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Women’s Tour preview: Highest-ever summit finish and live TV highlight 2022 edition

Demi Vollering won't defend her title but there's a star-studded field expected, including Elisa Longo Borghini and Lorena Wiebes.

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After two years of cancellations and postponements, the Women’s Tour is back in its traditional date of early June.

The six-day race has been a firm fixture on the women’s calendar since 2014, but it had to cancel the 2020 edition and move the 2021 race back to October due to COVID-19 restrictions in the UK.

Not only is the race back in its usual summer slot, it will also have a live television broadcast scheduled for the first time in the race’s history.

The race had been receiving growing criticism for failing to provide the live TV required by the UCI for a WorldTour race. It tried to do it in 2021, but the financial challenges posed by COVID-19 and Britain’s exit from the European Union made it hard to find the required funding.

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In the end, it had to can its plans for last year and made a public plea for funds earlier this year. Accommodation company cottages.com came forward with the £75,000 ($94,000) needed to get the Women’s Tour on the air.

Following a relatively flat parcours for 2021, this year’s Women’s Tour will be one of the most challenging in the race’s young history. It includes the highest-ever summit finish in the Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacons in Wales, which will likely decide the race.

It should provide some dramatic scenery to go along with the race’s new live television coverage. The 21 percent ramps up the 7.2-kilometer rise will also provide some dramatic racing to match the views.

The favorites

Defending champion Demi Vollering is not scheduled to return to the race, as she is training at altitude ahead of some major targets in July. Nevertheless, SD Worx’s six-woman squad still packs a punch with Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio the strongest contender for overall victory.

Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) is one of only two former champions set to ride and she will be a big favorite for the title this year. Coryn Labecki is another past winner of the race scheduled to win, but she’ll likely be looking for stage victories ahead of the GC fight.

BikeExchange-Jayco comes to the race on a high after a string of wins at the Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour. Alex Manly won four stages and the overall at the German stage race and will head the team in Britain next week. She’ll be joined by Kristen Faulkner, who arrives at the race after a strong Spanish campaign earlier in May with third overall at the Itzulia Women.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) makes her racing return after more than a month off racing since Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Women’s Tour will be a good test of her form ahead of a Giro d’Italia and Tour de France double-header in July.

American hopes will be pinned on Veronica Ewers (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB), who is enjoying a superb run of form after taking her first-ever pro win at the beginning of May.

In the sprint competition, it will be Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) that will be the rider to beat after her clean sweep at RideLondon last week. She’ll be going up against Labecki, Chloe Hosking (Trek-Segafred), Sheyla Gutierres (Movistar) Clara Copponi (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), and Alice Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) among others.

The route

While the Black Mountain stage will be the star of the show, there’s plenty of road before the peloton can consider it.

The race kicks off in Colchester with a profile that should well suit the sprinters in the bunch with just two third category climbs facing the peloton early on the road to Bury St. Edmonds on the 140km stage.

Heading south toward the outskirts of London, stage 2 will be an out and back ride from Harlow. It looks like another good stage for the sprinters but the rolling road inside the final 20 kilometers could provide an opportunity for a breakaway.

The British roads are notoriously windy and challenging and even the simplest of parcours can see the peloton break up under pressure from the front.

The race heads west across the country for stage 3 near the border between England and Wales with a 107.9km ride from Tewkesbury to Gloucester. There is plenty of rolling road on this stage with two cat. 2 climbs in the second half of the stage.

The second of the two ascents, Speech House, is the most challenging at 1.3km with an average gradient of 7.1 percent.

Moving into Wales for the fourth stage, the parcours continues to get more challenging. Day four starts out in Wrexham and moves south to Welshpool over 144km, making it the longest stage of the race.

There’s hardly a stretch of flat road in the entire route as it constantly undulates, taking in the second category Hirnant Bank, and the first category Bryn-y-Fedwen along the way. Bryn-y-Fedwen is the shorter of the two climbs at 2.1km but its average gradient of 6.7 percent makes it the harder one.

Stage 5 is the queen stage of the race with its finish in the Black Mountains. Before the riders reach the summit finish of the 106km stage, they’ll have to tackle two first category climbs inside the first 30 kilometers.

The route continues to roll all the way to Llangadog, where the final ascent will loom before them. The average gradient of 5.6 percent is deceptive as it hits peaks of 21 percent in parts. It’s only the second summit finish to feature in the Women’s Tour and should prove decisive in the overall classification.

The final stage goes back into England with a 142.9km ride from Chipping Norton to Oxford. While it takes in some early climbs, it should be another chance for the sprinters to shine.