Here’s the article piece I wrote for The Women’s Tour website:
The final stage takes in many of the routes I regularly train on, so I’ll be loosing lots of the Strava Queen of the Mountains that I’ve racked up over the past month or so. They’ll be setting some pretty tough times for the King of the Mountains to beat too, no doubt, but sacrifices have to be made if we are to see the World’s best on our own streets!
My aim is to be racing it next year, so when I was asked if I would be interested in doing some filming working with Spring for visitsuffolk.com as part of their promotion of the Suffolk stage of The Friends Life Women’s Tour. This would involve riding the final stage, so I didn’t really have to think about it and this is how it went while you can check out the video below.
Stage Five starts off in the seaside town of Harwich in Essex, then follows the estuary through the towns of Mistley and Manningtree, where I’ve often encountered some rather stubborn swans, that won’t move for cars, let alone cyclists! A place I often stop for a breather whilst watching the boats bobbing in the water in the summer. It’s also the scene of the first sprint, which is pretty close to the start, so the riders will need to warm their legs up early on.
From here, the route crosses into Suffolk for the second time in the Tour, where it heads inland towards the town of East Bergholt and Constable Country. As the artist did over 200-years ago, the film crew with me stopped to admire the view and we had to do countless re-takes of me cycling past making sure they caught the perfect shot. The route looks out over the picturesque valleys, but skirts the sharpest climbs staying relatively flat. The first part of this stage is likely to play host to plenty of spectators as it passes through towns and villages with lots of space for people to line the streets.
After some riding behind the car to get the camera focus sorted and the driver used to me riding behind him, one of the first things I had to do was to be filmed putting my glasses on. I’ve never had to think about putting sunglasses on before, but all of a sudden, I couldn’t remember how the “right way” to do it was! It took a couple of takes.
We then continued on into the open countryside with fields of crops or sheep and small woodlands stretching as far as the eye can see. Something which will become very familiar to the riders as they twist and turn past fields and fields of striking yellow Rape flowers. The riding around here is typical of central Suffolk, with minor rises and falls in the terrain, but lots of twists and turns, so the racing will be fast and any attacks could be hidden from the bunch before the rider is 50 metres off the front. This could be a good place for an attack to get away and gain miles on the bunch, however, the relative shelter of the banked verges and trees opens out as you head out of Hadleigh and towards Sudbury where riders would be exposed to the winds across the fields, the hills pick up slightly and the road straightens out and I can see any break being drawn back along this section of the stage.
The route then turns into Sudbury and Long Melford, where the streets will hopefully be lined with spectators again and where I spent a bit of time riding up and down the hill past Melford Hall in the glorious sunshine. This is where the second Sprint takes place. Looking at the speeds I hit when attempting it, even with a slight uphill drag, this is going to be a fast one!
Onwards to the start of the first Strava Queen of the Mountains up Bridge Street towards Lavenham. If the race is still in a bunch, the riders at the front will have a great advantage as it is a very narrow road but those not contesting the climb will have time to take in the stunning views from the top, before heading into Lavenham, one of the finest and most beautiful medieval villages in England and a feature on many of my rides out into the depths of Suffolk.
This is where cameraman Gary got his skateboard out (which he told me was for if I punctured) and subsequently began to show off his multi-tasking, camera in hand and riding his skateboard along side me as we pushed on past Lavenham church. If you see me smirking in any of the footage, you’ll know why!
I generally treat myself to a cup of coffee after climbing the hill into Lavenham, however, these riders won’t be so lucky, because there isn’t much chance to recover from the first Strava Queen of the Mountains before it’s back up and out of Lavenham and into the countryside towards the Hitcham Strava Queen of the Mountains, another long, narrow drag, this time past some traditional thatched cottages.
The riders will continue to head north before turning sharply west where the route leads into very twisty roads before straightening out as the race heads towards the sprint finish into Bury St Edmunds. The road leading into the final part is wide, so expect to see the teams lining up to lead out their sprinters, however, the finish line is hidden from view through narrow twists and turns and ends on cobbled streets, so positioning, tactics and technical ability will play a key role. The riders will need to be out of that last corner in the top position to have the best chance of crossing the line first!
At the end of the ride, we stopped for a tea in Bury St Edmunds where we could relax, the ride and filming complete.
My thoughts on the route? It’s my kind of ride, no monster hills, fast paced with lots of twists and turns where a breakaway can hide. A real mix of long wide stretches of open roads, surrounded by fields and narrow twisting lanes through ancient towns and villages. There’s no doubt that this is going to be a nail biting finish to the first ever Friends Life Women’s Tour!