How the Race Finished
It was another dominating, extraordinary performance from Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) to cap off the inaugural Tour de France Femmes, as she took a second victory in this Tour, winning in yellow on top of La Super Planche des Belles Filles. After a day marred with mechanical problems, and after a week marred with illness, she attacked six kilometres from the final summit of the Tour, winning solo on top of a mountain packed with fans and completing the Giro-Tour double.
The Main Action
Two notable riders didn’t start: Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD Worx) who, after a strong week, fared badly on Saturday’s climbs, and Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma), who turned herself inside out for Marianne Vos this week.
As ever, it was a brutal fight for the break to start the day, with no-one succeeding in getting free before the first climb of the day. On the Côte d’Esmoulières, it was Demi Vollering (SD Worx), in the polka dots, who took the maximum points: she finished yesterday only a single point ahead of van Vleuten, and so wanted to take something home from the Tour. A break of 10 finally went free over the top of the climb: Mavi Garcia (UAE Team ADQ), Grace Brown (FDJ Suez Futuroscope), Leah Thomas (Trek-Segafredo), Paula Patino (Movistar), Liane Lippert (Team DSM), Yara Kastelijn (Plantur Pura), Coralie Demay (St Michel Auber 93), Elise Chabbey and Pauliena Rooijakkers (both Canyon//SRAM). Ane Santesteban (BikeExchange-Jayco), Riejanne Markus (Jumbo-Visma), Kristabel Doebel-Hicock (EF Education Tibco-SVB) and Antri Christoforou (Human Powered Health) bridged across to join them on the Ballon d’Alsace. They would stay out front until they were caught on the final slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles.
Behind, van Vleuten was not having a relaxed day in yellow. A bike change at 56km to go left her dropped by the peloton, with SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo both taking advantage and pushing at the front, leaving van Vleuten isolated 40 seconds back. She burned through two teammates bridging back, eventually rejoining the peloton at the base of the Ballon d’Alsace, before having to switch bike twice more on the climb itself. Vollering then began to attack, trying several times on the Ballon d’Alsace, before leading the descent and pushing the speed.
The break still had a minute as they approached the foot of La Planche des Belles Filles, but with the GC group fast approaching, their chances of a stage win looked less and less likely. Kristabel Doebel-Hickok attacked, but was pursued by Rooijakkers, Garcia and Markus. With the chasing group already caught, Rooijakkers made one last-ditch attempt to stay ahead, attacking once the yellow jersey group was only ten seconds behind. Kastelijn tried to follow, but couldn’t; Garcia tried to bridge, but just hovered a few metres back from her wheel.
It would be a short-lived attempt by Rooijakkers, however, once Annemiek van Vleuten – perhaps spurred on by her day of mechanical difficulties – decided to go. She attacked with six kilometres to go, and immediately dispensed with anyone else who’d had hopes for the GC. Within a kilometre and a half, she’d passed the remnants of the break, picking up her teammate, Paula Patino, who gave her a brief, final burst of speed. For the final four and a half kilometres, there was nothing in front of van Vleuten but the open road to the summit. She was flanked by fans beating the barriers, as she threw the bike up the final, agonizing gradients, hitting 24% by the end; it was a suitable finish for a rider whose climbing has been utterly untouchable.
Vollering, sitting at second place in the GC, was the only one who maintained anything like touching distance; she followed van Vleuten, distancing herself from the group of other contenders. She arrived 30 seconds back on van Vleuten, and over a minute ahead of the others. It was a slow motion sprint between Silvia Persico and Kasia Niewiadoma for third place, with Lippert and Longo Borghini snaking across the road behind them, searching for grip on the gravel and some respite from the brutal gradients. Persico took it, and moved up into fifth in the GC, ahead of Elisa Longo Borghini, who, drifting off the back of the group on the final, steepest gradients, moved down into sixth.
Even five bike exchanges in a single stage couldn’t prevent Annemiek van Vleuten from winning the Tour de France Femmes. Demi Vollering (SD Worx) gave us a glimpse of who might be winning future Tours, with her second place – not quite able to match van Vleuten’s climbing performances, but showing herself stronger than the rest of the field. Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon//SRAM) rounded out the GC podium. Juliette Labous (Team DSM) was fourth overall, meaning DSM managed two stages and a fourth overall this Tour.
Vollering also picked up the Queen of the Mountains jersey. The mountains competition has been hard fought all Tour, and special mention ought to go to Parkhotel Valkenburg’s efforts. Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) took the green jersey on the second day, and didn’t relinquish it – despite claiming before the Tour that she wasn’t targeting it. She had a hundred point lead over Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx), who was in second place after Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) abandoned before the mountains yesterday. Shirin van Anrooij (Trek-Segafredo), current leader of the WWT youth classification, won the white jersey, on the strength of her performance in the mountains. Canyon//SRAM won the team classification.