After the incredible success of the inaugural Women's Tour last week, Nick Spearing caught up with women's cycling aficionado Sarah Connolly to discuss her thoughts on the race and some of women's cycling's top riders.
Crowds of people lining the streets. Rain teeming down drenching everyone. The best female riders in world cycling gunning it down British roads. The inagural Women's Tour couldn't have been more like the London 2012 Olympic Road Race.
In fact, the Women's Tour was better, just for the sheer fact that it lasted five days as opposed to just one. The electric, fast-paced racing was matched only by the energy and the enthusiasm of the thousands of people who turned out to catch a glimpse of some of the toughest women in professional sport.
Olympic levels of support
Sarah Connolly, of the Women's Cycling Podcast, was at every stage of the race with race organisers SweetSpot and told Cycling Republic all about the atmosphere of the race, "I have been to women’s races before and I have never seen anything like this. All the riders who went to the Olympics said it was 'Olympic levels of support'. Everyday we would say 'that was brilliant, how can it possibly be like that tomorrow?' But every time, the next day was even more impressive."
"I was in the front car at Bury and the levels of support on every roundabout, village and pub was just insane. They weren’t just supporting the front riders. Riders who had dropped off the back were saying that they would be struggling up a hill and the crowd would be just yelling at them as if they were winning the Olympics. It was just amazing."
Connolly gave credit to organisers SweetSpot for their efforts in drumming up support for the race and getting spectators to the roadside. They took riders into schools on the route to get youngsters to the streets to cheer on the riders. However, Connolly suggests, one of the biggest success' SweetSpot had was attracting both national and international media to the event.
International media coverage
"To have journalists like the BBC and The Telegraph there, covering the race was massively important. Nick Hope, the BBC journalist, was completely embedded in the race and was there everyday."
"[ITV4's nightly hour highlights show] was very important. Every day the team staff and the race staff were sitting around in the bar watching it. All the riders were watching it in their rooms. That is very important. The Eurosport stuff was shown around the world. There were people watching in Australia before they went to work."
"One of the problems with women’s cycling is that people say that nobody wants to watch it. We have ticked that box. Sponsors think that it can’t be seen, but we have ticked that box too."
With women's road racing a seemingly more investable product now, Connolly said there are "no excuses" for other countries not to follow suit by organising high-profile women's stage races. One of the biggest additions to the UCI women's calendar this season, excluding the Women's Tour, is La Course, the criterium race taking place on the Champs Elysee on the final day of the Tour de France.
Connolly said that La Course "has to be a stepping stone" for something more in the future. "It is fantastic that it starts this way, with La Course, but it is only going to be meaningful if it is something that is bigger."
La Course was announced earlier this year and is making headlines with it's "podium boys" presenting awards. Connolly said that you don't need that kind of pageantry and it was the little things like "the Best of British" jersey that made The Women's Tour so impressive.
"The Women’s Tour proved you don’t need podium girls or any of that stuff. They has a lot of things like the 'Best of British' jersey and small children who had won competitions waving the flag for the first day. You don’t need the pageantry. You just need really good racing."
With the paperwork already filed for the 2015 edition of The Women's Tour, Connolly is excited about it's future. "People were told there was no point doing this as people would not turn out for women’s sport. This certainly proved them wrong...They filed the paperwork for the 2015 Women’s Tour already. It is happening for sure. There are no excuses now. Riders and teams have said that this race raises the bar. It is a game changer. Very exciting."
Stand by for Part 2 of our round up of the Women's Tour, as Sarah gives us more insights into the riders that gave us five days of excellent racing and a look at who (if anyone) can challenge the dominance of Marianne Vos.
Image via Greenedgecycling.com