In His Own Words: Martin Barras Previews Friends Life Women's Tour

Tue 6 May 2014

You might remember the always candid, often entertaining and highly detailed race reports that Sport Director Martin Barras has delivered over the past two years. Tagging out for Sport Director Gene Bates at the Friends Life Women’s Tour, Barras is back, assuming his spot behind the wheel of the team car and as the voice of our team reports of England this week. In his own words, Barras previews the five day British tour - providing context for the significant of the race within women’s cycling, giving a broad overview of the racing on tap and sharing ORICA-AIS’ objectives in the Women’s Tour.

“Welcome to the 2014 Women’s Tour – the first edition of what we hope and believe will be a cycling event that sets new standards for the fair and equal treatment of women cyclists not only in Great Britain but the world.”

Not my words, but those of Mick Bennett, Race Director of the 2014 Friends Life Women’s Tour.

The Tour starts on Wednesday in Oundle and will meander through the mostly flat lands of the East Midlands of England. The race is managed by Sweetspot, the organisers of the Men’s Tour of Britain and has been set up not only as a sporting event, but also as a series of mass participation events and street festivals. Ultimately, the Tour is a synergy between the emerging interest in British cycling that started 15 years ago and a national effort to introduce Women to cycling as a mean to improve health.

From its announcement last season, the race has attracted all the top teams and riders, and despite the relatively benign profile of the terrain, it will be fiercely contested, as it is seen as a prestigious win to get on one’s resume but is also one of the very rare women’s races to be showed live on International television.

By now, you should be starting to get the drift here. This is about so much more than racing. And yet, if we are fair to ourselves, it should be just that – racing and basta!

The buzz in Women’s cycling this season is palpable. The Tour de France will have a live broadcast of a Women’s race on the Champs Elysees. The UCI has mediatized the Women’s Road World Cup and now the Friends Life Women’s Tour will mark another substantial lift in the racing standard and conditions : same accommodation standard, road safety, media exposure and prize money as our male counterparts.

I can hear you : “Bloody hell. This is the 21st century! Shouldn’t parity be a fact by now?”

It should be. But it isn’t. And this is where organisations like Sweetspot are pivotal for women’s cycling. They are willing to put money where their mouth is – and we thank them for it.

On a tactical level, this tour is shaping up to be a Dutch style race and we consequently expect the ladies from the Netherlands to dominate here. The terrain is either flat or with small rolling hills and large portions of the courses will be exposed to the wind. There is no time trial amongst the five stages and time bonuses will be allocated at each stage finish and for two daily intermediate sprints. Sprinters with good echelon technique will love it here. To the usual candidates for potential success inclcuding Raobank pair Marianne Vos, Anna Van der Breggen, Wiggle Honda’s Giorgia Bronzini, Boels Dolmans teammates Ellen Van Dijk and Lizzie Armitstead, Elisa Longo Borghini of Hitec Products and Specialized-lululmeon’s Chantal Blaak, we will add our own Emma Johansson and Loes Gunnewijk.

I favour an aggressive race on our part but the reality of the terrain will dictate that our efforts will have to be calculated and focused on the sprints and maybe a couple of opportunities outside of those. Ultimately, I would love for us to leave our mark on this event by having the public talk about the way we raced as much as our results and to offer a brilliant spectacle of the best that women’s racing has to offer. I know this is a feeling shared by my fellow team directors, as we all understand the importance of the Friend’s  we are about to start.

Finally, allow me to add how nice it is to see a British National Team contest the event. For a country that is hosting such an important race, we never get to see the Brits race as a National Team outside of the World Championships and I guess it takes a home event to bring them out of the woodwork. And if you think I am having a go at the Brits, cast your eyes across all National Federations and look into what support they are offering their women’s racing scene. There are more than a few aspiring young female riders out there that will look to the Friends Life Women’s Tour as their only possibility to watch racing they can relate to, left alone participate in. And we will be racing for all of them this week.

Want to know how to follow the Friends Life Women's Tour live? This piece from Sarah Connelly provides a broad overview. We'll provide our usual daily race reports and social media updates as well as some behind the scene content and real time race updates. 

ORICA-AIS for Friends Life Women's Tour:

Annette Edmondson
Emma Johansson
Gracie Elvin 
Loes Gunnewijk 
Shara Gillow
Valentina Scandolara