The Grand Depart
When I sat down with my coach in November to ‘map’ my 2014 season he asked me what were my goals.
“Glasgow, the Commonwealth Games.” The words flew out of my mouth almost as quickly as bugs fly into it when I’m riding. The Friends Life Women’s Tour of Britain was one of the next races that went into my season goals spreadsheet, highlighted in red.
I first heard about the tour last year. At first it was just rumblings, rumours, gossip. We weren’t even sure if the tour would go ahead. Then it was announced that it had been awarded the highest possible ranking for a tour on the UCI calendar. And from there it just seemed to grow.
Television coverage, cycling festivals, enormous prize money pool, stellar field. The hype around the race was huge from the very beginning, it was hard not to get excited by it.
Not surprisingly, my parents didn’t want to risk missing out on what was being built up to be one of the biggest races of the year.
After the Ladies Tour of Qatar Dad asked me if I thought I would be doing the Women’s Tour, “I really want to, but it depends on team selection,” was the best answer I could give him. That seemed good enough for him however, because the next thing I knew he’d booked a ticket to London from the 4-12 May just to watch the race.
Then in April, during a family Skype session Mum confessed she had booked a ticket too, “I just couldn’t keep a secret!” She laughed as I screamed with excitement.
Fast forward to today and I have finally been reunited with my parents after more than two months apart. Flying into London a few days early for some family time we figured what better way to test the family dynamics than trying to navigate around the British countryside using the race manual to try and ‘recce’ some of the stages.
Today we headed out to Oundle to check out the first stage of the five stage tour.
And I have to say I’m impressed. As we drove into the quaint little town it seemed like every shop window contained some sort of Friends Trust Women’s Tour paraphernalia; a bike made out of cakes, a giant teddy bear riding a bike, ‘the girls guide to life on two wheels’.
Making our way the the local brunch hotspot, The Coffee Tavern, we sat down and started drinking our tea. On her way out a friendly lady (who turned out to be a member of the local council) stopped at our table and asked, “You wouldn’t happen to want a program for the Women’s Tour would you?”
Mum couldn’t say yes fast enough, “We’re actually here for the bike race, my daughter is racing”.
Two programs and a lengthy conversation later we’d learned how the ‘Grand Depart’ ended up in Oundle and how the town had embraced the cycling race. The woman left us but it wasn’t long before one of her friends, Paula, the head of the city council came in to introduce herself and say how excited she was to meet us.
The town had decided to run a four day festival celebrating women and the active lifestyle. We’d stumbled into ‘have a go day’ and were invited to try Chinese wand dancing more than a few times. Mum and I were also invited to ‘boob camp’, Dad wasn’t allowed to participate in that one unfortunately.
When Paula had informed us of all the goings ons my scrambled eggs were cold but I was even more excited about the event than before. It’s easy for a race to roll through a town but involving the local community and creating interest in the event makes it sustainable, something that is so important to women’s cycling if we want to continue to grow the sport and see more, not less, races on the calendar.
As Paula walked across the street Dad said, “I didn’t realise it was this big”.
Neither did I.
The organiser of the event, Guy Elliott, and all those involved have done a fantastic job organising a Tour that genuinely excites not only those competing in it, but those watching it as well.
Women’s cycling is having a ‘moment’. Just last week a friend of mine interviewed me for his university paper about La Course by Le Tour. I told him that women’s cycling was creating it’s own buzz, it’s own hype, and that I was incredibly proud to be part of the women’s peloton at the moment. Seeing the excitement of those in Oundle today, along with my own family, just reinforced this.
Sarah Connolly wrote about how you can follow the Women’s Tour here
And here is the television schedule
Details of the international distribution of the Friends Life Women’s Tour highlights programmes will be confirmed here prior to the race, among the current channels confirmed as showing daily highlights of the Friends Life Women’s Tour are:
– Eurosport (UK & Ireland)
– Eurosport (Australia)