Images: Justin Britton
The longest stage in modern women's cycling gave the peloton at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift plenty of time to consider their life choices. The choice to attack early and be part of a large, strong breakaway looked to be a good one for a long part of the day, as a gap rarely seen in women's cycling opened up and must have given many of the riders cause for hope, for a while at least.
Among the GC front-runners, the choice of when to attack would be key. Lotte Kopecky chose 'yes' as an answer and it was quite something, not only to see her powering up each climb doing her best impression of a Duracell bunny, but also to marvel over the tactics of SD Worx (or lack thereof) as Demi Vollering continued to pace on the front of the chasing bunch. It was all... a bit weird.
Meanwhile in the breakaway group, Yara Kastelijn's choice to go on the attack was absolutely the right one. It was a glorious, going-for-broke rampage of self-belief and passion and probably maybe a bit of revenge for van de Velde's near miss yesterday, and she took it all the way to the line and everybody liked that.
And behind, the GC exploded all over the road in technicolour chaos, and the big shake-up we expected came to pass, though perhaps not with quite such dramatic consequences for the key players - though Demi Vollering gapped van Vleuten and the rest (and celebrated over the line - just in case, apparently), she only gained 2 seconds over her rivals.
Let's take a look back at the day via the words and pictures of the writebikerepeat.com team - if you like what you read, please consider sharing with your friends!
PRÉPAREZ VOS MUSETTES!
def: prepare your musettes!
Speedy stage preview
Stage 5 - Onet-le-Chateau - Albi (126.1km, Hilly)
This stage looks like a less stressful version of stage 2, with the potential for a hectic opening, and plenty of ups and downs, but with over 20km to ride to the finish line after the final climb, it will either take a committed late breakaway effort from a solo rider or small group, or we may see our second bunch sprint of the race, unless the GC teams can set a high enough pace on the two category 3 climbs to drop the sprinters and their leadouts.
PREDICTION: It seems I've reverted to type when it comes to predictions, getting it spectacularly wrong today, at least in terms of who would be the winner. With the GC battle gradually taking centre stage it's tempting to predict a win for someone willing to take a gamble tomorrow, but the SD Worx factor can never be underestimated: they have the firepower to resist attacks from anyone they consider to be a threat, and to control for one of the two obvious answers to tomorrow's questions: will it be a Lotte Kopecky day, or a Lorena Wiebes day? With another flat stage on the cards on stage 6, I'm going for the irrepressible Kopecky for the win tomorrow.
APRÈS L'EFFORT, LE RÉCONFORT
def: after the effort, the comfort
Taking a look back at the day's action.
Stage 4: in Review
by Peter Barnes
Truth be told I am still piecing together what happened, as today went in every direction possible and then in some secret impossible directions on top.
The first major news of the race was that there was a breakaway deluxe which contained 14 riders, none of whom were GC contenders but all of whom could be potential stage winners on any given day. When TV footage began the group had around 10 minutes of an advantage, with 100km or so to go. As per yesterday’s report, we know that that’s the golden ratio when it comes to breakaways and whether they’ll be successful.
The main GC threat of the group was Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Human Powered Health), who was only 2.21 down overall. For a large part of the day, she was in the virtual overall lead and the peloton behind were seemingly content to let the gap be sizeable. The last time I recall a women’s peloton allowing a large gap to go out was the Olympic Games and if that isn’t foreshadowing I don’t know what is.
The breakaway inevitably disintegrated as the kilometres ticked on, partly due to the sheer length of the day’s racing - this was 177.1km (and the longest ever Women’s World Tour stage) - and partly from the fatigue of the parcours. Although the start was relatively flat, the end contained a lot of climbing.
As the breakaway fell apart, so did the peloton and first there was an attack from Mischa Bredewold (SD Worx/contributor on this site) with Elisa Balsamo (Lidl-Trek), and then Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx), who led the defence of her yellow jersey alone. As a chase attempt from a bunch trying to catch a breakaway it felt very disjointed, and as though the energy expenditure was higher than it needed to be.
From the breakaway one rider survived (metaphorically) as Yara Kastelijn rode away from everyone else and stayed ahead of the remnants of the peloton. She took her moment in the limelight, to drink in all on her own. Behind (and crucially) unaware of this was Demi Vollering, attacking the lead group and creating distance to those she left in her wake. She celebrated and thought for a moment that she might have won the day.
The end result was, however, that Yara earned a well-deserved stage win and Demi got an 8 second gain over her competitors. The race of course won’t be decided by that narrow a margin, and perhaps had the chase been more cohesive, the gap might have been bigger. Those are the unknowns that we’ll never know and despite near dominance by SD Worx, those unknowns make the sport all the more sweeter.
A view from the peloton: Mischa Bredewold (Team SD Worx)
'Today was a brutal stage and really long, but also a really hard final so it was fun. I think it was a really fun race and for me, personally, I had the job to open the final a little bit by attacking on the first long climb and I think it went really well. We really took the initiative like we like to do.
'I’m a bit tired… but in the end we can be really happy and actually it’s really nice that Yara Kastelijn wins the stage. She deserves it, she rode really strong already the last few days and [it was] a good tactic from her to be in the break. We had Christine [Majerus] in the break which was good but anyway at some point we had to control because we didn't want to make the gap too big.
'It took a long time for other teams to join in but I think in the end it was the perfect bridge for Demi and Lotte to start attacking. We just wanted to make it a really hard race and I think we did. I think everybody has painful legs after today, and Demi gained some time so it’s good.'
Vive la Lanterne Rouge
Vive JESSICA ALLEN!
Before we begin, commiserations to yesterday's guest Elise Uijen, who today retired from the race. The curse of the Vive Lounge strikes again.
Hopefully the same fate won't befall Team Jayco-Alula's Jessica Allen, who finished 143rd (following the retirement of 3 more riders from the race) and is today's Lanterne Rouge, finishing 21.23 behind the time of Yara Kastelijn.
Let's find out some more about the 30-year-old Perth native, with THREE FACTS.
- Allen was world junior ITT champion in 2011, but the only senior races in which she has crossed the line first were the CC Oceania Women's road race in 2014, and the Australian National Road Championships criterium in 2017.
- She was a junior member of Midland Cycle club where she had a fellow club member in 6-year-old Jai Hindley.
- When she's not riding her bike, she's coaching others on how to improve their riding skills, at Dig Deep Coaching.
noun: the refuelling
Features to enhance your Tour experience, and refresh your mind after a long day's cycling viewing.
by Lena Koch
Stage 4 - La flêche humaine
You might remember that Elsy Jacobs was the first women to be recognised world champion by the UCI. However the first women to receive the honour was someone else.
Hélène Dutrieu was born in 1877 in Tournai (Belgium). When she finished schooling at the age of 14 she decided to earn her living through professional bike racing for the Simpson Lever Chain Team.
You might be surprised that that was an option at the time, since earning a living wage is a hot topic in women‘s pro cycling even today. I certainly was.
Her chosen profession didn’t give her any societal approval since the competitiveness of the sport and the tight-fitting clothes were deemed inappropriate for women.
However, Hélène was highly successful and seemingly never cared overly much for the opinion of others.
Not only did she set a new hour record for women in the old velodrome in Roubaix (39.190m) in 1895, she also became the first women‘s world champion in Ostende Belgium. The race was a sprint on the track.
The UCI doesn’t recognize this, of course.
She was just 18 years old at the time.
She raced three more years, defended her world championship title twice, and won the Grand Prix d’Europe and a 12-day-race.
Afterwards she became famous for her stunt cycling especially for her artistic act "La flèche humaine" - the human arrow.
Stat du Jour
by Sam Mould
Well that’s another record in the books, the longest single stage in WWT history, of 177.1km which has beaten stage 5 of last year's Tour de France Femmes longest stage of 175km.
Fortunately for us, the stage was back-loaded. As despite this being the longest stage, coverage started at the same time, meaning the trend of seeing around half, or less than half, of the stage each day continues.
Today's bonus climb stood at 671m tall which is only 8m shorter than Warisan Merdeka Tower.
Today's highest categorised climb was Côte de Moyrazès at 440.24 Yara Kastelijns tall.
def: The bits and bobs, the shiny things, the small treasures that would otherwise go unnoticed.
League of Nations
OK I feel bad for ragging on the Netherlands for having all the riders when something like today happens. Yes, they have a huge representation at this year's race, 18% of the total startlist, but nobody would have circled Yara Kastelijn's name as the one to take today's stage, so despite her nationality, it still very much counts as an underdog victory, to me. It was a beautiful thing, and with it she regains polka dots and notches up a couple more points for her nation, while Belgium continues to own the rest, and extend their dominance in the national standings. Proficiat!
Tweets of the Day
Julie van de Velde came agonisingly close to winning yesterday, and won the polka dot jersey in process - from her teammate Yara Kastelijn. Today, Kastelijn avenged van de Velde's near miss, and took back the QOM lead in doing so. Fenix-Deceuninck are the underdog success story of this Tour de France Femmes so far, and they have nothing but love for one another:
And the good feeling stretches to the entire team. You're not crying, I'M crying (said Marthe Truyen).