Running between Hinckley in Leicestershire and Bedford, the county town of Bedfordshire, Stage 2 takes in similar rolling countryside to that seen yesterday. Along the way, the riders will pass a point 195m above sea level – not exactly alpine, but the highest point anywhere along the Tour’s route – it’s also the longest stage. The race begins on Station Yard and the riders face an obstacle almost immediately: just metres from the start line, a very tight chicane leads into a sharp left turn into the Marketplace followed by a tight right onto Regent Street – this is in the neutral zone, but space is sufficiently limited that handlebars and wheels may touch as the riders, still in a compact group, negotiate it. The rest of the parcours leading out of the town (Lower Bond Street – Hollycroft – Stoke Road) to the A47 roundabout is far less technical.
Having turned right onto the A47, the race heads east to the depart real at 5.2km, marked by a large roundabout. Still on the A47, the riders continue to 14.4km from the start where they turn right onto the B582 (called the A582 in the technical guide) leading into Enderby (Endby, says the guide) at 11.8km. The route passes south-west of Leicester, twice crossing bridges over the M1 motorway where crosswinds may be strong on the way to Narborough. 1.2km south of Narborough is a left turn that appears much sharper on maps than it in fact is: it’s been remodeled to make it easier for cars to access the fuel station over the road, which also affords more room for cyclists. The road following the turn is narrower and leads for 2.6km into Cosby after 20km, home to two-time Junior World Road Race Champion Lucy Garner of Giant-Shimano and where family members and old friends will be waiting to cheer her on.
A medium right turn in Cosby (with some railings either side of the road to catch out any riders who veer too close) carries the race towards Primethorpe; just before reaching the village, the riders turn left for Broughton Astley, then take the sweeping road as it heads slightly uphill and out of the village to Dunton Bassett at 32km – the fairly tight left-hander on the single lane road leading out of the village needs to be taken with some care as gravel tends to collect on the surface, making it easy to end up in the nettle-filled ditch on the right.
Intermediate sprint, 32.4km: A fast right turn half a kilometre after Dunton Bassett (look for the 40mph limit signs on the road, just before it) leads onto the A426 heading south alongside the M1 and into the first intermediate sprint at 32.4km: the road here is smooth, straight and slightly downhill, so it’ll be a fast contest – but overhanging trees can easily lead to punctures, especially following windy weather (there’s also a footpath along the road, making it a great place for spectators).
At 31.4km they reach Lutterworth and at 32.8km take a very sharp left with plenty of street furniture onto the narrower Gilmorton Road which, 0.55km ahead, crosses the M1 and may be subject to crosswinds. At Kimcote, 37.4km from the start, the road forks among trees – the race goes right, then around a fairly tight right-hand bend to Kenilworth Road.
QOM, 43.9km: Marked by a five-bar gate leading into a field on the left, the first QOM is short at 0.7km and gains just 15m; it ends just part the buildings on the right. The average gradient is only 2.2%; the steepest section just past the entrance on the right is closer to 6%.
The road starts to descend immediately after the end of the QOM, making the left turn onto the A4034 at 46.9km technical and potentially quite risky if wet. The wider A4034 continues into North Kilworth and starts to climb as it crosses a canal bridge – the next 1.4km is the steepest section of the stage and carries the race to Husband’s Bosworth where, at 45.4km, the riders negotiate a sharp right corner opposite the Bell Inn and begin a fast downhill section 3.4km long to Welford. A left turn onto a narrower road (next to a pond, suggesting it might be a slippery turn in wet weather) begins an uphill stretch of 5.3km to Naseby at 54km, which at 195m above sea level is the highest point on the 2014 parcours (the name is derived from the Anglo-Saxons, who found the terrain ideal to build a defensive earthwork called Hnaefsburgh here – Hnaef comes from the earlier Old English Naefela, meaning navel – because the site was in the middle of England).
After following the road into the village, the riders take a fast right turn towards Nutcote, then climb for 0.8km before beginning an 8km descent. There are several bends and corners along it which, due to the high speeds encouraged by the descent, need to be attacked with care: a left at 54.7km (leading from a narrow road onto an even narrower one, with a little triangle of rough grass and mud between the two, this one’s very likely to catch at least one or two riders out); a sweeping, very fast left-hand bend through a narrow gateway on a slippery road 1,7km after the previous left; a very tight and potentially very slippery right at 58.7km and at Cottesbrooke a deceptively tight right-hand bend followed by a very sharp left corner at 60.1km where, to make it even more fun, there may be mud on the road and a tight right-hand bend with potential for loose gravelThis is a tricky section; it’s possible especially in bad weather than not all the riders will get through.
QOM, 63.9km: starting just round the left-hand bend on Station Road where a bridge carries the road over a little brook, the second QOM is 1km in length and gains 43m. It ends by a field entrance on the right. The average gradient is 4.3%; however, it can be clearly seen on the road that the latter half past the cottage on the right is considerably steeper – it reaches 9% near the top.
Once they’re round the sweeping right-hander bend leading into the town, the riders might find the surroundings rather familiar: they’re on the same section of Harborough Road that they used yesterday en route for Northampton, though this time only for a quarter of a kilometre before turning sharply left at 65.5km on a corner with a number of treacherous-looking drain covers (a shop called Daisy Roots marks the spot) and heading east along Holcot Road. Just the other side of Brixworth is a bridge crossing the A508, where the riders might need to deal with crosswinds; immediately after the bridge the road begins to descend, at first gently and then more steeply as it nears Pitsford Reservoir at 68.4km – the race will cross the lake via a causeway where the riders might experience crosswinds again. On the opposite bank a short climb reaches Holcot before the race continues south-east to a large roundabout at 72.2km. A fast descent around a technical and tight left/right, followed by another right right 360m later (Caution 20) leads to Mears Ashby at 76km (according to legend, the village has a long tradition of witchcraft). The road on the other side of the village descends gradually to Wilby at 79.4km, then crosses A45 on a bridge where crosswinds may create problems a short while later. Immediately after the bridge the road begins to descend very steeply on the way to Great Doddington where Judith, widow of the Earl of Northumberland, owned most of the land at the time of the Domesday Book – a period in which female land owners were very rare indeed. This descent loses 53m in 0.8km; the average gradient is 6.6% – the left/right bends at the bottom, leading onto a bridge, are not particularly sharp but due to the narrowness of the road do need to be treated with some caution (it’s also best to try to remain away from the rather ragged verges here, especially on the right immediately before the bridge where there’s a gravel track). The bridge is narrow – potentially a pinch point where riders in front of a main group could increase their advantage.
2.8km later the race reaches Wollaston (where Dr. Martens boots were made up until 2003) and starts to climb again before arriving at a right turn onto Hookham’s Path at 86.1km; 0.56km later a sharp left leads onto Hinwick Road and to a crossroads just south of Podington, famous for its drag-racing strip Santa Pod Raceway (which, in addition to the current fastest dragster record, was also the location to the current records for the fastest motorised sofa and dining table – to think some people don’t take cycling seriously). Before reaching the Raceway, at 89.1km the parcours turns sharply right towards Hinwick, then turns right again at the village before following a left-hand bend around the western perimeter. It then begins to climb to a tight left-hand bend; 0.78km from the bend it begins to descend and will continue doing so, along a fast and non-technical road, to a point just the other side of Harrold. Riders then arrive at Carlton at 96.7km.
Intermediate sprint, 101km: starting at the Turvey sign, the second of the two intermediate sprints ends at a tight left corner leading to the A429 in Turvey. The riders then remain on the fast and straight road until it merges with the A4280 at 108km.
2km later, they reach Bedford and turn left at a mini roundabout. A larger roundabout lies 0.75km ahead; riders go straight on and follow the road for 2.4km to a right turn onto Kimbolton Road (with a traffic island just around the corner). 200m later another right with another traffic island takes them onto Park Avenue; 880m after that a left leads onto De Parys Avenue with a fairly technical section 570m junction later. Reaching the river at 122.5km, the race turns left onto the Embankment and into the final fast and straight 960m to the finish line at mock-Tudor Embankment pub – the ideal spot for a big bunch sprint, with all the top contenders battling to get ahead.