Countdown to the Women’s Tour of Britain

In countdown to the Women’s Tour of Britain we caught up with British Cycling’s Route Director Andy Hawes to hear how VeloViewer is being used in preparation for the race.

Andy Hawes on the Moto
Andy Hawes on the moto (right)

How has VeloViewer helped in the run up to the Women’s Tour of Britain?

VeloViewer has become an absolute key tool in delivering our events, to the point where, my Route Safety Manager, and I wonder how we planned this type of event before it was available as we struggled for years with limited technology. 

It’s essential in the whole process, from when we send the route files to VeloViewer to be put into the App, to inserting waymarkers, to the moment we press go – it’s a one stop tool for us now.

How is VeloViewer used to improve race logistics?

Key is the ability to be able to put into the routes essential information and waypoints that would not necessarily have been put into the road book – we don’t want the road book to become so big teams flick through and never look at it again.

I know teams are very aware of VeloViewer, and feedback is they like the additional waypoints we as organisers insert into the route. The advantage they have is we have seen the roads they will race first hand, and often they have not.

VeloViewer drops down to Google Street View, but this can be two to three years out of date, especially in more rural routes, and the ability for us to add live detail from our recons is a super powerful tool. This aids us as event organisers to get our safety message across to the teams with the best possible outcome, ensuring that they have all the information they need before a pedal is even turned on a stage.

What the teams don’t see is the work we do for the central escort group and the national escort group whereby, thanks to VeloViewer, we have been able to move away from flip charts to be purely electronic. This has speeded up a lot of the processes and cut printing costs and wastage of the paper from flip charts, making it a far more sustainable approach.

How does VeloViewer impact rider safety?

Where riders’ safety is concerned, I’m a reasonably risk averse person, and the amount of information we put into VeloViewer as organisers may seem too much for some, but for others, who have not ridden the routes, it is essential detail designed to keep riders safe.

With a new crop of riders to the women’s tour, we can share route information within the VeloViewer App that has been garnered over many years of reading roads and races. For example: one twisty bit of road may be straight through when you have the whole road to use.

This means you read the stages differently providing the right balance of safety and other information which is race related. Another example is when we used parking icons for an Isle of Wight stage where we knew one section would still have parking in place, highlighting cars would be parked to the off-side.

It’s at the team’s discretion if they take it on board, giving them the information and it being available is very important for us as an organisation.

How will VeloViewer be used on race day?

There are not many vehicles in the convoy that don’t have VeloViewer running. Every team car has it in operation, and at the head of the peloton nine times out of ten the Commissaire President has VeloViewer live as well as most radio tour cars.

As moto regulator one I have VeloViewer running on my moto and the pilot has it running on a device. Race Director and Assistant Race Director will have VeloViewer on their screen.
It’s not just an indication of where we are in the race, but it aids the following of routes which is important, so vehicles don’t take the route off course. 

Unfortunately, this can still happen. In Stage 1 of the Tour of Britain in Aberdeen in 2022 there was an advanced vehicle in a position it shouldn’t have been, and it led the race to carry straight on instead of turning left. In most instances it takes a quick glance at the screen to keep safe. We have gone from one or two of the convoy vehicles using VeloViewer to 95%, with everyone from the team cars to group safety and the police using the App. It really is a hot property!

What is your role on race day?

Leading up to the event as Route Director I’m planning everything to get the race from the start to the finish, to make the route as safe as possible, including negotiations and agreements from local authorities and the emergency services.

On race day I go into the role of moto regulator one, so I am the penultimate moto ahead of the peloton, and the one that regulates the control of traffic through the peloton. 

Having driven the route three or four times, my role is to advise of any sections coming up, basically feeding back information to the radio tour and Race Director. Key for me is making sure everything is safe at the front of the peloton with constant comms – from linking to event control on the finish line, to feeding back where the race is and how the schedule is running.

It doesn’t sound much but when four radios are going at once there’s a lot of juggling to do and it makes the day go quickly!

How does VeloViewer help ease the pressure?

The stress zone comes when situations arise that you can’t predict. In the final stage of the Tour of Britain in 2023 in the middle KOM there was a road traffic accident, so we had to quickly put a diversion in place. VeloViewer gave us the ability to zoom in and out on the map to create an alternative route making a call on where to leave and rejoin the race so kilometres could be maintained for the stage. We neutralised the race at the top of the KOM and dropped down to restart.

This was very useful information allowing us to work out ETAs to feedback to event control and keep local authorities updated so they can adapt traffic management to make allowance for the new timings. In this case VeloViewer took the pressure out of everything as you’re never out of mileage.

What element are you most looking forward to in the Women’s Tour of Britain?

Stage 1 will be really interesting. From all the women’s racing I have been involved with I would say this is the toughest opening stage we’ve ever done. With 2,276m of ascent the day isn’t over until they’re properly down in the Conwy Valley – even in the last few kilometres there are ups and downs which keep on giving! Stage 1 will be a telling day and we’re hoping for great weather as the views are amazing, and we always get great support in Wales.

The final stage is also one to watch. This stage has run twice in the Men’s Tour of Britain, it’s slightly shorter but features two of the KOMs – Grains Bar and The Rake – and will be interesting to compare side-by-side. I still wince when I drive up The Rake and take that right hand turn that kicks into 25%, and always think I wouldn’t want to be riding my bike up there! 

After four days of racing, I don’t know whether it’s the toughest race in four days we have done, but it’s up there in terms of the previous eight or nine editions of the Women’s Tour of Britain. In four stages 6000 metres of climbing in the UK is good going.

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