CYCLING: Sharon Laws wins Queen of the Mountains tag at the first Women's Tour

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: Great Britain's Sharon Laws talks to reporters at the 2014 Women's Tour Of Britain. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire Great Britain's Sharon Laws talks to reporters at the 2014 Women's Tour Of Britain. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

COTSWOLDS racer Sharon Laws enjoyed a spectacular homecoming in the inaugural Friends Life Women's Tour which brought crowds out in their thousands.

While dual Olympic and multiple world champion Marianne Vos from the Netherlands comfortably won the overall race, some gritty and determined cycling on the 10 climbing sections of the five-day race from Oundle in Northamptonshire to Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, secured Laws the Queen of the Mountains title.

It was something that the 2012 national road race champion from Bourton-on-the-Water was not expecting.

Sharon had helped her States-based United Healthcare team to a win in the Tour of the Gila, New Mexico's premier race the previous weekend which meant she had a five-hour drive followed by an overnight transtlantic flight arriving at her team hotel at 3pm on the afternoon before the British race.

"I wasn't feeling too great, either," admitted Sharon, "and I had kept quiet about the one-hour highlights programme on ITV every evening because I thought I wouldn't feature much."

But Sharon featured heavily. Grabbing the polka dot Queen of the Mountains jersey after winning that discipline on the first day, she tenaciously refused to relinquish her lead despite the persistent challenge of Jolanda Nef of Switzerland who, at 21, is 18 years Sharon's junior.

The Friends Life Tour, the biggest road race for women ever staged in Britain, apart from the London Olympics, proved an astonishing success among both the riders and the public.

"The event was incredibly well run and I have never ridden in front of crowds like it," said Sharon.

"Even in small villages everyone was coming out and the roadside was really packed on Saturday and Sunday.

"There were a lot of people shouting for me and on the final day I even saw a big banner made by a friend.

"To be able to do something in front of British crowds has been fantastic."

Sharon finished 33rd overall, a minute behind Vos, but her job from day one was to focus on winning the polka dot jersey, and the UHC team were delighted with her efforts and those of her young team-mate Hannah Barnes who finished ninth.

UHC Sports director Rachel Heal said: “I’m really proud of how well the team has ridden here all week against the strongest teams in the world.

"Earning the best young rider jersey as well as the best British rider jersey was an incredible achievement for Hannah.

"And it was fantastic to see Sharon taking the Queen of the Mountains jersey on day one, and it was a full team effort all week to defend it."

Women's Tour race director Nick Bennett said: "The big crowds from Wednesday onwards blew the whole of our organisation away. The British public have taken women's racing to their hearts."

Laws certainly hopes the race becomes an annual fixture.

"Women's races seem to come and go but this was really exciting and I hope it is here to stay," she said."

She now snatches a few days at home in Bourton with her mum Joy before returning to the States to compete in Philadelphia and Minnesota before returning to Britain for the national road race championship in Abergavenny (June 26-29).

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