Road Cycling

The moments that defined the inaugural Tour de France Femmes – CyclingTips

Now that the first edition of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift is over, let’s take a moment to look back over the past eight days of this historic race.

The build-up to the race was intense, but the women’s Tour ultimately delivered in spades, exceeding virtually all expectations. As the dust settles, here are the moments that made the race what it was.

Women’s racing returns to the Champs-Élysées

There was something symbolic about the first Tour de France Femmes starting on the Champs-Élysées. That’s where La Course began back in 2014, but while La Course ultimately failed to live up to expectations, stage 1 of the Tour on the Champs-Élysées promised something more: a new beginning. As the men’s race concluded, the women’s race began, kickstarting a new chapter for professional women’s road cycling.

As expected it was Lorena Wiebes (DSM) that won on the opening day, yet again proving that she’s far and away the best sprinter in the women’s peloton at the moment. Her victory wasn’t unexpected, but her choice of podium companion certainly was, much to the confusion of some in the press room.

The Marianne Vos show

Vos (Jumbo-Visma) would certainly have preferred to win on stage 1 and move into yellow there. And there would have been a nice symmetry to that – Vos won the first edition of La Course on the Champs-Élysées. But she didn’t have to wait long. On stage 2 Vos got in the winning break, then sprinted to the stage win and into the maillot jaune.

There was something just right about Vos wearing the yellow jersey at the first women’s Tour – the greatest of all time leading the biggest race women’s cycling might ever have seen. And on stage 2, Vos was only just getting started.

She’d end up winning two stages and taking home the green jersey, the latter without even really trying for it.

That crash

Stage 2 was defined as much for its crashes as Vos’ win, and one crash in particular. You’ve probably seen the footage: Nicole Frain (Parkhotel Valkenburg) hurtling into a group of stationary or slow-moving riders, with Amanda Spratt (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Marta Cavalli (FDJ Suez Futuroscope) ultimately forced from the race.

While no one was seriously injured, it was an unfortunate moment for the race and one that had a lasting impact beyond just that day. While Cavalli was unlikely to win the race overall, she certainly would have had an impact near the top of the GC standings. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see that unfold.

FDJ’s stirring recovery

What better way to bounce back from one of your GC leaders crashing out than winning the very next day.

On stage 3, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Suez Futuroscope) didn’t just fight back to the front twice after being dropped, or scramble back into contention after being out of position at the base of the final climb, she then put in a wonderful long-range uphill sprint to take the biggest win of her career.

The victory was impressive enough. The interviews we got afterwards were even better.

Mavi García’s horrible day

The four gravel sectors on stage 4 didn’t affect the GC in quite the way we thought they might (and Annemiek van Vleuten’s rivals seemed to miss an opportunity in that regard). But one GC rider that did struggle on the day was Mavi García (UAE Team ADQ).

The Spanish champion had two punctures, knocked over Alex Manly (BikeExchange-Jayco) when grabbing a spare bike from a teammate, and then, as if her day wasn’t bad enough already, got knocked over by her own team car.

The 90 seconds or so she lost on the day weren’t the difference between the podium and not for García, but it was a horrendous day nonetheless, particularly the incident with the team car.

Lorena Wiebes is on another level

She won stage 1 handily, but on stage 5 Wiebes showed she’s just a level beyond all the other sprinters at the moment. She won the bunch sprint by several bike lengths that day and just looked so much more proficient in the bunch kick than anyone else.

She’s perhaps the only pure sprinter in the women’s peloton today, and virtually untouchable in that discipline. It’s no surprise she’s got the most wins of any rider this season, male or female (17).

Van Vleuten’s demolition job

Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) very nearly left the Tour on stage 2 thanks to a stomach bug. In fact she was so ill she needed help closing her suitcase that morning, and her teammates spent a bunch of time pushing her along during the stage.

The fact she only managed to lose around a minute over two days before starting to feel better was something of a miracle, and it actually set things up nicely for the GC battle going into the mountainous final weekend.

In the end, Van Vleuten showed emphatically that she had recovered from her illness, putting in a long-range raid on stage 7 that tore the GC (and most of the peloton) apart. She’d started the day 1:28 off yellow and ended it leading the race 3:14 ahead of her closest rival.

There was something predictable but also very appropriate when she rode away on the final stage to win atop La Super Planches des Belles Filles in yellow. We didn’t get the super-close GC battle we might have been hoping for, but if the goal was for the strongest rider in the race to win, then we certainly got that. Van Vleuten was simply in her own league.

Persico’s impressive Tour

In eight stages, Silvia Persico (Valcar-Travel & Service) finished inside the top 7 on six occasions. That would have been seven from eight had she not deviated significantly from her line in the stage 6 sprint and been relegated.

Persico was simply the most versatile rider in the race. She was up there in bunch sprints, in punchy uphill finishes, and in the big mountains. For a rider that came into the race largely unheralded, she certainly made a name for herself at the Tour. Don’t be surprised if she makes the step up to the WorldTour next year …

Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Dutch dominance

Of the eight stages in the inaugural Tour de France Femmes, six were won by the Dutch. They finished first and second overall (Van Vleuten and SD Worx’s Demi Vollering), they won the points classification (Vos), the QOM jersey (Vollering), and the best young rider competition (Trek-Segafredo’s Shirin van Anrooij).

It’s no secret that the Netherlands is a massive powerhouse in women’s road cycling but this performance was beyond dominant.

The support

There was an impressive turn-out to see the opening stage of the women’s race in Paris, but it was hard to tell how many were just there incidentally; that is, how many had mainly been there to see the men’s race. And then when the crowds were relatively sparse at the start of stage 2, it looked as if the women’s Tour might not get the support everyone had hoped for.

But in the days that followed, fans turned out en masse to watch the women’s peloton battle it out. The finish in Épernay was completely rammed with fans, supporters lined the course throughout each stage, and at the weekend the crowds were particularly impressive.

Thousands were at Le Markstein to watch Van Vleuten win on Saturday and even more came out to see her do the same on La Super Planche des Belles Filles.

And it wasn’t just on the roadside that the race was well supported. TV viewership figures were incredibly encouraging, some media outlets attracted more readers than what they see at the biggest men’s races, and social media was abuzz with talk of the Tour.

If there was concern beforehand that the women’s Tour would feel like a pared-down add-on to the men’s race, those fears have been well and truly quashed. The Tour de Frances Femmes was an undeniable hit, and this is only just the beginning.