After 109 editions of the Tour de France Hommes, we were long overdue the first true edition of the Tour de France Femmes. Spread across eight days of tough racing, with the parcours getting more difficult as the race went on, we were treated to some fantastic sprinting and sublime displays of climbing prowess on the road to La Super Planche des Belles Filles.
Today we’ll be taking a look back at some of our favourite moments from the race, as well as discussing the increase in exposure that it brought to the women’s peloton. Alongside this we’ll also be making some suggestions on how to improve the event for future editions.
Vos takes the yellow jersey
For a rider who has long been hailed as the Greatest Of All Time across the whole sport, there wasn’t much left for the great Marianne Vos to win. This was before the Tour de France Femmes came into existence though, meaning suddenly Vos had new titles that she could add to her palmarès. Despite no longer being a contender for the overall victory, Vos was still one of the major favourites in the early stages of the race and set her sights on a stage victory, her Jumbo-Visma team built around this sole ambition.
As was predicted by many, this win came on stage 2 following an uphill ramp finish into Provins. Vos, with a handful of others, latched onto a move made by Maike Van der Duin of Le Col-Wahoo before launching a vicious sprint that nobody could match. With the first stage ending in a bunch sprint on the Champs-Élysées (where Vos took second), the victory was enough to deliver her the yellow jersey.
It seemed fitting that a rider who has done so much for the growth of women’s cycling should have the opportunity to wear the iconic jersey before she retires. Vos eventually relinquished the race lead on stage 7, but took home green instead.
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Wiebes continues her dominance but fails to finish
I really am starting to run out of ways to describes the sprinting phenomenon that is Lorena Wiebes, but here goes nothing!
The dynamic Dutchwoman has been the dominant sprinter of the peloton throughout the 2022 season, taking countless victories in a number of different races. This of course meant that she came to the Tour de France Femmes as the undisputed favourite for the opening stage, something that comes with both pride and pressure in equal measure. Perhaps pressure means nothing to Wiebes though, as she stormed to victory on the cobbles of the Champs-Élysées ahead of Vos and SD Worx’s Lotte Kopecky. Wiebes also took the first yellow and green jerseys of the race as a result.
By the time stage 4 came around, Wiebes had lost control of the green jersey to an in-form Vos who was excelling on the more punchy uphill finishes. With her rival in yellow, Wiebes had green on loan and wanted to show her strength while showing it off. When the expected bunch sprint into Saint-Dié-Des-Vosges occurred, it was an even more dominant display than on the first stage from Wiebes as she took another routine victory.
A crash on stage 6 forced Wiebes to abandon the following day, essentially ending the fight for green – although that competition was pretty much over already. Despite failing to reach the finish, Wiebes showed the world once again that she is the fastest woman in the peloton.
Van Vleuten does what Van Vleuten does
After six stages of build-up (at least for the climbers), the race ventured into the Vosges for a brutal day in the mountains, with the nigh on unstoppable Annemiek van Vleuten the clear favourite for victory. Following her win at the Giro Donne in early July, success here would complete a quite marvellous Giro-Tour double for the former world champion.
During the opening few stages, Van Vleuten had struggled with a stomach problem that left her unable to eat. Thankfully for the Movistar rider, her opponents failed to take advantage of her woes meaning that the GC battle was still close once the road began to head skywards. By this point Van Vleuten was fully recovered and ready to drive the nail into the rest of the peloton’s chances at taking yellow.
On stage 6, van Vleuten attacked alongside Demi Vollering of SD Worx before dropping her compatriot on the second long climb of the day. From this point forward van Vleuten was never seen again, putting over three minutes into a visibly distressed Vollering. As for the rest of the field, nobody else was within five minutes of the stage winner.
This dominant display set up a rather predictable affair on ‘La Planche’, where Van Vleuten once again dismantled everyone else’s challenge to become the first winner of the Tour de France Femmes.
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Exposure, Exposure, Exposure
For years now, the women’s side of the sport has struggled in terms of its exposure when compared to the men. This has meant that wages are lower, teams are smaller, and generally race coverage is much poorer. While there is still some way to go until parity between the two sides of cycling is fully reached, the Tour de France Femmes has quickly become the main driver towards this being achieved.
The race was on our screens for two and a half hours each day, with GCN/Eurosport providing those watching from the UK with a daily preview show before the live feed was broadcast. This small change helped to tell more stories from within the peloton, and let audiences feel closer to the action. There were moments that were missed; however, this is an issue for the host broadcasters and not those in the UK.
Meanwhile on the route, crowds lined the streets in a way that has rarely been seen in women’s cycling, with fans desperate to see their Tour de France heroes race past their homes. At the stage finishes there was a carnival atmosphere each day, making it a special occasion for fans and riders alike.
In future we may see flag to finish coverage of women’s bike racing, but for now we must applaud what has been done up to this point.
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Was the race too backloaded?
While the inaugural edition of the race was an undoubted success, there are some ways that it could be improved in future. The main quarrel that I have is with the race organisers, and the route that they designed for this edition. Making the course one that gets increasingly more difficult as the race goes on is a novel concept that I for one am not keen on.
For the climbers, the early stages simply acted as a roll through France, giving them time to get their bodies and minds finely tuned for the climbing that was to come. They will likely say that this was beneficial to them, but I’d like to see some climbing thrown in at the start of the race next season.
As for the sprinters, this kind of parcours meant that their races were effectively over after the fifth stage, their chances of taking a stage victory nullified by the race’s venture into the mountains. By this point, the only reason sprinters had to finish, was simply to honour the race as the battle for green was over.
Some don’t like the traditional bunch sprint finish of the Tour de France Hommes, believing that it is a mere procession. To some extent I agree, however I also think that it gives the sprinters the motivation to keep fighting in the mountains and the GC riders the chance to take a step back and revel in their achievements.
All in all, it was a brilliant first edition of the Tour de France Femmes and we can’t wait to do it all again next season. There are still plenty of great races to comes this year, including La Vuelta a España and the Tour of Britain. If you want to check out these amazing events for yourself, then make sure to take out cycle travel insurance before you head out onto the roads.