The Women’s Tour – Guy Elliot – Back to the Day Job


Gordon Wiseman talks to SweetSpot’s Guy Elliot after the hugely successful FriendsLife Women’s Tour

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The Women’s Tour – Guy Elliot – Back to the Day Job!
(by Gordon Wiseman)

SweetSpot’s Guy Elliot could understandably be wanting to lie down in a darkened room after the last 12 months that for him have been dominated by setting up from scratch the hugely successful FriendsLife Women’s Tour. But less than 48 hours after Marianne Vos (Rabo Liv) had won the inaugural edition in Bury St Edmunds, he was back co-ordinating what has been his ‘day job’, the women’s Matrix Fitness Grand Prix series that is a prime target for many British based teams.


VeloUK – How would you sum up the success of the FriendsLife Women’s Tour?
GE – We wanted something that would delight the athletes and I think we did that. All the feedback, not just on the race but worldwide, has been that the race was wonderful and that’s what pleases us the most.

VeloUK – And how do you sum up your own feelings?
GE – Personally, I get very emotional about it because I think we’ve changed women’s sport. Not just cycling but women’s sport. We’ve provided equal treatment for the athletes and all sorts of people were telling us ‘you can’t do it, no one’s interested in women’s sport’ but that’s just rubbish.

In the evening after each stage, we were watching the race on tv in the hotel with 50 or 60 people and everyone was saying ‘it’s just so fast’ and you couldn’t tell the difference between the women and the men. You’ll have those who sneer at women’s sport, those on the internet forums but the only thing we’ve seen is positive reaction. Except for the incident with the race car.

VeloUK – Where the car hit the bollards on stage 4?
GE – Yes, the car hit the bollards at km 3 in the neutralised zone and we’re very upset and angry with the riders about that. The riders overtook the car in the neutralised zone and put the driver, whose done 20 national tours, in an impossible position. People would, and did, look at that and think the driver was coming through the riders but that wasn’t the case. The riders overtook the car that was showing the neutralised flag with the people inside shouting ‘get back, get back’ leaving the poor driver with nowhere to go. He did amazingly well to miss all the riders and just as amazing was the fact that the car wasn’t damaged!


A race with the World Number 1 attacking chased by the Olympic & World Champion – yes, the race is already the best in the World!

VeloUK – Have you started looking at ways to take the race forward and improving things for next year?
GE – We’re certainly on for next year, we tweeted that earlier today. It’s definitely happening, we’ve got increased sponsorship and the every town we went to wants us back. We now have to think about the course. We don’t want a time trial, we’ve decided that, because we only have a limited number of days and what we liked was the GC not being decided until the final day. Anyone could have won, it would only have taken a lone break to go up the road and gain 20 seconds and they could have won it.

There was some fantastically aggressive racing. You had Vos who was so strong but everyone kept attacking which we loved. I think we could put some more hills in, typically nearer the end of a stage so you could launch an attack but not that we then have riders trundling in for ages outside the time limit. But equally we know we owe it to the councils who supported us. People are asking us to take it all round Britain, maybe in due course, but broadly next year is going to be in the East Midlands and East Anglia.

VeloUK – Is one of the issues not creating hours of transfers for the riders?
GE – We don’t want that. It’s not the Tour of Britain. The teams that come from abroad don’t have big budgets, they want to be near the Channel ports, they want low travelling time and they can’t afford extra nights in hotels. So being roughly in the south east is broadly where we want things to stay.


Crowds all the way into the distance at the finish – Britain are for sure the best supporters of women’s racing!

This year we used just two lots of hotels and perhaps in future we’d be more inclined to use just one lot. And that’s what some other races do. We might add a day next year but what we really want to do is to raise the quality. We’re thinking about things like a Tour caravan, greater engagement with the towns.

We spoke with a lot of the women racing and whilst people say 8 or 9 days would be great, it’d be like a Grand Tour, the vast majority said, you know what, 5, 6 or 7 days would be really nice and it would fit in with the rest of the women’s programme. I think we should be looking at the quality rather than just the quantity.

VeloUK – Do you think already people will be looking at the FriendsLife Women’s Tour as the premier stage race for women?
GE – We’d like it to be but we must be very careful about how we chose our words. We’d like to be the clear market leader in three years but there are some other great races out there and we don’t want to say that we’re better than them or want to be in competition with them. For example, Thüringen Rundfahrt is a fantastic race and we’d love it if we could engage with their organisers and learn off them and they learn off us. We just want more high quality racing for women. We hope that we’ve made people look and that they’ll say ‘you know, if you get it right, people will come’.

I will say, and this may appear to be provocative, but I’m prepared to go on record and say that the women’s calendar is too crowded but it’s crowded with some poor events. So, if some weaker races drop out because they haven’t got the right safety standards then they should be put under pressure to improve or drop out. We’ve got some of the world’s best athletes competing and they deserve better.


VeloUK – SweetSpot has shown support for grassroots racing as well.
GE – Yes. One of the decisions we made when we realised we were reaching an agreement with Bedford was to deliberately earmark some of that money for the Bedford 3-Day because grass roots racing is important to us. Over the years Jon Miles has done a fantastic job and we wanted to support that.

VeloUK – But after the Women’s Tour, now it’s back to the day job and your organisers role of the Matrix GP Services.
GE – Yes, but you know it’s funny. The women’s series is viewed as the highlight of the calendar but looks like a village pavilion and after the Women’s Tour it feels a bit provincial, it’s different. But this is the bread and butter of the sport and people can now see what’s possible.

VeloUK – Do you think that gives the athletes in the Matrix GP Series something bigger to aspire to, using the domestic series as a springboard for themselves?
GE – Definitely. You know, we felt awful about only having one UK domestic based team in the Women’s Tour. But we had a field of 96 riders and we had to adopt a real professional approach to selection. I wanted to get as many British women into the race as we could and we got about 20 so I’m really proud of that.

Next year we hope to increase the number of riders and we hope to have a couple of domestic teams riding. But I’d say to the domestic teams, everyone now wants to ride the Women’s Tour so it’ll be a brutal selection process. The top four or five domestic teams are all good but we’ll only have places for one or two.

The girls from the Matrix Fitness – Vulpine have shown what can be done but they had to really tough it out. They were one of only a few teams that finished with a full complement of six riders and that was after losing their team captain” – Dutch rider Sigrid Jochems – “ before the race even started.


Some of their riders were really young but they hung in there and had to battle to finish. I tweeted during the race ‘look to the back of the field, that’s where the real tough racing takes place’. We’ve got tremendous respect for the riders like that. At the end of the five days they were knackered, some of the Matrix girls and some of the GB riders, but they’ve now ridden a 2.1 race and got through it.

VeloUK – So for those riders who aspire to the Women’s Tour and perhaps want to be in the mix next year, today is an ideal time to start.
GE – Today is ideal. But I’d say to them all, and I respect them all, we’re not just looking for athletic performance. We’re looking for a professional approach as well as athletic performance. We know it’s difficult out there but we’re looking for their sponsors, if they are to have access to the world stage, we want them to be putting something in to the race as a whole.


Stage 1 Friends Life Women’s Tour
Stage 2 Friends Life Women’s Tour
Stage 3 Friends Life Women’s Tour
Stage 4 Friends Life Women’s Tour
Stage 5 Friends Life Women’s Tour



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