Thousands of people lined the route of the Friends Life Women’s Tour cycling event and packed into Oundle to see the Grand Depart today (Wednesday, May7).
The event, which ends in Bury St Edmunds on Sunday, has captured the imagination of cyclists and non-cyclists.
Crowds gathered at the startline and along nearby streets well before the race got under way at 11am, and cheered on the teams as they signed in, with particularly loud cheers for the British cyclists, including Olympic silver medallist and British national champion Lizzie Armitstead and local girl Hannah Barnes. There were also loud cheers for the reigning world champion Marianne Vos.
Oundle Town Council organised a series of events leading up to today’s Grand Depart and businesses and schools in the town got involved in the tour spirit.
Amps Fine Wines ran a special offer yesterday and today, offering 15 per cent off in store to people who went into the shop wearing cycling kit.
Pupils at Oundle School had a visit from Hannah Barnes, who comes from Northamptonshire and races with the United Healthcare team. She told the pupils that because of the quality of the field the race was “pretty much the Olympics”.
Members of the cycling club formed by C & D Cycles in Kettering rode to the start and then across to see the finish in Northampton.
Shop manager Andy Ferguson said: “It’s a great opportunity for the county to have the tour here and everything that is connected with it.
“It’s great for women’s cyclng and will raise its profile, and hopefully get more women into it. We have a few women in the club and the numbers have grown since last year.
“To have such a big event start in Northamptonshire is massive for the county.”
Watching in Oundle were Helen Askey, of Sudborough, and Jo Elwood, who owns Green Man Antiques in West Street, Oundle. Helen said: “It’s really great that it’s come to Oundle.
“I’m an avid cycling fan so to see the big names in women’s cycling in Oundle, and to see everyone out and about enjoying themselves is lovely.”
Jo added: “The town is very pleased to host the first women’s tour. I’m so glad that Oundle will be put on the map, and it’s lovely to see so much activity in the town. Yes, there’s been some disruption but I very much embrace what the tour has done for the town.”
Friends Lorna Switzer, of Wilbarston, and Claire Moore, of Kettering, cycled to see the start. Lorna said: “I think the tour is fantastic, it’s very exciting for the whole region.”
Claire said she hoped the event would encourage more women to start cycling and said: “We will be cheering for Hannah, we’re big fans of hers and follow her on Twitter.”
The race was won by Emma Johansson, of Orica-GreenEdge, in what was described as “an incredible finish” by the organisers.
Some of the world’s best cyclists, including Olympic road race champion Marianne Vos, powered their way through villages and towns in the region, with crowds lining the streets in Oundle, Grafton Underwood, Rushton, Desborough and Harrington.
Vos was pipped on the line by Swedish rider Emma Johansson after a bunched sprint finish in Northampton town centre just after 1.30pm.
Hannah Barnes, from Towcester in Northamptonshire, finished third – picking up jerseys for top British rider and the best young rider.