How the Race Finished
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig brought some joy to FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope, after their disastrous day yesterday, winning a sharp uphill finish in Épernay ahead of the yellow jersey, Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma). It had been whittled down to a group of some of the biggest names in women’s cycling. Uttrup Ludwig didn’t follow the first attack by in the final few hundred metres, but she came up behind Marianne Vos, Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon//SRAM) and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD Worx), swerved diagonally and passed them with blistering speed, ending up with a two second gap on the line. She was openly emotional in her interview, both at coming back from yesterday’s nightmare for the team, and at being a Tour de France stage winner, in the Danish national champion’s jersey.
The Main Action
The day started with exposed roads, where the race would be open to the wind for long sections, followed by a series of short, sharp climbs, winding through the vineyards of the Champagne region. It culminatied in a circuit around Épernay, with sharp climbs and technical descents.
The day started with another aggressive fight for the break; various twos and threes tried to get free, but the peloton wasn’t keen to let anything stick. Over the first categorised climb, Femke Gerritse (Parkhotel Valkenburg) took maximum points, starting a campaign that would see her in the polka-dot jersey at the end of the day. Pauline Allin (Arkea Pro Cycling Team) and Femke Markus (Parkhotel Valkenburg) then made a more successful attempt at breaking away, getting out to forty seconds, but they were caught with 75km to go.
SD Worx came to the front of the peloton, pushing hard on the exposed, windy sections; with the peloton stretched out, splits began to form, and riders steadily dropped off the back. As they approached the category 4 Côte de Vertus, it was the GC riders who appeared at the front, keeping careful guard on the climb; Gerritse sprinted for it, pursued by Elise Chabbey (Canyon//SRAM). Chabbey and Gerritse carried their momentum over the top, and were joined by Audrey Cordon-Ragot, but the peloton immediately sensed the danger; several riders tried to bridge across, but ended up dragging the peloton back to the breakaway group.
It was a similar story on the category 4 Côte du Mesnil-sur-Oger: Alena Amialiusik led out her teammate, Chabbey, but Gerritse was able to sprint around over to take the maximum points. Amialiusik then went solo: it was a strong ride, with her lead extending out to a minute. Several other riders attempted to bridge across, but ended up just hanging in no-man’s-land. There was brief panic as Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) disappeared from the peloton; she later revealed that she’d been suffering stomach problems for the first few days of the Tour. Her team pulled her back, but the problems would show again when she was dropped on the penultimate climb.
As they approached the Côte de Mutigny, stress started to show; there were a few crashes, on the narrow, winding roads. The intermediate sprint was contested by the usual suspects: Kopecky, Vos and Wiebes. Amailiusik was caught as the peloton started to climb the Côte de Mutigny: the category 3 climb would prove decisive. A small group formed, including Demi Vollering and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (SD Worx), Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), van Vleuten. Notably, it didn’t include Vos: along with Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, she’d just dropped off the back. With the group in front pushing forward on the descent, Demi Vollering and Liane Lippert (Team DSM) ended up skidding out on a corner; Lippert ended up further behind, but Vollering made it to the Vos group, forming a strong, motivated group to pursue the leaders.
Out in front, Silvia Persico (Valcar Travel & Service) was fully committed; she knew that, at that moment, she was virtual yellow jersey. The group behind was inching back on, however; they made it back on with just under 7km to go, and the penultimate climb, Mont Bernon, fast approaching. There were bonus seconds on offer at the top, and the group were looking at each other cagily on the approach. It was a steep climb, on unpaved roads, with vineyards on either side. Faulkner was the first to try an attack, then Garcia; Moolman-Pasio came to the front to set the pace. Niewiadoma then launched, with Longo Borghini on her wheel; Longo Borghini ended up taking three seconds, Niewiadoma two, and Moolman-Pasio one.
The real shock, however, was the disappearance of Annemiek van Vleuten; she was left looking powerless on the climb. With presumably immense effort, she latched back onto the group just as they went through the final kilometres, but couldn’t stick with the attacks in the final few hundred metres, finishing twenty seconds back on the stage winner.
It was Vollering leading it out in the final kilometre, keeping tight to one side of the road. Niewiadoma was the first to attack, 300m out; too far, on the steep hill, for her to maintain it, and Vos clung tight to her wheel the whole time. It was Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio who went next, and it was Vos and Niewiadoma who were surging next to her, looking like they would challenge for the win. Instead, it was Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig who appeared from nowhere, darting around the side of them and streaking to the line, untouchably fast.
Marianne Vos, despite missing out on the stage win, retains the yellow jersey, with the pre-race favourite, Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), now 1’14” behind. Vos also maintains the lead in the green jersey competition. Femke Gerritse (Parkhotel Valkenburg), after a tough fight for mountains points today, is secure in the polka-dots for tomorrow, taking it from the shoulders of her teammate, Femke Markus. Julie de Wilde (Plantur-Pura), the youngest rider in the race, is the new white jersey. Canyon//SRAM continue to lead the teams classification.