Team Human Powered Health is gearing up for the biggest race in women’s cycling by revealing the roster for the second Tour de France Femmes Avec Zwift, which begins this coming Sunday July 23rd.
The highlight of last year’s cycling season was undoubtedly the return of a true women’s Tour de France. From the famous streets of Paris to the eye-wateringly steep gravel pitches of La Planche des Belles Filles, the inaugural edition of ‘Le Tour Femmes’ was a triumph witnessed by a worldwide audience of 23.2 million people. Back again in 2023, the history of the race will continue to be written on a tough, hilly route where every road stage has a total elevation in the thousands of metres. The final weekend promises to be epic, with stage 7 finishing atop the iconic Col du Tourmalet, followed by a potentially race-deciding time trial around the city of Pau. This will be the first Tour de France for either men or women to finish in such a way since the legendary and unforgettable battle against the clock between Greg Lemond and Laurent Fignon in 1989.
Seven riders from seven nations will represent Human Powered Health Cycling. Home rider Audrey Cordon-Ragot will be joined in Clermont-Ferrand by former British champion Alice Barnes, Tour Down Under white jersey winner Henrietta Christie, Cypriot champion Antri Christoforou, climber Barbara Malcotti, sprinter all-rounder Marjolein van’t Geloof and Japanese champion Eri Yonamine.
These athletes will be going up against the world’s best in the mountains, hills and flatlands. Their rivals will include sprinters Lorena Wiebes (Team SD Worx) and Charlotte Kool (Team DSM), puncheurs like Silvia Persico (UAE Team ADQ) and Marianne Vos (Team Jumbo-Visma). GC favourites for the race include defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar Team) and Demi Vollering (Team SD Worx), whose rivalry could be just as epic as that of Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar.
7/23 STAGE 1 | CLERMONT FERRAND – CLERMONT FERRAND (123.8KM) ROLLING
Stage 1 of this year’s Tour de France is the race’s flattest course, yet the vertical gain still reaches into four figures at 1,051 metres.
“Because it’s the race for the first yellow jersey it will be hectic and the final climb 10km from the finish will be decisive,” says van’t Geloof, one of the protected riders on the opening weekend. “There’s only one climb in that stage which will have the polka dot jersey points, so people will go for that and more punchy riders will want to attack there to avoid a sprint.”
7/24 STAGE 2 | CLERMONT FERRAND – MAURIAC (151.7KM) ROLLING + UPHILL FINISH
“This will be punchy,” says van’t Geloof. “Normally, if it was further in a stage race this would be a breakaway day but I think it will be more controlled. There will still be an early break but it will be pulled back and ripped to shreds in the final.”
The 4.6km at 5.5% category two Côte des Plaines, a bonus time sprint and that final ramp to Mauriac, which begins 1.4km from the line, will act as an early test to see what condition the GC favourites are in.
“Those last little bumps before the finish will split the race and actually it might be a solo rider that makes it,” thinks van’t Geloof. “It won’t be a big bunch coming into it and already, these first two stages will be important for the GC, after that, there are more chances for breakaways, a sprint on stage 6 and then the big GC day on stage 7.”
7/25 STAGE 3 | COLLONGES-LA-ROUGE – MONTIGNAC-LASCAUX (147.2KM) ROLLING
Cypriot champion Antri Christoforou made waves in the 2022 edition with a courageous 150km long breakaway and she once again has her eyes on similar opportunities, such as that of stage 3. A rolling parcours that barely has a moment of flat road until the final 12km, there are four KOM sprints on a profile that looks like an upturned bow saw, which is music to breakaway specialists’ ears.
“I think I could go for a breakaway on these longer days like stage 3 and 4,” says Christoforou “Something like last year could happen again and for sure I want to be there and part of it to represent the team and my country at the front.”
7/26 STAGE 4 | CAHORS – RODEZ (177.1KM) ROLLING + UPHILL FINISH
The men’s Tour de France has used uphill ramps in Rodez as a finishing point twice in the last decade with Greg Van Avermaet winning here in 2015 and Michael Matthews in 2017. Stage 4 mirrors those finishes and will also suit a punchy racer. With three climbs, one of which is a category 2, and a bonus sprint, the road to Rodez could have a huge bearing on who wears the yellow jersey.
“If you’re not near the front on that first climb with 36km to go, then it will be difficult to be able to finish well,” says Henrietta Christie. “The end is like a one day classic where you have to hold on over the succession of climbs and I’m sure there will be a lot of attacks to cover.”
By this point, the peloton will have already completed a large bulk of climbing, something the riders are keenly aware to prepare for.
“Most of our team have done an altitude camp in Andorra and we are very fortunate to have the support of the Lodge at Ribasol,” explains Christie. “Being in Andorra, you are either climbing or descending so it’s great to train on longer climbs and get big amounts of metres gained. However, I really focused on some good long endurance rides in Girona. I really wanted to train in the hotter temperatures to prepare. So I aimed for as much climbing as possible, going up and down Rocacorba multiple times,” she added.
This training will come in useful when taking on multiple days of climbing.
7/27 STAGE 5 | ONET-LE-CHÂTEAU – ALBI (126.1KM) ROLLING
Stage 5 follows a similar script to much of the week, a hilly route that encourages plenty of attacking racing.
“It is between the longest stage and the last chance for the sprinters and it looks up and down the whole day, so I guess it’ll be a breakaway stage or late attack will go in the last 20km of the stage,” says Eri Yonamine, who will become the second Asian rider to race the modern incarnation of the Tour de France Femmes.
“Even though a break won’t be allowed to go to the finish, I think it will be a sprint from a select group. For us, we will need to protect our GC leader and it may be possible to sprint for Audrey.”
Yonamine will line up in the Japanese national champion’s jersey, a source of immense pride in her debut.
“This Tour de France might be my first and last Tour in my life, which is the reason why I really wanted to get the national jersey,” she explains. “For me, every race is the same intensity but for most people, the Tour de France is something special. Definitely, the atmosphere and the nervousness will be big so it’s an honour to wear the Japanese colours in the most famous race in the world. If we get a champagne shower one day in the week, it will be perfect,” she ends.
7/28 STAGE 6 | ALBI – BLAGNAC (122.1KM) FLAT
The riders going for victory in the green points jersey standings will have their eyes on Friday’s run-in to Blagnac because – although there are some lumps en route – it is the flattest finish of the Tour. The GC riders will likely take a back seat on this day due to the race-deciding weekend that follows, which leaves the door wide open for opportunists like Alice Barnes, who is excited to make her debut at such a recognisable event.
“I’m really looking forward to the race and also the experience,” she says. “It’s a race everyone asks if you have done, even if they don’t know much about cycling.
“On stage 6, if there hasn’t been a proper sprint before this day then the sprinters teams will definitely want to keep it together,” Barnes explains. “Me and Marjolein have been riding well together in lead outs for her so if it is a fast day and we can follow the bigger trains then we can look for a result.”
The former British champion is well known for her attacking racing, as displayed at her unfortunately curtailed Brugge-De Panne experience in the spring. She also has her eyes on breakaways throughout the race.
“We will have to see how it is raced. I would like to aim for breakaways, but at such a big race with a strong peloton, it doesn’t always happen that you are able to get away,” she says of her objectives.
7/29 STAGE 7 | LANNEMEZAN – TOURMALET (89.8KM) MOUNTAIN
“On stage 6, if there hasn’t been a proper sprint before this day, then the sprinters teams will definitely want to keep it together,” Barnes explains. “Me and Marjolein have been riding well together in lead outs for her, so if it is a fast day and we can follow the bigger trains, then we can look for a result.”
The former British champion is well known for her attacking racing, as displayed at her unfortunately curtailed Brugge-De Panne experience in the spring, and also has her eyes on breakaways throughout the race.
“We will have to see how it is raced. I would like to aim for breakaways but at such a big race with a strong peloton it doesn’t always happen that you are able to get away,” she says of her objectives.
7/29 STAGE 7 | LANNEMEZAN – TOURMALET (89.8KM) MOUNTAINS
The most important stage of 2023, the seventh day heads into the Pyrenees, as the peloton takes on the Col d’Aspin before climbing the legendary Col du Tourmalet. This will undoubtedly seal the Queen of the Mountains classification, as well as make big ripples in the GC. Climber Barbara Malcotti has had this stage on her radar all year and reconned the climbs in June ahead of the Tour of the Pyrenees.
“The Aspin and Tourmalet are two of the most important climbs in cycling and it’s a pleasure for me to race on them,” she said. “I really like them, but I also think It will be a very hard race. It’s just 90km, but there are two long ascents and a long descent which means that the group will split on the Aspin and so by then the race could be over. It’s also after big days of climbing and I think there will be lots of fatigue on the legs, so it’s important to conserve as much energy as we can until that stage.”
Whatever happens, it is likely that whoever is the first to crest the 2,115m peak and see the famous statue of Octave Lapize, will go on to win the overall GC.
7/30 STAGE 8 | PAU – PAU (22.6KM) ITT
The 2023 Tour de France Femmes culminates in a race of truth with a 22.6km time trial around Pau that closely resembles the 2019 La Course route and coinciding men’s Tour de France time trial won by Julian Alaphalippe, but in reverse.
“You need to start fast but still you need to keep some power for the finish which is super fast and technical,” explains six-time French national time trial champion Audrey Cordon-Ragot.
The route was reconned by Malcotti, Yonamine and Cordon-Ragot when staying in the city of Lourdes, a partner of Human Powered Health Cycling.
“It’s a TT composed of four different parts,” says Cordon-Ragot. “The first part is really flat and straight for a long time and then you start this climb [Bosdarros] that is quite long actually, it’s almost 2k and is the hardest part of the TT before you go down for quite a while until you come back to Pau. The city is pretty technical, with small roads and really fast before you enter the town roads with an uphill finish.”
Having raced on the same day as Alaphalippe’s time trial victory in 2019 where the Frenchman charged up the climb to defend his yellow jersey, Cordon-Ragot is well aware of what the riders face in the finale.
“On the recon, I had this picture in my head of Alaphalippe doing the last ramp and almost taking off at the top and when I did it I thought ‘How could he be that fast?’ With a TT bike, it’s a very hard climb so it’s going to be a tough finish where you need to still have some power there, because you can lose a lot of time. It’s a beautiful finish in the big square, I like it.”