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  • Philippa York’s Women’s Tour (pt 3): Egalitarianism

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    In this final extract from her feature on the 2018 Women’s Tour, Philippa York goes native with roadside spectators and considers what changing attitudes mean on the sidelines

    Photographs: David Powell; Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com
    Women's Tour

    Two days later I’m back, in Evesham this time, but more as a normal spectator than someone with media accreditation.

     

    Today I want to mingle with the ordinary folk rather than interrogate race people, though somehow I end up doing that at both ends of the stage.

     

    Whilst hanging around at the start, Guy Elliot introduces me to Mitchelton-Scott rider Gracie Elvin who is one of the founders of the Cyclists’ Alliance and I’m struck by how articulate she is when she talks about the current issues of equality and fairness in the promotion of the sport.

     

    I learn lots from her on just how well organised the Women’s Tour is, easily their best race outside of the Classics in terms of crowds and coverage, but she also sees there’s still room for improvement with the race’s route.

     

    The road surfaces aren’t always great and there’s a lot of road furniture to avoid, but that unfortunately is the state of modern Britain’s infrastructure. I get the feeling that Sweetspot’s equality in prize money with the men’s race and the level of investment is really appreciated by the women and that’s why they make sure they do their best, not only in racing terms but in promoting the event.

    The main reason I’m on a second visit is to take in some of the atmosphere and feel what the spectators are experiencing, so with that in mind I head off to Snow Hill, the hardest climb on the fourth stage.

     

    Whilst waiting for the race to arrive I do what most people do and pile into the local pub for a coffee. It’s quite busy but I manage to find a seat opposite a family. Mum, dad, two kids, one of each, and I know they are here to see the race go by as the little boy has a Team Sky jersey on.

     

    All is going well until the two children start squabbling and need separating. There’s a radio playing in the background and one of the news items mentions it’s one hundred years since women were given the vote.

     

    “Why haven’t I got a cycling jersey?” the little girl cries. The parents look at each other and you could almost hear the cogs whirring as they realised that equality wasn’t just something they talked about, it was now their responsibility.

    Stage 4, Women's Tour 2018

    I watched the race pass at the hardest part just after the mountain sprint line when the route came out of the village and into a brutal sidewind section. The girls came past in one line, all in the gutter and flat out. I’d chosen well to see maximum suffering – that’s experience for you.

     

    After that I trundled down to Worcester and hung out near the finish, trying to tidy up my notes and make some sense of what I was going to write. Predictably it started to rain just as the race reached the last kilometres, so the sprint, taken by Boels-Dolmans rider Amalie Dideriksen, was rather sketchy. Storey Racing achieved their aim of a top ten placing when Neah Evans finished ninth.

     

    On the way back to the car, I was thinking about the difference between the men’s Tour of Britain race and the Women’s Tour and how they have differing effects when I spotted the Scottish-sounding fast food outlet that starts with an “m” and finishes with a “d”. In I went and got myself an ice cream.

    It was crammed with people who had watched the race, so I sat outside on a wall and whilst scoffing my sundae, three teenagers rocked up. You know the usual sort who hang around this type of establishment: loud, laughing, poking each other in between looking at their phones and being bored. There are two girls and one boy who has a BMX bike with him, and I hear one of the girls say to the other: “You could do that. You’re well fast on your bike.”

     

    Then the boy pipes up with: “Yeah, you could do that.” The girl who they think has the talent nods and says: “Yeah, I can.”

     

    Extract from Women on Tour, first published in Rouleur 18.7

     

    Part I 

    Part II