Tour de Yorkshire: Steady progress of women's race welcomed by Annie Simpson

Annie Simpson in action.Annie Simpson in action.
Annie Simpson in action.
THE TOUR de Yorkshire continues to blaze a trail for women's cycling and doubling the length of the race has been hailed as another important step forward.

Next year’s women’s race will be run over two days for the first time, on May 3 and 4. The £50,000 prize money makes Yorkshire’s race one of the most lucrative in the world and the effort being put by the organisers into expanding the sport is a source of pride for local rider Annie Simpson.

“I did the women’s race this year and it was by far my favourite race of the year,” Simpson told The Yorkshire Post. “The atmosphere and the support from the locals was just phenomenal.

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“For it to be extended to two days will increase the profile of women’s cycling and I am proud that my county is really supportive of women’s cycling. It is something like this that makes a real statement.

“Other races are following suit and this is what will help women’s cycling progress.”

Simpson hopes the extra day is only a start. She added: “There could be a point when it becomes four days, same as the men.

“I think it’s understood that women’s cycling is a progression and you don’t want to run before you can walk, but two days – over two different stages – is a real statement.

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“I have been cycling for 14 years, I started when I was a kid and the difference now compared to then, it is unrecognisable. The women’s top tier is becoming a lot more professional. There’s still work that needs to be done, but it is getting there. It is becoming more and more viable for women to make it their profession now, whereas when I first started, unless you were on the track and in the British Cycling programme that was unheard of, really.”

Next year’s ASDA women’s Tour de Yorkshire will precede the men’s first and second stages, though over a slightly shorter course. The women will compete over the final 132km of day one’s route – finishing in Doncaster – and the last 121.5km of the men’s second stage, including the same summit finish at the Cow and Calf in Ilkley.

Simpson, 27, lives in Hipperholme, near Halifax, but grew up in Bingley and the Cow and Calf is a familiar obstacle.

“The first stage is going to be pretty flat, which will be good for the sprinters,” she predicted.

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“The second stage, Ilkley-Otley is where I grew up training, I know the Cow and Calf very well and I remember being stood up there when the Tour de Yorkshire came through before. The atmosphere was incredible.

“To be one of the riders doing that will be unbelievable. The view from the top of Cow and Calf is one of my favourite views in Yorkshire. I am excited that it’s so close to my home roads and my family and everyone can support. It will be on the world stage.”

Simpson rides for the British-based Drops team, which she described as a “smaller, lower budget” version of the Boels-Dolmans squad represented by Otley’s former world champion Lizzie Deignan.

“We are a UCI women’s team, we compete in all the world tour races,” Simpson said. “We race all over, we were in the women’s tour this year – I did that – and the Tour of Flanders. We are a small-scale team, but we try to punch above our weight and get stuck in there.”

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As a domestique, a support rider who dedicates herself to looking after the team’s best hope of overall victory, Simpson does not expect to challenge for a podium place next year, but believes her team can make an impact.

“We will be doing our best to make sure we are in the breaks.,” she added.

“We have got some new riders this year who can do a bit of everything, in the sprints and the punchy, hilly terrain. We have got a lot of cards to play and the thing is for us, we have got nothing to lose.

“We are up against Boels-Dolmans and if we can be in among them and make ourselves seen, that’s our aim really.”

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Deignan won the one-day women’s race this year and Simpson stressed: “It is something to aim for, you aspire to be like those riders.

“I remember starting out when Lizzie did and to see where she got to, she is an inspiration to me and I am in the same races as her. For the younger generation coming through, to have people like that is important.

“To be inspired and to strive to get to that level, it is what women’s cycling needs.”