Can anyone beat Van Vleuten?
The time has come, we are at long last getting to witness the first edition of the Tour de France Femmes. The race lasts a little over a week, starting in Paris (the same day that the men finish on the cobbles of the Champs-Élysées) before eight testing stages take the riders across France to the finish atop the now infamous La Super Planche Des Belles Filles.
In this preview we’ll be taking a look at all eight stages, as well as the top contenders to take the yellow jersey. The women’s peloton is getting stronger as each year passes, meaning that the best have to keep improving to stay at the top. Annemiek Van Vleuten is no exception to this rule, starting as the clear favourite to take the yellow jersey. With everyone else looking at ways to take her out of the equation, can anyone beat her?
Stage 1 – Paris Eiffel Tower – Paris Champs Élysées – 81.6km
As starts go, it doesn’t get any more iconic than this. Two of France’s most famous landmarks provide a sensational backdrop to the first stage of the race, and like the men’s race that concludes shortly after, it looks set to be a showdown between the sprinters. The field will be stacked with riders looking to be the first woman to wear the yellow jersey, such as Flanders winner Lotte Kopecky, Emma Norsgaaard, Lorena Wiebes, Elisa Balsamo, and the legendary Marianne Vos.
The route is slightly different to the one the men will take on, with the Women taking on 12 laps of the Champs Élysées circuit before the inevitable bunch sprint for the yellow jersey.
Stage 2 – Meaux – Provins – 136.4km
A similar scenario to the day before looks set to be the case on Stage 2 of the race. The 136.4km route will see the riders take on just one 4th category climb (though the winner of this will take the polka dot jersey), on the road to Provins. The action may heat up with 300m of the race to go however, as a short rise in the road could allow a daring rider to foil the sprinters.
Stage 3 – Reims – Épernay – 133.6km
With two bunch sprints likely to be in the history books, the puncheurs will get their first opportunity of the race as they head through champagne country. The route isn’t the most testing of the race, with just four climbs all cat. 3 or lower. Expect to see plenty of attacks as everyone tries to distance the sprinters.
Stage 4 – Troyes – Bar-Sur-Aube – 126.8km
We stay in the vineyards of Champagne for Stage 4 and what a day this looks set to be. There will be no let up to the action, with a series of gravel sections that will provide a sting in the tail of an already tough finish. The winner of this stage will need tenacity in bucket loads.
Stage 5 – Bar-Le-Duc – Saint-Dié-Des-Vosges – 175.6km
Women’s races are usually only permitted by the UCI to be no longer than 160km however, the race have special dispensation to exceed this in order to provide us with a traditional Tour de France transition stage. Expect to see another bunch sprint once we reach Saint-Dié-Des-Vosges.
Stage 6 – Saint-Dié-Des-Vosges – Rosheim – 128.1km
With the mountains of the final weekend on the horizon, another punchy day awaits on Stage 6. The route is conducive to attacks from the start, where the road rises for 20km before a cat 4 climb. It is then up and down all day, which will sap the riders energy. The final climb of the day could provide a springboard for a small group or solo rider to escape the peloton before the descent into Rosheim.
Stage 7 – Sélestat – Le Markstein – 126.7km
With a week of racing already in their legs, the riders will head into the final two days knowing they could be that close to the yellow jersey. Stage 7 is perhaps the most brutal of the whole race, with three cat 1 climbs on the menu, including the climbs of the Petit Ballon and the Platzerwasel. Despite all this climbing, today does not feature a true summit finish with the riders carrying on over the top of the Grand Ballon and finishing at Le Markstein. This could give some distanced riders the chance to get back on before the finish.
Stage 8 – Lure – La Super Planche Des Belles Filles 123.3km
The finale of the first edition of this race deserves a special finish, and with La Super Planche Des Belles Filles on the menu it has certainly been provided. Stage 8 will be the only summit finish of the race and will see a pure climber take the victory. Depending on the time gaps already in place perhaps the overall win as well. We’re all familiar with the finale, 7.8 km at an average of 8.7% that will hurt after 8 days of racing.
Annemiek Van Vleuten – Fresh of the back of victory at the Giro Donne, the Dutchwoman looks nearly unstoppable on a route like this. For a rider that has won it all already, the yellow jersey is the next big target.
Demi Vollering and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio – The two-pronged attack of SD Worx, the strongest team at the race will likely be the ‘best of the rest’ this time around. Vollering will be a favourite whenever the route features punchy hills and Moolman-Pasio could well taste victory in the mountains.
Elisa Longo-Borghini – One of the classiest riders in the women’s peloton, Longo-Borghini will attempt to stay with the favourites in the mountains. Trek Segafredo have a strong team to support the Italian, including World Champion Elisa Balsamo.
Marta Cavalli and Cecilie Uttrup-Ludwig – Another dynamic duo looking to take on the challenge, FDJ will be the home favourites.
Marianne Vos – Arguably the greatest female cyclist of all time, Vos will be aiming to stay as close to the leaders as possible when the race hits the mountains.
Joss Lowden – British hopes lie with former hour record holder Joscelin ‘Joss’ Lowden. The lack of TT kilometres in the race will be a disappointment to her but Lowden climbs well, and a top ten finish is within her reach.
Other contenders: Mavi Garcia, Katarzyna Niewiadoma, Kristen Faulkner, Juliette Labous, Grace Brown
Lorena Wiebes – The fastest woman in the peloton, with countless victories already to her name. Wiebes is the clear favourite whenever a bunch sprint is on the cards.
Lotte Kopecky – Hard as nails, and with the speed to back it up Kopecky could be SD Worx’s ace in the hole if the GC does not go their way. Already a Flanders winner, she’ll want to add a win here to her growing Palmarés.
Marianne Vos – The old hand, and still with the turn of speed required to win at the highest level. Vos might be the rider she was a decade ago, but she’ll still be in the mix in the sprints. A green jersey would bookend her career nicely.
Emma Norsgaard – With Van Vleuten being the leader of Movistar, Norsgaard may not get much support from her team. She still has pace and could surf the wheels to some top results though.
Elisa Balsamo – The current world champion may not be a pure sprinter but has already won a series of bunch sprints this season.
We’re all set for the most exciting stage race of the women’s cycling season, and now you are too. If you are planning to make the trip to France to see the action unfold, make sure you take out cycle travel insurance to ensure that you are fully covered against any accidents that may occur.