Preview: Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift

The final Grand Tour on the WWT calendar is the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. In just the second year of its new iteration, the race features eight varied stages, and will pit the cream of the crop of the women’s World Tour against one another in a route that this year focuses on the centre and south-west of France.

With the presence of the two strongest GC riders in the WWT currently, it promises to be an intriguing and well-paced battle, with the final two stages – a decisive mountain stage and an individual time trial – meaning that the general classification should be unpredictable to the last.

The race takes place from Sunday 23rd to Sunday 30th July.

The Route

Stage 1 – Sunday 23rd July – Clermont-Ferrand – Clermont-Ferrand (124km, Flat)

Beginning in the city of Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, the race kicks off with a flat stage, but it’s not one without its challenges. Travelling in a loop around the city, the terrain is flat for almost all of the stage’s distance. The fun and games will begin with just under 30km to go, however, following an intermediate sprint in Saint-Hippolyte, which teams may use as a launch point for attacks.

After that it’s bumpy all the way to the day’s main challenge: the category 3 Cote de Durtol (1.7km at 7.2% average gradient), a kicker of a climb that will not only provide an opportunity for the race’s first Queen of the Mountains to be awarded, but will offer the punchier riders the chance to attack. With just 9km remaining to the line from the summit, much of which is technical descent, a brave and well-timed attack on the climb could go all the way.

Stage 2 – Monday 24th July – Clermont-Ferrand – Mauriac (152km, Hilly)

With six categorised climbs and over 2,500m of climbing on the menu, stage 2 is a tricky prospect for the peloton, but it should offer chances for both breakaway hopefuls and those looking to challenge on general classification.

Beginning, once again, in Clermont-Ferrand, the route will take the peloton south and west as they head for Mauriac. The battle for the day’s early break will be hard-fought, as the route kicks up immediately, and there are opportunities for green jersey hopefuls with an intermediate sprint in Mauriac, before a chance for the GC riders to fight for bonus seconds in Drugeac. The battle for the line will be intense, and should see the GC contenders showing their cards early, as it’s an uphill finish into Mauriac – a category 3 climb of 3.4km, with an average gradient of 5.8%.

Stage 3 – Tuesday 25th July – Collonges-la-Rouge – Montignac-Lascaux (147.5km, Flat)

A day of gently rolling terrain awaits on stage 3, as the race rolls through the stunning countryside of the Dordogne. There are four categorised climbs on the stage, but while it’s tempting to see it as an opportunity for a strong, motivated breakaway, with over 50km of road following the final climb for the bunch to chase down any escapees, it’s far more likely we’ll see the first bunch sprint of the race.

Stage 4 – Wednesday 26th July – Cahors – Rodez (177.5km, Hilly)

A stage of two halves, the first being almost entirely flat, and the second extremely challenging, stage 4 is likely to cause a shake-up in the GC standings. It’s the longest stage of the race, even longer than last year’s longest stage, and requiring special dispensation from the UCI as it exceeds the 160km maximum recommended length of a single day of racing for the WWT.

The second half of the stage packs in four categorised climbs, that get steadily harder. With constant ups and downs, bonus seconds up for grabs in Limayrac, and the sheer length of the stage, it will be a brutal day out for the riders and will definitely impact upon the overall standings. From the final steep kicker of a climb, less than 10km remain to the finish line.

Stage 5 – Thursday 27th July – Onet-le-Chateau – Albi (126.5km, Flat)

The riders will be relieved that stage 5 is much shorter than the previous day, and whilst still undulating, it’s classed as flat. It’s far from a simple day though, and where stage 3 is weighted in favour of the sprinters, stage 5 is more finely balanced, with the chance that a breakaway of the right composition could succeed, if the sprinters’ teams are not organised enough. With three categorised climbs, the second half of the route is trickier, and with around 25km remaining from the final climb to the finish line, the final section of the race could be a fascinating battle.

Stage 6 – Friday 28th July – Albi – Blagnac (122.5km, Flat)

A true flat stage, stage 6 looks set to offer a second chance to the sprinters, ahead of the final mountain challenge of the race. With four small categorised climbs along the way there are challenges, but it’s the flattest day on this year’s race and the teams of the sprinters will be keen to ensure they do not let the final chance of a stage win pass them by. There’s a possibility of crosswinds on the final section of the course, and the final kilometre is completely straight which should make for a spectacle as the riders must time their efforts to perfection.

Stage 7 – Saturday 29th July – Lannemezan – Tourmalet Bagneres-di-Bigore (90km, Mountain)

A short, sharp and brutal challenge will almost certainly decide the winner of the 2023 Tour de France, as the race heads into the Pyrenees for the first time. The first half of the stage is almost completely flat, before two iconic climbs – the category 1 Col d’Aspin, and the HC Col du Tourmalet – will demand everything of the riders. Big margins will be created on the slopes of these climbs, and good climbers may be able to overturn any earlier deficits. It promises be an epic showdown.

Stage 8 – Sunday 30th July – Pau – Pau (22.6km, Individual Time Trial)

The first time trial of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in its new iteration will take place around Tour de France staple city Pau. At 22.6km, the parcours for the time trial is mostly flat with a short climb in the middle and an uphill finish. Time trial specialists may be able to claw back some time on the overall standings and are in with the chance of a stage win, however the best GC riders are all-rounders, and the likes of Demi Vollering and Annemiek van Vleuten will be keen to finish on a high at the end of the race.

Riders to Watch

It’s the showdown of the season, and every team represented will bring their best riders. Of course, the most highly anticipated battle will be between the two Dutchwomen, Demi Vollering of SD Worx and Annemiek van Vleuten of Movistar.

Van Vleuten got the better of Vollering at La Vuelta Femenina and won the Giro Donne just last week (Vollering did not participate in Italy) and will be keen to do the Grand Tour triple on her final season of competitive racing. She will bring a team of trusted lieutenants to France who will all ride in support of her GC challenge, including Liane Lippert, who will take over from Van Vleuten next season as the nominal GC leader for the team.

Vollering’s SD Worx have been dominant all season, but though they picked up two stage wins at the Giro Donne, they sat out of the race for the GC, and consequently will come into the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift well prepared and with fresh legs. Unlike Movistar, SD Worx will bring riders to fight for both stage wins and GC, and with Lotte Kopecky and Lorena Wiebes capable of taking multiple stages between them, the team will be looking to whitewash the competition as they have on a number of previous occasions this season.

Lidl-Trek too will come stacked with riders capable of fighting for both stage wins, and the overall GC. Elisa Longo Borghini will be keen to go for glory after crashing out of the Giro Donne, though much will depend on her form following her recovery, and Elisa Balsamo will contest the bunch sprints.

Of the other teams capable of challenging on GC, the best hopes include Team DSM firmenich’s Juliette Labous, who scored a career-best result finishing second at the Giro Donne earlier this month, Canyon//SRAM’s Kasia Niewiadoma who is always there or thereabouts, and FDZ SUEZ’s Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, though her young teammate Evita Muzik may be favoured by the team depending on how their form goes. Team Jumbo Visma will likely focus on stage wins, with Marianne Vos riding into form, coming close twice at the Giro Donne, and Riejanne Markus who has had an excellent season and will challenge on the time trial stage.

Riders to watch (GC)

5-stars Demi Vollering

4-stars Annemiek van Vleuten

3-stars Elisa Longo Borghini

2-stars Juliette Labous

1-star Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig

Summary

When – Sunday 23rd – Sunday 30th July

Where – France

What – 8-day Grand Tour

Watch the Femmes’   TV Coverage: Eurosport, GCN

 

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