Images: Justin Britton
A sprint day that almost became a breakaway day, in short, is the story of stage 3 at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. Another fearsome display of power from Lorena Wiebes, another win for SD Worx, and another day in yellow assured for Lotte Kopecky, as they did exactly what everyone predicted they would do, but not quite in the way everyone predicted they would do it.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, is the situation any team not called SD Worx finds themselves in at this race: when a team is so utterly dominant that they have the strength to cover attacks, and still to be there at the finish regardless of what type of day it is, there's very little that can be done. They even managed to use the crash of a teammate to their advantage today, if such a thing can ever be said to be advantageous, as Elena Cecchini's accident meant they were able to ease off the gas and allow other teams to chase down the lone breakaway rider, while they tagged along for the ride.
Canyon//SRAM tried a mass attack with cross tailwinds offering the suggestion of echelons, before Team DSM-firmenich drove the pace into the final few kilometres on behalf of Charlotte Kool, and in doing so found that they too were damned if they did, and damned if they didn't, as they carried Kopecky and Wiebes along with them, before the two surged clear of the pack to deliver yet another win for the force majeure that is SD Worx.
What can be done, other than simply fight on, and wait for the chance to strike, as Liane Lippert did so brilliantly yesterday? It's the prevalent conundrum for the WWT peloton and looks set to be for some time to come. SD Worx are a problem too great and unwieldy to be solved at the moment - but you can rest assured that as the race wears on, Annemiek van Vleuten will launch a major effort to try and find an answer.
PRÉPAREZ VOS MUSETTES!
def: prepare your musettes!
Looking ahead to tomorrow.
Speedy stage preview
Stage 4- Cahors - Rodez (177km, Hilly)
It really is a game of two halves on stage 4 of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, even more so as the stage finale will mark the halfway point in the race overall. It's a stage designed for the halfway-there TV coverage though, by comparison with stage 2, as it's almost guaranteed that the race will kick off around the time the broadcast begins.
A flat first half leads into a second half of rolling terrain with climbs becoming more and more tricky as the stage wears on. Given the cagey nature of the GC race so far, it's even more likely to be a day for the race to blow wide open, with teams such as FDJ-SUEZ and Canyon//SRAM potentially seeing the climbs as a launchpad for attacks, as they try to get in amongst the big guns of SD Worx and Movistar.
Once again, it's a mouth-watering parcours that should make for excellent entertainment, and it's almost guaranteed to shake up the GC at the end of the day. Oh, and it's long. Did I mention it's LONG? Exceeding last year's longest stage, it's the longest individual stage in modern women's cycling, so expect tired legs to play a part in the later stages of the day.
PREDICTION: Will this be the day that Demi Vollering aims to take over the yellow jersey from her teammate Lotte Kopecky? It's uncertain, given Kopecky's ability over rolling terrain, but if the increasing intensity of climbing proves too much for the Belgian, expect to see Vollering launch.
Van Vleuten will need to keep her rival under close observation, though among the Movistar team it genuinely looks like another great course for Liane Lippert, so I'm backing the German champion to win again in Rodez and underline her excellent form.
APRÈS L'EFFORT, LE RÉCONFORT
def: after the effort, the comfort
Taking a look back at the day's action.
Stage 3: in Review
by Peter Barnes
It was heartbreak on the roads as a solo breakaway of Julie van de Velde (Fenix Deceuninck) got so close to victory that she could smell its scent wafting down the finish straight. Instead the win was snatched away from her in the final kilometre as none other than Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx) benefitted from an almighty leadout by maillot jaune Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) who held on for third behind Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma).
The tale of the day seems to have been solo breakaways as early on Kathrin Hammes (EF Education TIBCO-SVB) got a gap and although some riders attempted to bridge up to her, it was she who found herself forging ahead alone. However, she was caught with 80km still to ride.
This led to a renewed flurry of attacks and different formations of riders trying to get ahead of the bunch. With 50km still to ride Julie was clear and mopping up some QOM points, which served a dual purpose of protecting Yara Kastelijn’s lead in the competition and advancing her own tally in case priorities change. And it’s a good thing she did because she now leads, but close at hand are Kastelijn, Hammes and Anoushka Koster (Uno-X).
The general calculation for time needed for a breakaway to have a chance of victory on a flat stage is 1 minute per 10km, or as I prefer 6 seconds per kilometre. So when the gap is 35 seconds with 13km to go, the omens do not look good. However, that gap held until 5km to go and the scales tipped back in Julie’s favour.
Under the Flamme rouge the gap was 12 seconds and it felt as though victory should be hers, but looking at the speed of the peloton I would have put the chances of victory as 50/50. Unfortunately that 50/50 turned into a 100% win for Lorena Wiebes - her sprint dominance seemingly confirmed.
Vive la Lanterne Rouge
Vive ELISE UIJEN!
Team DSM-firmenich were in amongst it at the front of the bunch, but one of their number also managed to roll across the line in last position, which today was 146th, with the withdrawal from the race of three more riders.
Let's find out a bit more about Elise, on this most auspicious of days in her career.
- She is a master of many disciplines: she was the 2020 Dutch and European Junior ITT champion; she also won the QOM jersey at the Tour de Romandie in 2022.
- She's applying herself to her education: she recently enrolled in a Bachelor of Business Administration programme.
- Her parents run a horticultural business growing leeks, spinach, and arugula.
noun: the refuelling
Features to enhance your Tour experience, and refresh your mind after a long day's cycling viewing.
by Lena Koch
Tillie Anderson was born 1875 in Sweden, and emigrated to the United States when she was 16. She bought her first bicycle at 18 and broke her first record in 1895 when she was 20.
During her career she proceeded to break every record possible, be it endurance or sprint. She took part in 130 races and won 123 of them. A 95% success rate.
Despite her competitive success she had to endure harsh and unfair criticism after a photograph of her muscular leg was published in a newspaper.
She also faced disapproval from her family with the exception of her husband who was himself a cyclist and a director of a bicycle company. He was also her trainer.
Tillie took a break in 1902 following the death of her husband. She was sadly never able to resume racing. The reason: the League of American Wheelmen prohibited women’s racing.
One wonders what could have been if she hadn’t been forced into retirement at the age of 27.
Tillie remained an active supporter of women’s racing and cycling in general until her death in 1965 in Chicago.
Stat du Jour
by Sam Mould
It was another sprint stage in store for us today and heartbreakingly for Julie van de Velde, that is exactly how it ended.
As a sprint stage you expect it to be a relatively flat parcours but today still presented 1,846m of elevation for the riders to tackle.
For perspective, today’s start town was Collonges-la-Rouge and today’s stage had 3.78m of climbing for every resident of Collonges-la-Rouge
Today's highest categorised climb was Côte du Pératel which stands 232.74 Lorena Wiebes’ tall.
def: The bits and bobs, the shiny things, the small treasures that would otherwise go unnoticed.
League of Nations
It's a wonder it's taken this long, but here we are: the Netherlands posted their first stage win on the third time of asking, to cement their position on the National Standings table - one they're likely to improve upon as the race develops.
That being said, their Belgian neighbours are currently soundly beating them in terms of wins - with Julie van de Velde's brave and almost-successful solo breakaway raid, she claimed enough QOM points to take control of the polka dot jersey from her teammate Yara Kastelijn, and in doing so, add to the brilliant Belgian tally which has been entirely amassed by one woman so far - the national champion Lotte Kopecky.
Not bad for a nation with just 7 riders in the race, compared with the Netherlands' mighty 27.
Tweets of the Day
Buses and finish lines in combination still bring back bad memories, especially if you're an Orica Greenedge bus driver, I would imagine. Some people never learn...
A pure expression of the emotions that many of us likely experienced at today's finish:
Hat tip to the youngest rider in the race, Lifeplus Wahoo's Babette van der Wolf, for her amazing performance today.
And these are the lengths our roving photographer Justin Britton goes to, so that we can bring you exceptional images every day of this Tour de France Femmes...
by Justin Britton