Images: Justin Britton
Though mists obscured the view on the upper reaches of the Col du Tourmalet today, the truth about women's cycling was crystal clear: there is a new queen, and her name is Demi Vollering.
The fact the Women's World Tour leader triumphed on the Queen stage of the most significant race of the year is not a surprise, in and of itself. Her dominance throughout the season has been clear for all to see, both in the Classics and in stage racing. Yet the reigning World Champion, Annemiek van Vleuten, had the better of her at La Vuelta Femenina, and most expected their rivalry to resume at this Tour.
The GC battle has been cagey all week however, with neither of the two expected protagonists putting their noses in the wind, outside of Vollering's surge for bonus seconds on stage 4, but she lost ten times as many seconds as she gained after drafting-gate and it would all come down to the final, formidable ascent of the Tourmalet. There was nowhere to hide. The most iconic Pyrenean summit would find out the truth.
PRÉPAREZ VOS MUSETTES!
def: prepare your musettes!
Looking ahead to tomorrow.
Speedy stage preview
Stage 8 - Pau - Pau (22.6km, Individual Time Trial)
After the drama, majesty and personal woman v mountain battle of Stage 7, the final stage is the polar opposite, in cycling terms, as technology, power and pacing strategy combine, in the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift's first ever individual time trial.
The 22.6km course is mostly flat, with one climb in the middle of the parcours, and the top GC riders will want to ensure they stay safe to protect their positions, while also trying to maximise the opportunity that the time trial offers, to grab a few extra seconds.
PREDICTION: Reigning European time trial champion Marlen Reusser has made no secret of the fact that she's targeting a stage win and why would she? Without competition from reigning World Champion Ellen van Dijk, Reusser's main threats are the GC leaders themselves, along with Dutch champion Riejanne Markus who is a good outside bet for victory. Reusser's pedigree in the discipline is unmatched in the current peloton though and combined with her experience, it's highly likely she will realise her mission to take stage 8.
APRÈS L'EFFORT, LE RÉCONFORT
def: after the effort, the comfort
Taking a look back at the day's action.
Stage 7: in Review
by Peter Barnes
This was the shortest road stage but short doesn’t equate to easy as riders had to take on the fearsome Tourmalet.
Lidl-Trek saw their quota of Elisa’s go from 100% of them to 0% as both Longo Borghini and Balsamo withdrew from the race.
There was a small breakaway after many attempts and the two riders who gapped the rest were Susanne Andersen (Uno-X) and Margot Pompanon (St Michel-Auber). Sara Poidevin (EF) also tried a move but was shortly brought back.
By the foot of the Col d’Aspin, a prelude to the Tourmalet, it was DSM-Firmenich’s team setting the pace with British champion Pfeiffer Georgi aiming to set up Juliette Labous’s shot at glory.
Then Movistar took over with Liane Lippert, despite her earlier crash. She was incredible and worked hard to set up World Champion Annemiek van Vleuten. When Annemiek attacked with 34km to go, only two could follow: Demi Vollering and Kasia Niewiadoma.
On the descent the race took an interesting turn. Kasia attacked and the two others just looked at one another. Even to the point of braking on a descent. This allowed Niewiadoma to build a lead but crucially also SD Worx got three riders into the chase group: Demi, Marlen Reusser and Lotte Kopecky. That Lotte was in such an elite group confirmed this was truly the ride of her life.
Marlen did a huge amount of work into the bottom of the Tourmalet and what first was a threatening gap to Kasia, then became next to nothing at 12km to go.
The bunch chasing was reduced to just 5 with 6km left, Kopecky was one of them along with Demi, Annemiek, Labous and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio. However this group split eventually with an attack from Vollering which led to everyone else being dropped; van Vleuten was the closest to hanging on to her compatriot but could not.
A kilometre later Demi caught and passed Kasia before extending her lead to everyone and claiming victory atop the mighty Col du Tourmalet. She was imperious but the truly special ride from today was Lotte Kopecky’s defence of the yellow jersey. No-one expected her to be in such exalted company on a climb such as that. However, she’s only 7 seconds behind Annemiek van Vleuten who is in third and Kopecky could podium at the Tour de France Femmes.
To even have suggested that a week ago would have seen you shouted down as clueless. But now I really want to see her depose Annemiek from third.
Vive la Lanterne Rouge
Vive MARJOLEIN VAN 'T GELOOF!
With 5 riders not starting the day, and 4 not finishing, the total number of riders completing stage 8 was 124. This included two riders finishing outside the time limit - Human Powered Health's Alice Barnes, and Team DSM-firmenich's Charlotte Kool.
The final rider across the line today, 32 minutes and 54 seconds behind Demi Vollering, was Human Powered Health's 27-year-old sprinter and classics specialist, Marjolein van 't Geloof. Let's find out a bit more about her with THREE FACTS!
- Marjolein is a trained physiotherapist, and practices in a cycling performance centre lab in the Netherlands.
- She's a boss on the track too, and is the defending Dutch national madison champion alongside Nina Kessler.
- Off the bike, Marjolein is a music lover, with a passion for playing the guitar and singing.
noun: the refuelling
Features to enhance your Tour experience, and refresh your mind after a long day's cycling viewing.
by Lena Koch
The Tourmalet is famous, indomitable and also a bit scary. All three adjectives which fit today's legend just as well.
Beryl Burton was a phenomenon. Calling her 'cycling mad' would probably be an understatement.
Beryl was introduced to cycling via her husband - himself a cycling aficionado - whom she married in 1955 when she was just 18 years old.
Two years later - and three years after she started riding - Beryl won her first medal; a silver in the national 100-mile ITT. And that was just the start of an incredibly long and successful career.
The first rainbow stripes on the road followed in 1960.
However, she won her first world championships one year earlier on the track where she specialized in the individual pursuit.
Beryl dominated her opponents on the national level and won 7 world championships. She seldom competed outside of Britain - mostly for worlds - and didn’t take part in many races on the European mainland. She also never turned pro and remained a farm worker for most of her life.
From 1959 to 1973 she was nominated to every track world championships and brought home a medal every time. Her longevity as an athlete is only beaten by her consistency.
She won the title British Best All-Rounder 25 years in a row, won 24 national road championships and much more.
Beryl also broke several records and changed society's expectations of what a woman could do.
She was the first woman to ride a 25-mile ITT in under an hour. However what surely blew people's minds was her 12-hour time trial record in 1967: while setting her own record and improving the women’s record Beryl pulverized the men‘s record.
It would take 3 years until a man beat her 277.25 miles. She also passed the man who would have been the new record holder in the same race and supposedly offered him a liquorice allsorts before riding away.
Beryl met death unexpectedly early during a social ride in 1996 delivering birthday invitations. Her heart simply gave out.
Beryl‘s daughter Denise - who was herself a successful cyclist and competed with and against her mother - suggested: I would have thought it was all the pushing she'd done to herself both mentally and physically. Your body eventually says it's about time you should rest, but she didn't. She did more than anybody. I remember when she used to train she'd do more miles than was ever needed. That was her. She wouldn't have done anything else. Pushing her body was the way she did things."
Stat du Jour
by Sam Mould
So today saw us climb the highest point of the Tour, also the most climbing in a single stage! That was not only the Ultimate stage it’s was also the penUltimate stage. It’s only an ITT that stands between us and the end of the Tour de France Femmes Avec Zwift 2023.
Today's highest categorised climb was………
Oh yeah, it was the Tourmalet, which is a whopping 1,226.74 Demi Vollerings tall.
def: The bits and bobs, the shiny things, the small treasures that would otherwise go unnoticed.
League of Nations
Finally, the Netherlands add some significant gains to the leader board, with another stage win and the first yellow jersey of the race for the Dutch, as control passes between SD Worx teammates, and from one low country to another.
It's a first appearance on this year's standings for Poland, too, as a brave and gutsy ride from Kasia Niewiadoma took her into the lead in the Queen of the Mountains competition. Poland are 12th best represented nation at the race, with 4 riders, two of them in the Canyon//SRAM team.
Still just 6 nations have taken honours, and with one stage remaining, the win - as least as far as our table is concerned - will be claimed by Belgium, after Lotte Kopecky's incredible week-long stint in yellow, which ended today despite one of the most impressive rides of the day.
The Belgian champion gave everything on the climb, hanging on and on, for way longer than anyone expected her to given her physiology as a classics specialist and puncheur. And though she rolled over the line 3.32 down on her teammate and relinquished her lead in the overall classification, she went down fighting, with an outstanding homage to the jersey, truly honouring the meaning of the maillot jaune. Chapeau Lotte.
(As a sidenote, it's startling how much her progression and development as a rider resembles that of her countryman, Wout van Aert. Both have a varied skillset and can do things that seem improbable - Belgium, as we have seen so many times in the past, really does produce extraordinary humans, where bike racing is concerned).
Tweets of the Day
Even though they have retained control of the yellow jersey for the duration of the race, and have taken 3 stage wins so far, with the strong possibility of making it 4 on tomorrow's time trial, it's been a week to forget for Team SD Worx as far as their public image is concerned.
A sense of entitlement and privilege hangs around them, reinforced by comments from Vollering and the team management, and it's not helping their cause in a landscape where they are already so dominant, it's hard not to support other, smaller teams who go up against them. But then this happens, and for a few beautiful, emotional moments, you are forced to re-evaluate everything you thought you knew. I defy you to watch this clip without a lump in your throat, perhaps even a tear or two (me? I wept).