 2016 Tour of California, where a TTT was included for the sole purpose of getting Kristin Armstrong high enough in the GC to qualify for the Olympics. Apart from the Giro, ITTs tend to only crop up in a small number of stage races. The Healthy Ageing Tour tends to have one most years, although it frequently has both an ITT and a TTT with the latter being longer (!) to counterbalance that. In fact, when national, regional, supra regional and world championships are taken out, the 2019 UCI women’s calendar included the following individual time trials:
Aphrodite Cycling Race (1.2 in Cyprus, won by Zabelinskaya)
Joe Martin Stage Race (2.2)
Healthy Ageing Tour (2.1)
Gracia-Orlova (2.2)
Tour of the Gila (2.2)
Festival Elsy Jacobs (2.1) - prologue only
VR Women ITT (1.2 in Ukraine, very limited field)
Thüringen Rundfahrt (2.1)
Tour de Brétagne (2.2)
Ljubljana-Domžale-Ljubljana (1.2, doubles as Slovenia’s national championship)
Chrono de Gatineau (1.1)
Giro Rosa (GT)
Chrono Kristin Armstrong (1.2)
Tour de Féminin Krasná Lipá (2.2)
BeNe Ladies Tour (2.1) - twice! A Prologue and an actual ITT
Boels Rentals Ladies Tour (WWT) - prologue only
Giro della Toscana (2.2) - prologue only
Chrono Champenois (1.1)
Lotto Belgium Tour (2.1) - prologue only
Chrono des Nations (1.1)
Vuelta a Colombia Feminina (2.2)

That’s the total number: 21. As you can see, only two WWT races, the Giro, and the Boels Rentals Ladies Tour, which had a prologue only. If you remove the races from the minor areas (Aphrodite, VR, LDL, Colombia) you have 17, of which 4 are on the North American calendar and thus most European teams don’t enter, 2 are in Czech races usually used for development, and 3 are in the post-Worlds comedown when most of the top names have called their season to a close. That leaves 8 for the whole season that are even possible for a typical top level pro to enter (although this doesn’t include the non-UCI Omloop van Borsele which gets a decent field). But how many riders are going to enter them all? Very, very few. So it’s time to try to redress the balance from that mountain climbing with a 10km ITT around the Welsh capital of Cardiff.



It has been a bit of a habit of the Tour of Britain since its rebirth in 2004 to go to big cities, and while the Women’s Tour hasn’t copied that for the most part, they still managed to get a London circuit race agreed for the final stage of the 2017 edition. The Women’s Tour of Scotland’s inaugural edition included Glasgow and Edinburgh, the two largest cities in the country, as stage hosts, while over in Wales, Cardiff has shown an interest in cycling in recent past too, which is why I chose it as host here. The city hosted the national championships in 2001, with Jeremy Hunt taking the men’s title, while the women’s title was taken by an 18-year-old Nicole Cooke, from neighbouring rival city Swansea, and who had actually taken her first title two years earlier; after regaining the title in Cardiff here, she would not relinquish her grip on the title until Emma Pooley defeated her in 2010. The city also serves as the centre and start/finish of Velothon Wales, which is a major mass participation event which briefly (2015-17) ran professional editions, before dying off due to a lack of advertising and a lack of media presence resulting in lacklustre fields and attendance completely at odds with what was more commonly the case at cycling events in the UK at the time. Martin Mortensen, Thomas Stewart and Ian Bibby were the three winners, for the record. The city also hosted the final stage of the 2017 Tour of Britain, with a circuit around the recently-redeveloped Cardiff Bay area.

It is this same area that I am going to use for my ITT here, so as to minimise disruption in the beating heart of the city. This stage will be taking place on a Saturday, as the penultimate stage, after all. I’ve even taken care of as many amenities as I possibly can, basing the teams around the Mermaid Bay Car Park, although the start/finish may reduce capacity at the Red Dragon Centre and County Hall car parks which are in fact closer to the start/finish spot (if at all possible I’d like to use one of these, but this would cause more business disruption). It means we start and finish close to Roald Dahls Plass, a quay front square which has been shaped like a viking boat in style and which has the Millennium Centre, a brand new state of the art entertainment complex, and the Senedd, which is the Welsh Assembly, the partially devolved government of Wales, building standing on it. The square is named for the renowned children’s writer, a son of Norwegian immigrant parents who was born in Cardiff and whom the city is rather proud of; around the corner from the Senedd is also the Norwegian Church Arts Centre, which also proudly proclaims Dahl’s heritage in the city.



The ITT route basically encircles the bay, so is incredibly flat for the most part. This entails heading past the harbour authority and the Scott of the Antarctic exhibition, and crossing Cardiff Bay Barrage into the neighbouring town of Penarth.



Penarth hosts the only thing which prevents this from being a pure wattage test, heading up Paget Road and then on to Arcot Street until reaching the high street. This is hardly a major challenge - the vertical ascent is 40m in about 650m - but the time check at the top should give us a good feel for the course, before a very fast second half of the course as we head towards the start/finish again.

Here is where the majesty of my logistical thinking comes in, because I’ve been far more authentic with my thinking about this TT route than I ordinarily would be, because ordinarily I’m designing races which are much more ingrained in the public conscience, whereas closing major roads around a capital city for a race like the Women’s Tour could be more difficult (even if they got away with doing so in London, London has an extensive public transport network outside of its road system so disruption can be minimised that way). So, first the riders turn right at the A4055/A4160 junction just after Cogan railway station, meaning anybody heading to Cardiff on the former can be redirected north on the latter to either enter the city via Saltmead or, if they’re bypassing the city, join the A4232; we then head around and under the A4232 on International Drive and then Ferry Road, thus passing the international swimming pool facilities (the city has discussed bidding for the Commonwealth Games) and the ice arena, home to the Cardiff Devils ice hockey team, and earmarked further for future developments as part of Cardiff International Sports Village, meaning the A4055/A4232 junction is unaffected, enabling people to access both the Cardiff Bay hospital, the supermarket and the Dunleavy Drive and Cardiff Bay retail parks via their western entrances, minimising the disruption to these. In addition to this, being able to access the A4232 from everywhere except the small section of Penarth which is cut off by the route will benefit all, because this road is a dual carriageway which can be turned off of to access the facilities at the bay that are circled within the TT course, as well as then entering a tunnel under the Bay itself, and resurfacing near the Red Dragon Centre to the east of the TT route, so enabling access to the centre, the park and rides and everything to the east of the course. People from Barry have access to Cardiff and the A4232 via the A4050, therefore it is only the people in the one small village between there and Penarth who may be inconvenienced. Magnifique. Or rhagorol, as google translate gives me for Welsh, a language I have never tried to have a go at, with its incomprehensible consonant clusters (and this coming from somebody who’s done a few years of Russian) being very off-putting.

Being a capital city and with a population of over 1m in its metropolitan area (around 400.000 in Cardiff proper), there are of course no shortages in celebrities and stars to call the city home. As ever in Wales, there is a strong musical heritage, which runs from Shirley Bassey and Ivor Novello (after whom the legendary songwriting awards are named) all the way through to a thriving indie-pop scene, surrounding acts like Super Furry Animals (who also sang in Welsh during a period of doldrums for the language) and more recently Los Campesinos!, a twee-pop band (who hate that label, just the same as most early 80s goth bands disavowed the tag) who met at a legendary indie club in the city which gets name checked in their wry, sarcastic lyrics. Sports-wise, the fact that the national stadium is in Wales helps the city in terms of iconic figures, although the country’s fixation on rugby union as its main sport means that outside of the countries where the sport is popular, these names don’t carry the same currency and weight as, say, Gareth Bale or Ryan Giggs, two footballers born in the city who have carried the flag for Wales internationally for most of the last 30 years en route to highly decorated club careers with Real Madrid and Manchester United respectively. Multiple world champion hurdler Colin Jackson and Paralympic legend Tanni Grey-Thompson are also natives, but you and I are probably more familiar with Wales’ favourites sons of the moment - Sky/Ineos power domestique Luke Rowe, and even more so, Geraint Thomas.



Sorry about the pic, had to find one where he wasn’t wearing those stupid f**king white sunglasses.

Anyway, I shouldn’t have to introduce you to George. Hinc… sorry, Geraint Thomas by now. I was making those Hincapie comparisons many years ago, but obviously Geraint has long out-done his predecessor’s achievements, as classics hardman-turned-domestique de luxe-turned-outright GC man he is now peerless; his career trajectory is one of the most bizarre in the sport - he was always a reasonably good puncheur for a guy his size, but in 2015, at the age of 29, he suddenly learned to apply that kind of graft not just to tempo climbs (which he’d been improving at for a while in his domestique role), nor his explosively just to short steep climbs like Malhão where he’d excelled in the past, but to climbs like the Rettenbachferner. Over the next couple of years he turned himself into more of a genuine threat, although the propensity for falling over at inopportune moments that had always prevented him achieving the kind of Classics palmarès one expected from him did continue to plague him - he would frequently dominate races like E3 or Dwars door Vlaanderen only to crash out of de Ronde and wash out the rest of Classics season, and similarly at first he would dominate races like Trentino/Tour of the Alps only to then crash out of the Giro. Froome’s salbutamol mis-step afforded him an opportunity he may never again have got, however, with The Alien having done the Giro due to not knowing whether he would be allowed into the Tour, much like Contador seven years earlier. As a result, a less fresh Froome had to take a back seat as Thomas became the first man since Lance to win back to back mountain stages, and rode into Paris in yellow. A lot of track riders would kill for Thomas’ track palmarès, while that Tour win means the vast majority of road riders would kill for his road one too.

Although if it entailed going about calling oneself “G” in public, and being called that by sycophantic commentators too, I think some might take or leave.

Yea, I gave Emma Pooley a much longer write-up than Geraint, what of it? It’s not like anybody here needs a blow by blow account of what Thomas has done, and besides, it could be rendered obsolete at any time once racing starts up again, since he’s still active now…
 
Stage 7: Salisbury - Goodwood, 131km





GPM:
Harting Down (cat.3) 1,4km @ 10,1%
Goodwood (Racecourse)(cat.3) 3,3km @ 4,1%
Goodwood (Racecourse)(cat.3) 3,3km @ 4,1%
Goodwood (Racecourse)(cat.3) 3,3km @ 4,1%

And so we head in to our final day of racing, back in the south of England, this is the ‘bonus’ day if you will - not necessarily needed if we stick to the race’s current budget but I think a seventh day (and eventually maybe and eighth and ninth) would be beneficial to the race’s role as a blue riband stage race on the women’s calendar.

Salisbury, the departure town for the final day, has never hosted the Women’s Tour before, however it has hosted the Tour Series, the British crit series that forms the most significant non-UCI part of the national calendar, in the last two seasons. That series is also sponsored by OVO Energy, the title sponsor of the Women’s Tour, which is an added connection. Located just to the south of the old Roman-era city of Old Sarum, Salisbury got its first lease of life as New Sarum, a counterpart city to the hulking nearby city developed from a Norman castle and spectacular cathedral. A royal palace was built there, before disputes among the church led to the cathedral being moved into the nearby plain which led to the construction of the city that is now Salisbury, centred around the new church, while the old city fell into dereliction and disrepair, with its stone pillaged for housing in the new city, and eventually it lay deserted. And yet, for several hundred years, due to its officially being a cathedral city, the landowners of Old Sarum were able to return an MP to the British parliament, thus making it the most notorious of all “rotten boroughs”, thanks to the vagaries of the political system that meant Old Sarum, with single-figure population, could have as much say in the nation’s matters as cities of 20 or 30 thousand.



Of course, Salisbury’s defining characteristic and feature, which has given it modest repute beyond its regional catchment area, has always been its majestic 13th Century cathedral. It is one of Britain’s best loved, attracting cathedral enthusiasts from as far away as Russia to travel across continents solely for the purpose of viewing the cathedral (“its spire is 123m high”) and definitely not anything to do with the former Russian agent dying after exposure to a Soviet-developed nerve agent in the town at all. Otherwise, however, it’s a fairly typical English town, quaint and sleepy, with literary reference in the works of Hardy and Dickens. You know, wholesome fare. It’s also very close to - in the opposite direction from that in which the riders will be travelling - Britain’s most beloved ancient pre-Christian site.

Dating back to ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, when there lived an ancient race of people - the druids. No one knows who they were, or what they were doing, but their legacy remains hewn into the living rock of Stonehenge



Oh, sorry, I was busy crying with laughter. I never tire of that scene.

Anyway, for the most part this is a fairly tame opening half of the stage, quietly easing along close to the south coast of England, allowing the riders with a weeks’ worth of racing - largely over tougher terrain than they get from the real Women’s Tour - in their legs some respite before they have to fight it out one last time to try to settle the GC on the day. The only real defining feature in the first part of the stage is the intermediate sprint in Eastleigh, the town which serves Southampton Airport, before the course moves back to the north as the rolling lowlands start to be separated from the coast by the low-lying chalk hills known as the South Downs.

Obviously a few points in this range have come to be relatively well-known; Ditchling Beacon is famous to most British cyclotourists from the London-Brighton sportive, while Beachy Head’s iconic cliff face has seen it grace dozens of films (from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Quadrophenia) and music videos (from David Bowie to the Cure), as well as being the most notorious magnets for suicides in the western world (this was paid tribute to in Throbbing Gristle’s song of the same name - the cover of “20 Jazz Funk Greats” also featured the spot; the story goes that one of the band members’ parents chastised them for never doing anything ‘nice’ so they had a wholesome, smiley band photo mocked up for the album cover, with the irony being that it was at Beachy Head). Anyway: we don’t go that far east again, so this is a needless digression (rest in peace, Genesis).

The ‘interesting’ part of the stage begins in Petersfield, around 25km north of Portsmouth, and in the South Downs National Park, and the final resting place of long-time resident Alec Guinness. The town is a crossroads between the north-south directed A3 from London and the east-west A272 connecting London overspill towns to royal charter towns like Winchester. It’s also the gateway via smaller roads to the Hartings, a group of villages that sit under Uppark House and Garden, a National Trust (British Heritage group) site which includes Harting Down, a popular walking route along a crest from a road which passes over its summit - and which we shall climb.



This is far from the most threatening climb the riders have seen all week - but it is the toughest one today. Veloviewer has it as 1,9km @ 7,3% which is a decent enough ascent, but it will take some serious desperation to make a bid for home here, 49km from home, on a stage like this - although there may be some who are far down enough to consider it a risk worth taking, especially with small teams. The two-stepped descent takes us into Binderton, and then we arrive for two and a half laps of a long-forgotten cycling spot: the 1982 World Championships circuit in Goodwood.



The last time the Britons held the World Championships until 2019 (a very strange layoff considering they held it more frequently when the sport was seemingly anathema to the mainstream public there than now, when it’s a widely followed sport), times were different then. There was no junior or U23 race, instead there was the good old fashioned Amateur Road Race, seeing espoirs and prospects from the West take on the ostensibly-professional Eastern Bloc riders; Bernd Drogan won the first of three rainbow jerseys for the DDR in four years, while the Professional Road Race, the real main event, was won by Giuseppe Saronni after a spectacularly authoritative final sprint at the top of the final hill, after a spectacularly dumb move by a young Greg LeMond to chase down his own teammate at the last. Meanwhile, the women’s race, won by 20-year-old home rider Mandy Jones (almost by accident, in her own words), was just 61km in length, and the sport was underdeveloped enough that Maria Canins was able to finish 2nd while still a full-time cross-country skier rather than the dual-sport athlete she subsequently became. Jones didn’t stay in the sport for the long haul (not that there were that many races for her to have stuck around for in that era) and her results largely dry up after 1983, but still deserves a bit of a mention as Britain’s only world champion between Beryl Burton’s last title in 1967 and Nicole Cooke’s win in Varese in 2008.





The interesting thing about this as a site is that Goodwood as a place doesn’t actually really exist; it is an iconic name in British sport, but there isn’t actually a village, town or city by that name; instead it is the name of the estate of Goodwood House, a large English country mansion that serves as the seat of the Dukes of Richmond. Goodwood House itself sits near the base of the hill; the finish of the World Championships Road Race was placed at the top of the hill, near to what Goodwood is arguably most famous for, which is its racecourse. Considering I hate horse racing, I have somewhat strangely chosen to bookend the race with racecourses, starting in Newmarket and finishing in Goodwood. Go figure.



Of course, the reason I say that the racecourse is arguably what Goodwood is most famous for is that obviously these things rely on certain milieu. The Goodwood Estate also has several enduring connections to the motor industry, and motor racing, dating back decades (albeit not as far as the racecourse, upon which it made its name). Motor racing at Goodwood dates back to the 1930s, when the Goodwood Hillclimb event was developed, a short hillclimb (obviously) on the ascent which would later be used in the 1982 cycling World Championships, effectively being a climb from the immediate grounds of Goodwood House up to the horse racing paddock. Hillclimbing in the UK tends to be on much shorter and less interesting courses than elsewhere in Europe, so really has little to do with iconic courses like Mont Ventoux, Monte Bondone, or Pikes Peak, and so this didn’t really develop into anything major at the time. During World War II, however, the need for flat land near the coast for short military flight led to the RAF building a base on the Goodwood Estate, and with the Dukes retaining the title to the land, after the war finished and the military no longer required the base, retaining several nearby, it passed back into their hands. While it does retain some minor use for hobbyists and historic planes on its now-grassed-over runways, its main use since then, however, has been as Goodwood Circuit, a motor racing venue which was inaugurated in 1948 as part of a spate of former aerodrome circuits developed at the time (also including Zeltweg, Nivelles-Baulers and Silverstone).



In its original incarnation, Goodwood hosted several non-championship Formula 1 races back in the days when that was a thing (races would be held to Formula 1 rules, and prize money would attract the stars back in the day when only 8 races or so would be part of the official World Championship) and played host to single-seat debuts for Graham Hill and Mike Hawthorn, both of whom would later become Formula 1 World Champions. It also hosted endurance races, and saw the accident which ended the career of Stirling Moss, often regarded as one of, if not the outright greatest driver to never win the world title.

As vehicles became progressively quicker, however, the perimeter layout of the course, with lots of fast, sweeping corners and few real braking points, made it unsafe, and racing ceased in 1966. Proof of the point came four years later when champion, maverick and pioneer Bruce McLaren was killed in a testing accident at the age of 32. 50 years on, the marque he founded has become far more iconic than he could ever have imagined. But unlike Rolls-Royce, the specialist luxury car manufacturers who also have their home offices in the Goodwood Estate, McLaren’s link to the site will always be bittersweet.

In 1993, the most recent inheritor of the estate decided they wished to bring back motorsport to Goodwood, and honour its rich heritage. However, the circuit had been disused for over 20 years and so to circumvent this and prevent issues of safety protocol, an event was instead built around the 1936 hillclimb course, which was a) private road on personal property, and b) in time trial format. This became an invite-only event for historic automobiles and high profile drivers, and quickly became a major attraction, with historic vehicles all the way up to specialist modern F1 and Le Mans Prototype taking on the short course - for a compare and contrast of hillclimbs, Romain Dumas took the electric VW IDR that set the Pikes Peak record to Goodwood, and completed the course in under 40 seconds - and swiftly has grown to the extent that it now has created an offshoot event, the Goodwood Revival, which brings back motor racing to Goodwood Circuit in a variety of heritage cars dating from the era of the circuit’s original operational history.

Anyway!

The circuit we use is a direct clone of that used in the 1982 World Championships, which as all other World Championships courses is highlighted by Lasterketa Burua in their highly detailed rundown of the history of the race here. As you can see, the climb is basically some false flat leading into a final 1400m at 6,2%, total is just over 3km at 4%. So useful for the puncheuses. This is the more detailed look at the final circuit, demonstrating the circuit thus:

Having just climbed the final climb for the first time upon arrival at the Goodwood estate, you will already have become familiar with the ascent from Goodwood House to the racecourse. After a couple of kilometres on the crest of the South Downs, a sharp right leads into a long and gradual - and fairly straight - downhill.
At the base of this descent, a right hand turn takes us toward the bottom of the climb. At the base of the climb, however, instead of turning right once more onto it, we instead turn left.
A subsequent right hand turn will take us into the grounds of the airfield, where we join the motor racing circuit.
After almost a full lap of the pan-flat aerodrome circuit, a tight and technical double switchback S-shaped curve takes us back onto the main road, which leads us back to the roundabout that serves as the base of the final climb, approaching from the opposite direction to that we approached it from before.
As a result, turning left now takes us up the final climb.

These climbs are not too difficult - but they should be hard enough to offer the possibility of something happening. With six woman teams, after a week’s racing, it’s not the toughest circuit out there… but somebody’s going to get taken by surprise, I’m sure. And it’s a nice way to finish with a nod to British cycling heritage, as one of the few places in Britain to have hosted truly top tier cycling back in the days when a

 

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