The rolling countryside of Northamptonshire provides the backdrop for the first stage, and the numerous hills along way may be small but their cumulative effect will ensure some aching knees by the end of the day. The race starts at the Marketplace in Oundle, then gets underway with a circuit through the town among an attractive mixture of buildings dating back to various times in the town’s long history before the riders head west and uphill to the end of the neutral zone outside Oundle Golf Club, and the riders then continue via Brigstock, where the race passes by the village cross that was erected to commemorate a (brief) visit by Elizabeth I.
After passing through Grafton Underwood at 15km they then turn north-west towards Geddington, but turn left at 17.2km into Boughton Park – there are three cattle grids in the Park, situated at 17.3km, 17.9km and 18.4km. After leaving the park they pass through Geddington (site of the best-preserved Eleanor Cross) and take the second exit on a complicated junction to head into Rushton at 25.3km (just beyond the village is the remarkable Triangular Lodge built by Sir Thomas Tresham, who was imprisoned for being Catholic in the 16th Century – the building, along with all the decoration on and inside it, are three-sided, an expression of Tresham’s belief in the Holy Trinity).
Intermediate sprint, 30km: At 26km, the race arrives at Desborough and, following a climb into the town centre, the first of the stage’s intermediate sprints which is situated on Station Road 30km from the start.
Immediately afterwards, the road begins to climb again as it leaves the town; it narrows and continues upward until it reaches a sharp left turn at 31.2km, then drops 50m in 1.1km to a technical left turn at a crossroads (33.3km).
QOM, 34.8km: Marked by a black and white stripy signpost, the first QOM begins at a junction with Thorpe Underwood Road on the left. The riders continue straight on along Church Lane, reaching the end of the section 1.4km later at the Tollemache Arms pub. Over that 1.4km, the road gains 49m; the average gradient is therefore 3.5%. The steepest section, near the church on the left, is around 6%.
The race then continues to Lamport (Lamport Hall was home in the 19th Century to Sir Charles Isham, 10th Baronet – owner of the first garden gnomes in Britain) and on to Brixworth at 46.5km, where Anglo-Saxon All Saints has been called “perhaps the most imposing architectural memorial of the 7th century yet surviving north of the Alps.” On the other side of Brixworth, the riders face a steep descent of 46m in 0.7km. The road is narrow and the left-hand bend at the bottom, though sweeping, could prove very dangerous if taken at too high a speed when wet. Right after the bend the road climbs again, then descends briefly.
QOM, 49.9km: Starting by the sign informing the riders they are entering Spratton, the second QOM gains 41m over the 0.8km to the left turn onto the A5199 at 51km in the village. The average gradient is thus 5.1%; roughly halfway along, in the village, it becomes much steeper at around 8%.
Following the turn onto the A5199, nother fast descent leads to a sweeping left-hand bend, on a road wide enough to be taken at speed in all but the most treacherous weather, then the road takes the race uphill into Chapel Brampton and Church Brampton before joining the A428. Following the turn, it continues to climb for a short while before a fast descent leading to a left turn between the gatehouses of Althorp House (which is correctly pronounced “Awl-trupp”), once home to Princess Diana. The riders will travel along Carriage Drive, providing excellent views of the south aspect of the stately home. The road through the vast estate has three cattle grids at 59.9km, 61.3km and 61.6km.
Just past Althorp House the race enters Great Brington, with the riders turning left at a T-junction to enter the village. Main Street has a fairly sharp right-hand bend just past the Althorp Coach House pub; the road continues through Little Brington before arriving at a left turn onto Roman Road – the junction can be slippery. The next village is Nobottle at 66km, one of England’s smallest villages (there are only thirteen houses and they’re so spread out it’s difficult to know when the village starts and ends). At 69.7km, on the very western edge of Northampton, the riders come to a roundabout and take the third exit onto Sandy Lane; the road descends 50m in the next 2km to arrive at Kislingbury (71.7km) before continuing gradually uphill to Rothersthorpe. A kilometre later the road turns abruptly right and follows the A43 south for 0.3km, then turns left onto a bridge where crosswinds may be an issue. Turning left again at Milton Malsor, the parcours crosses the M1 motorway (crosswinds may cause problems again here) and enters Wooton; the third exit at the roundabout at 82.4km leads over a bridge crossing the A45 and on to two more roundabouts, where the riders take the second exit both times to follow Wooldale Road.
Intermediate Sprint, 83.8km: on Wooldale Road outside a school.
A left at 88.5km joins a narrower road which bends sharply right 0.8km later. After another 0.8km, it bends left again and heads towards Great Houghton (a UFO hotspot, if you believe local legend) – the road through the village is straight and downhill, making the left-hand bend at the bottom dangerous. The bend leads onto the A428, which runs in a more-or-less straight line into Northampton; however, there are three roundabouts and a medium right-hand bend followed by a sweeping left-hand bend 100m later before the final 580m to the finish line at the Guild Hall.The final 6km of this stage is worth a close look – a fast descent, followed by a short flat section and a final climb of approximately 10m – which sounds like prime hunting territory for Giorgia Bronzini, of British-based Wiggle-Honda.