Big day out for town as bike racers dash to finish of 130-kilometre stage
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Southwold enjoyed the excitement of the crucial last yards as the world's top women cyclists completed their 130-kilometre tour of Suffolk and raced to the finishing line at the resort.
The town turned out to welcome the riders as the colourful cavalcade headed into town and along the seafront, with the crowd cheering them on to the end.
Jolien D'hoore opened up her 2018 OVO Energy Women's Tour just as she left off in London in 2017 by sprinting to victory at the head of the world-class field.
Mitchelton Scott rider D'hoore, who broke her collarbone three weeks ago, was given a perfect lead out by her team-mates out of the final corner with 340 metres to go to take her third win in the race, following victories at Clacton in 2015 and London 2017.
She said: 'Even before today's stage I wasn't sure where I was at with my form, but the team had 100% trust in me and they gave me a perfect lead out going into the finish.
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'It's really great to start with a win, the pressure is off now.
'The stage was pretty flat and everyone knew that it was going to come down to a sprint, but it got pretty nervous and hectic going into the final and thankfully I was in a really good position on the last corner.
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'I started my sprint a little early but managed to hold on and it worked out really well in the end. We had a plan going into the stage and we struck to it perfectly. The finish was quite tricky going into the wind and slightly uphill, but it couldn't have gone any better.'
Second place on the stage went to former World Champion Marta Bastianelli (Alé Cipollini) and Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb).
D'hoore also takes the Breast Cancer Care Points jersey thanks to her win, while the Boels-Dolmans team claimed both the SKODA Queen of the Mountains jersey with Christine Majerus and Eisberg Sprints jersey through Amy Pieters.
WaowDeals Pro Cycling's Dani Rowe finished top Brit overall in fifth and so took the Adnams Best British Rider jersey, in the home town of the Suffolk brewer.
Mitchelton Scott team manager Martin Vestby described the opening day as the 'perfect start.'
He added: 'It's a true team victory today and everyone was involved.
'We will do our best to hold onto the green jersey tomorrow, but it is a completely different stage with lots of climbing and for sure it will be tough.'
Tourism chiefs hail return of The Women's Tour to the county
The Women's Tour brought a day of excitement to spectators across the county but the impact on local tourism and businesses is also significant according to tourism chiefs.
According to Suffolk County Council over 80,000 spectators watched the race Women's Tour when it last visited Suffolk in 2016.
Many of those watching the race came from outside the region.
Council figures from previous events suggest that around 15 - 20% of spectators would stay overnight with further income coming from money spent on food, drink and other local products.
Michael Ladd, cabinet member for tourism and economic development from Waveney District Council, said: 'We put on a good show. The atmosphere was fantastic.
'It's extremely important. It showcases places for people.
'We hope it doesn't just attract people today but through the summer and winter months.
'There's probably people coming here today who probably don't go into the town.
'It's important to show off what we have here.'
TJ Haworth-Culf, cabinet member for customers, communities and leisure at Suffolk Coastal District Council, said: 'We need to promote and keep up the promotion with different events.
As well as bringing locals back into their town centres chiefs hope that it will bring visitors in from elsewhere.
Amanda Bond, from Visit Suffolk, said: 'The OVO energy Women's Tour is just another example of Suffolk stepping up to the mark and competing nationally as a worthy competitor for visitors looking to take a UK holiday.
'Honoured to have been awarded Stage 1, it's a fantastic showcase for the county's tourism product, especially its cycle-friendly terrain, favourable climate and picture-postcard scenery.
'What's great about Suffolk hosting the Tour is that it helps promote the county as a top destination for leisure cyclists, too.
'The county already has a rich heritage of cycling paths and routes, from tracks through Rendlesham Forest, to inland and coastal routes, and this event will hopefully inspire a new generation of Olympic hopefuls, but also capitalise on the huge popularity of cycling as a leisure pursuit.'