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LIZZIE DEIGNAN is one of five former winners who will be on the starting line of the Women’s Tour in Beccles tomorrow.
Deignan, the winner in 2016, will line up alongside defending champion Coryn Rivera, 2015 winner Lisa Brennauer, 2017 champion Kasia Niewiadoma and Marianne Vos, who won the inaugural edition in 2014.
The strength of the field is testament to the growing stature of this race.
Though it remains outside the Women’s WorldTour, the prize money on offer (just shy of £90,000), widespread television coverage and, of course, the huge crowds known to line the route make this an attractive proposition for teams and riders alike.
But the calibre of all five former winners, and the rest of the field, is expected to be tested to the limit with the race expanded to six days and including a first-ever hilltop finish, which comes on stage four to Burton Dassett Country Park.
“We have to be prepared for the unpredictability of the stages,” Trek-Segafredo’s Deignan said.
“I think the only thing we can be certain of is that the first stage is flat.”
And so is the second. After today’s 157.6km race from Beccles to Stowmarket, the sprinters will get a second day to scrap it out with a 62.5km dash around Cyclopark Gravesend.
But things get more difficult with a 145.1km third stage from Henley-on-Thames to Blenheim Palace before Thursday’s summit finish and a testing 140km route from Llandrindod Wells to Builth Wells on Friday.
And there is no rest on the final day either, with Black Mountain looming large on Saturday’s final 125.9km stage from Carmarthen to Pembrey Country Park.
“Definitely the last two stages in Wales are pretty hard and then there’s an interesting stage two with the circuit,” said Team Sunweb’s Rivera.
“It will definitely be exciting and quite a bit harder than last year.”
Vos is hoping for more joy on British roads after taking victory in the Tour de Yorkshire in May, though her CCC Liv team have multiple cards to play, with Jeanne Korevaar and Ashleigh Moolman here too.
“It’s unpredictable and that’s also how we go into this race, with an open strategy and see how it turns out,” Vos said.
“We’ll play that card and it’s better when you have more cards to play especially when it is this hard.”
This will be Deignan’s first race since mid-May at the Tour of California, where she had two top 10 finishes to sit 14th overall, continuing her run of encouraging results since she returned to racing in April following the birth of baby daughter Orla in September.
The 30-year-old has built her return around targeting September’s World Championships on her home roads in Yorkshire, and is looking for more positive form this week.
“We’ll be aggressive and make the racing interesting,” she said. “Normally that leads to victories.”
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