Thousands line streets for start of OVO Energy Women's Tour
PUBLISHED: 13:15 10 June 2019 | UPDATED: 16:11 10 June 2019
The 2019 edition of the staged cycle race got under way from Beccles this morning.
"Beccles is best!"
Those the words of East Suffolk Council chairman Colin Hedgley this morning as the historic market town played host to the start of the OVO Energy Women's Tour 2019.
The staged cycle race - taking place for the sixth time - got under way from Beccles at 10.30am, with the world's best talent in women's cycling vying for the Green jersey won by the overall leader.
Pupils from local schools accompanied the 16 teams onto the podium ahead of signing on, before cycling club members, children and local businesses took part in a community lead-out ride.
Stage one, going through Suffolk, sees competitors cover 157.6km from Beccles to Stowmarket and is passing through towns including Halesworth, Framlingham, Eye and Bury St Edmunds.
Andrea Downes, the new Mayor of Beccles, said it was easy to get caught up in the emotion of the occasion.
"It's beyond words to have an international event like this starting from Beccles and hopefully it will encourage people to take up the sport as well," said Ms Downes.
"What's also inspiring is the amount of volunteers, people who have given up their time to be a part of this - and they love being involved, it's not a chore to them.
"It's been such an exciting day and you can really feel the buzz around the place, there's an energy. This really is putting the little gem of Beccles on the map."
Thousands of spectators lined the streets to catch a glimpse of stars including all five former winners, among them cycling legend Marianne Vos and top British hopeful Lizzie Deignan.
Paul Wallace, who lives in Beccles, said: "I thought I'd come up and see what was going on out of curiosity and it's nice to see such a great turnout.
"I didn't expect it to be quite this big but there's such a mixture of people involved from all over the world - which should hopefully be good for Beccles."
Diane Paton, from Worlingham, added: "This is really good for Beccles and hopefully plenty of people turn up along the route to watch the race.
"I'm not generally someone who watches women's cycling but hopefully there can be a big growth in the sport like we've seen in women's football."