The fifth and final stage returns to Essex and Suffolk, starting off in Harwich before heading through 108.3km to Bury St. Edmunds – a very fitting place for the race to end because it was the birthplace in 1849 of James Moore, who went on to win what is often called the first bike race in the world at St-Cloud in Paris on the 31st of May in 1868. In fact, it’s very likely that it wasn’t the first race, but it was the first to draw significant public interest and, inspired by its success, more races sprang up and cycling became an enormously popular sport in France. Perhaps this race will do the same for women’s cycling in Britain.
Harwich may well have been the first part of England some of the Dutch and Belgian fans saw as they sailed over to visit the race, because the ferries from the Hook of Holland dock here (and for any Dutch fans who can only manage a day trip to support Marianne, her Rabo team mates and the Netherlands national team, this is the most convenient stage to visit). The stage begins at the Dovercourt Leisure Centre just off Wick Lane (51°55’41.43″N 1°16’11.78″E), heading into a 5.9km neutral zone that takes it along the seafront roads of Lower Marine Parade and Marine Parade where, on a sunny day, the town looks really rather grand – far less industrial than Felixstowe and even less commercialised that Clacton, the seaside towns either end of Stage 3. Most seaside towns turn rather grotty just a street or two inland from the seafront, but Harwich manages to retain some charm even after the race turns the left corner onto Kingsway and heads into the town centre. 0.18km later, it turns right onto the B1352 and soon passes parkland on the right. A little further ahead and unseen from the road (but very visible to French ships) is Harwich Redoubt, built in 1808 to defend against Napoleonic invasion. The unusual High Lighthouse, which is only ten years younger than the Redoubt but looks ready to collapse in the slightest breeze, marks the position of a wide left-hand bend. 0.35km later the riders reach the commerical port and the scenery becomes purposeful rather than beautiful; they take the first exit at a mini roundabout to join the A120 and follow it as it bends to the right – just around the bend, no longer in use but very slippery when it rains, are some old train tracks crossing the road. The second exit of a large roundabout 0.6km later keeps the race on the A120 as it curves around an inlet south-east of the ferry terminal; then a flyover crosses the railway just before two roundabouts (second exit at both) and, 100m past the second one, the neutral zone ends and the race begins.
The first 3km are about as non-technical as a parcours can be – flat and devoid of bends. The section ends at an oval roundabout where the riders take the third exit to arrive at Ramsey on the B1352. The village’s windmill can just be glimpsed through the hedgerow on the left as the race leaves via the uphill left/right bends on Wrabness Road, used to stand in Woodbridge nearly 20km away in Suffolk (as the crow flies – the wide Stour and Orwell estuaries make the distance by road much further). 3.4km from Ramsey, the riders reach a crossroads and continue straight ahead; half a kilometre ahead is a left/right Z bend, then another half a kilometre after that a staggered junction where they need to keep left and then right through the bends. 1.4km later, a short and fast descent leads into sweeping left and right bends followed by a tighter left and wide right once the road turns uphill again. At 11km, they arrive at the village of Bradfield where the church is partly whitewashed, partly bare flint clunch, partly brick and looks as though it was made of bits of three other churches, and turn right at a T-junction that has a couple of awkwardly-placed drain covers that could prove slippery when wet. A sweeping right/left/right bend half a kilometre ahead offers fine views across the estuary but, due to a 4% descent, needs to be tackled with some care – the terrain drops away on the right and coming off the road here could be very dangerous. Especially tricky is the final right-hander of the section: it’s tight and there’s a gravel section on the left. The next three bends, left/right/left, are on a small climb and lead into Mistley which was once a thriving port and where the riders take in a short, gentle climb.
Intermediate sprint, 13.7km: having reached the top of the climb, the riders begin the first intermediate sprint – the right-hand bend just ahead is wide and sweeping and shouldn’t be technical even at sprint speed; not should the left-hander 220m later.
Passing left of Mistley Towers (which at first glance look to be follies, until one notices the gravestones around them: they once stood at either end of a neoclassical church – since demolished because, despite the grandeur of the towers, it was much too small to serve the town) the race follows the road along the banks of the estuary into Manningtree, negotiating a fairly tight left/rightuphill section (marked by a tiny pink cottage) soon after entering the town. The remaining 1.26km through the town is mostly straight and flat, with only sweeping bends; however, some sections are sufficiently narrow to force the peloton to change shape rapidly and thus may lead to clashes. 350m after passing under a railway bridge, the riders arrive at a technical section leading to a roundabout – the road bends left as it approaches the roundabout, meaning that sharp bike-handling skills are required to take the fastest line through to the right where the race joins the A137. 120m from the roundabout is a very narrow passage leading under a railway: riders leading solo or in small groups will be able to get through considerably faster than all but the first few in larger groups and a strong leader or group could find a significant advantage here – though the peloton will be able to make up time on the other side where the road is wide, flat and fast – especially if a powerful crosswind in blowing inland off the estuary just to the right.
0.7km from the railway bridge is a road bridge crossing the estuary, where crosswinds will be especially felt. 0.47km past the road bridge, around a sweeping left-hand bend, is a roundaboutat at Cattawade, 18.4km from the start, where the race turns left – the traffic island restricts space, but the turn can be taken at speed (more care will be required if it’s wet). Now on the B1070 the riders begin to climb, gently at first but more steeply past the houses just ahead. A tight left-hand bend half a kilometre past the houses leads into a sweeping left, then a straight 1.2km section continues uphill into East Bergholt, birthplace of the painter Constable, at 19.9km. The race follows the road as it passes through the town to 20.6km, then turns sharply left to continue on the B1070 as it passes under the A12 and into Holton St. Mary at 24.8km. There are some tricky bends just beyond the village: the first is a wide right made technical by gravel on the road (a blue sign on the left, just past a road leading off in the same direction, marks the start of the bend). The next, 200m later by a white farmhouse on the right and with a gentle left-hand bend to approach, is a much tighter right where gravel also collects. The third, 290m ahead, is a tight left where a field entrance on the right can cause mud on the road. The fourth is 380m ahead, a sharp right with a ditch along the left verge. The fifth is a tight left 120m ahead, there may be gravel on the road from the entrance to the house on the right. The sixth, 190m later, is a wide right again with gravel and leads into a sweeping left that takes the race into Raydon at 26.8km.
By the church in Raydon the road curves slightly right and begins to descend before turning sharply left – a tight left-hand bend 0.66km ahead can be slippery due to a field entrance on the right. The road descends at up to 5.1% for the next kilometre, making the right-hand bend 130m ahead and the left 320m after it technical. The Marquis of Cornwallis pub on the left marks the next bend, a fast left into Layham at 29.8km; then the road conntinues into Hadleigh at 30.9km, home to many beautiful ancient buildings and – a little surprisingly – the black metal band Cradle of Filth. Opposite a tiny white bungalow in the town the road turns suddenly left – the riders follow it for 400m around a wide right, then a left to the White Hart, a pub on the right, where it bends sharply right. The race follows it for 0.53km, beginning to climb as it approaches a T-junction with the A1071at 33.9km.
At the junction the riders turn left into a straight section that climbs for the next 5km, passing through Hadleigh Heath and then Bower House Tye, where the road starts to descend again. At 40.9km they turn right off the A1071take Sandhill into Boxford – the half-kilometre into the village descends at 4%, making for a fast section; the left-hand bend leading out of the village (marked by the orange Boxford Stores shop) is technical and can be slippery when wet. Just past the church on the left, the road bends right and begins to climb School Hill (max. gradient 4.3%) to return to the A1071 – at the junction, the riders turn right and continue to climb for most of the next 3.6km until they arrive at a junction with the A134 45.6km into the parcours. Turning right, they pass through Newton. At 48.3km, the turn left off the A134 and follow the road as it curves right and leads into Cornards Tye. A farm to the right of the road as it leaves the hamlet marks the beginning of a descent on narrow roads with overhanging trees (which can make the road slippery in addition to increased puncture risk from fallen twigs). The first bend, a left, is technical because the road is very narrow here; the right 220m ahead is much the same. Once round the bend, the road descends at up to 5.5% as it approaches Great Cornard, the largest town we’ve seen since the start of the stage, at 48.4km. Reaching a T-junction at 50km the riders turn right then left 20m later to join Canham’s Lane, which will carry them through the town for the next 1.1km to a roundabout where the second exit leads them onto the B1058. They’ll follow it for 2.23km into Sudbury.
Sudbury was the birthplace of the artist Gainsborough, a major influence on Constable, and the town is well worth exploring. Coming to a sharp bendat 53.1km with a drain cover right in the middle of the best line around it, the riders turn onto the A131 and follow it out of town to a roundabout at 55.8km. The first exit leads onto the B1064 and via Rodbridge Corner into Long Melford at 56.5km – it was once one of the richest towns in East Anglia and has many old buildings to interest tourists.
Intermediate sprint, 58.6km: outside The Bull pub at Long Melford, on a fast and wide road.
The riders continue on the same road after the sprint, beginning to climb on the way to High Street and arriving at a T-junction at 60.6km. Left takes them onto the A134, which continues to climb for 250m then enters a half-kilometre descent – the sharp right turn at 62.4km, followed immediately by a left-hand bend, is technical due to the high approach speed.
QOM, 62.6km: Stage 5’s first QOM begins at 62.6km, shortly after the previous junction. It ends at the entrance on the left to Dunton’s Farm 1.2km ahead, by which time it has gained 33m to arrive at the highest point of the stage. The average gradient is 2.8%, but three sections reach 5%.
The road leading into Lavenham at 65.9km is flat and narrow with a very tight and gravelly right-hand bend leading onto a bridge 1km after the QOM. The town, one of the richest in England in Medieval times (it lost its wealth when Dutch immigrants set up home in Colchester, and made cloth cheaper than Lavenham could), is considered one of England’s most beautiful today and is worth a visit by tourists. The road descends as it passes through, then climbs again once the town has been left behind so that the bends on the road to Preston (a village, not the town of the same name) shouldn’t cause issues. The 1.2km after Preston descends at up to 4.5%, then the race climbs at up to 4.5% for 1.3% to a right turn at 72.6km where the road is often muddy. The first 0.9km from the turn descends at as much as 4.5%, then climbs gently for 1.1km before descending over the last 1.49km into Hitcham – the last 500m is quite steep in places and the narrow roads and mud make it a technical section; the final left/right/left bends beginning at a pink farmhouse on the left need to be taken with care, and the very muddy verges should be avoided.
QOM, 76.4km: the final QOM of the race begins just around the previous left-hand bend leading into Hitcham,with the start marked by cottages on the left. Immediately ahead is a junction by The White Horse pub, where the riders will keep left to continue on the climb along the B1115 through the village. The end of the section is 1.5km ahead between Causeway farm on the right and a thatched cottage on the left, at which point the road has gained 30m. The average gradient is therefore 2%; the steepest section is by the white railings on the left around 250m from the start of the section, and reaches 5.6%.
The road keeps climbing after the QOM until it reaches Cross Green, where it bends right and descends into a stretch known locally as The Water Run – which suggests it may become slippery in wet weather, though the ditches on both sides should prevent flooding. The next 3km leading to High Street Green are fast and downhill, but the bends are wide and non-technical; then a 1.8km section takes the race into Great Finborough – home from the early 1970s and up until his death of the legendary DJ John Peel, who discovered virtually every important British band from the late 1960s to 2004, and who is buried in the village churchyard. At the village’s tiny red-brick primary school (on the right) the road bends right and begins a fast descent through the village; the gradient is 4.6% past the entrance to Finborough School on the left. The left-hand bend 1.8km from the school requires some care, as does the sharp left at the junction 150m later leading into Onehouse. The following section leading through Buxhall Fen Street isn’t technical until it comes to a tight left onto Stowmarket Road at 88.4km – the junction is often slippery and leads straight into a fast right-hand bend where mud from the verges spreads onto the road.
The road is flat as it leads into Rattlesden at 90.6km. The left/right bends leading into the village can be taken at speed and the mostly straight road to Felsham, though uphill, climbs at a gentle gradient with the exception of a 4% section to the right of the football pitch just before the village. A short way ahead, by the cream cottages on the right, the road bends left; 120m ahead a tightening right-hand bend leads into the centre of the village. 250m later, a sharp right turn at 95.4km carries the race onto Bury Road and out of the village and on to Maypole Green – the road between them is non-technical but may see some jockeying for position as teams start getting their top riders up to the front of the peloton now that the finish line is only 10km away. The road descends gently on the other side of Maypole Green, then climbs to Little Welnetham at 102.2km. Narrowing as it enters the woods on the other side of the hamlet, it begins to descend towards Great Welnetham and Sicklesmere, in places at more than 5% – making the right/left leading into Sicklesmere technical.
At 103.9km the riders reach a T-junction and turn right onto the A134, running straight and mostly flat (a few very short climbs reach no more than 2.5%) into Bury St. Edmunds. At 107.1km they take the second exit at a roundabout to continue into the city; a dip in the road 100m after the roundabout descends very briefly at 4%, then climbs less steeply to a very narrow sharp left turn into St. Mary’s Square. On the other side of the square a tight right leads onto Sparhawk Street, ending 130m later at St. Mary’s church, where a tight left takes the race onto Honey Hill. 60m ahead, a fast right turn onto cobbles leads into the final section – a fast, straight and in places narrow sprint past the cathedral to the finish line on Angel Hill.