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8 March 2019, 17:20 | Updated: 8 March 2019, 17:21
This year's OVO Energy Women's Tour Grand Depart in Suffolk will take place between Beccles and Stowmarket, marking the first time that both market towns will host Britain's leading women's procycling race.
Ninety-six of the world's best female riders will line up in Beccles on Monday 10 June to tackle a 157.6-kilometre (98-mile) route that will take in the northern and central parts of the county before finishing in Stowmarket. Fans watching the action unfold at the finish on Ipswich Street will benefit from seeing a field comprising Olympic, world and national champions pass through the line twice during the stage.
The opening stage of Britain's longest-running professional women's race - which forms part of the prestigious UCI Women's WorldTour series - will notably pass through Bury St Edmunds and Framlingham, both of which have previously hosted the event's Grand Depart (2015 and 2017 respectively).
Today's announcement coincides with International Women's Day and was celebrated with a launch event at the historic Eye Castle this morning.
There was also confirmation that, for the second year running, the race's prize fund will match that of the OVO Energy Tour of Britain to continue on the path towards gender equality in cycling.
Commenting on the announcement, OVO Energy Women's Tour Race Director Mick Bennett said: "I am delighted to unveil the route of the 2019 Grand Depart in Suffolk, especially given the amazing response generated by the announcement of our return to the county last month. We're looking forward to visiting Beccles and Stowmarket on a route that will see the race take in a mix of familiar roads to the event, as well as many new towns and villages that have been crying out to feature."
Adrian Letts, CEO of Retail, OVO Energy, said: "This is our third year sponsoring the OVO Energy Women's Tour, helping to enable a free-to-view sporting event to be brought to fans across the UK. Last year we announced the top cyclists at the Women's Tour would compete for equal prize money, taking a meaningful step towards gender parity in cycling. We're proud to have committed to matching the prize money again, helping to provide an equal platform and inspiring more women to ride bikes."
In its four previous visits to Suffolk, the OVO Energy Women's Tour is estimated to have attracted in excess of 250,000 spectators to the roadside and created a net economic impact for the county's economy of in excess of £3.5 million.
Almost 70% of spectators surveyed following last year's opening stage, held between Framlingham and Southwold, said that the event inspired them to cycle more often. The race will also return to the county in 2020, as Suffolk County Council and the East Suffolk Councils have partnered with event organisers SweetSpot Group in a two-year deal.