2023 Tour de France Femmes
Last Sunday saw Jonas Vingegaard successfully defend his Yellow Jersey with a dominant third-week performance in the men's Tour de France 2023. Before the men reached the Champs-Élysées, however, the women's peloton took to the start of the 2023 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. The women's counterpart to the Tour de France is only in its 2nd edition and is a much shorter race with only 8 stages, but it has proved just as exciting a spectacle as the men's race thus far.
A Grand Finale
The race features 24 teams of 7 riders and follows the same format as the men's race, except it is much shorter. This means that there is a lot less energy conservation and many riders go all out for the stage win everyday. The 6 stages so far have been over rolling, hilly terrain that has suited breakaways and punchy riders. This has given us a week of fast-paced unpredictable battles for the stage wins. Lotte Kopecky (BEL) of Team SD Worx won Stage 1 and has been consistent throughout the week to all but secure the Green Jersey for sprint points. But with no big mountain tests yet, the GC battle for the overall win is left wide-open, with 2 crucial stages remaining. The first of these, on Saturday (today) is the only mountain stage of the race, but it is the queen of all mountain stages. With two formidable climbs and summit finish on the fabled Tourmalet, the most famous mountain in the history of the Tour de France. This will be followed by a time trial on Sunday to decide the Yellow Jersey.
The Defending Champion
At the Rio 2016 Olympics, Annemiek van Vleuten of the Netherlands was on a solo attack 12km from the finish line, in a strong winning position, when she crashed heavily on a steep downhill; her bike hit the sidewalk, flipped over and she hit the ground head-first. She suffered 3 spinal fractures and a concussion and her Olympic dream immediately came to an end. She made an incredibly rapid recovery from this, however; she was back racing and winning the same year. She has won 8 world championship medals since then, 4 of them Gold. She has won 8 Grand Tours or Grand Tour equivalents (smaller races on the female side), all after 2016. At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, she completed her wonderful comeback with a silver medal in the Road Race and Olympic Gold in the Time Trial. She has been the dominant force in women's cycling for the last few years. She completed the 'Triple Crown of Cycling' in 2022 by winning the Tour de France Femmes, Giro Donne and Road Race World Championship in the same year. Now 40, she is set to retire from professional cycling at the end of this season, so this Tour could be one of her final races. But she has showed no signs of ageing, having won La Vuelta Femenina and the Giro Donne already. Her bid for the Tour de France means she is going for a clean sweep of the Grand Tours, a cycling 'Grand Slam,' if you will. An achievement she would be replicating from last year. A very strong climber and time trial rider, she will be the favourite to win the Yellow Jersey for team Movistar on these final two stages, which would be a fitting final feather in the cap for one of the legends of the sport.
The main challenger to Annemiek van Vleuten's shot at history will be her fellow Dutchwoman Demi Vollering of Team SD Worx. Vollering came second behind van Vleuten at last year's Tour and at this year's La Vuelta Femenina. She actually led La Vuelta until stage 6 and looked like the strongest rider; but a controversial move on when van Vleuten's team Movistar attacked while Vollering and her team took a bathroom break gave van Vleuten the lead of the race. However, Vollering has been in great form, winning 5 Classics races this year and she has looked like the strongest rider in the women's peloton in 2023. Van Vleuten was dominant at the Giro last month, but Vollering wasn't participating. Vollering also has the strongest team in the race in SD Worx. Imagine Jumbo-Visa on the men's side, but even more stacked, with the likes of Marlen Reusser (Olympic Silver medallist), Lorena Wiebes (strongest sprinter in the race) and Lotte Kopecky (7-time World medallist). Vollering will be the main contender up against van Vleuten. The two were teammates at the Olympics, but the gloves will be off on the Tourmalet; Vollering will want payback for the Vuelta but goes into the day at a 12-second disadvantage. Their battle could be legendary!