Images: Justin Britton
The men's Tour de France has always been a behemoth. Its sucks up attention, energy, resources, ensuring everything else pales in its wake. The media focus is intense and unwavering, with every angle analysed, every participant evaluated, every kilometre of road assessed for its potential impact on the race. It's more than three weeks of the year: it's the entire year. The pinnacle; the crescendo of the gradually building symphony of the season. It's exhausting.
Add an extra week on the end and the word 'Femmes' and many wondered if they could sustain the interest, if the crowds would come, if the media interest would follow, simply put - beyond the usual dedicated crew of women's cycling fans, would anyone #WatchTheFemmes?
Two years into the newest and fullest iteration of the women's Tour de France and the answer is a resounding YES. The French love bike racing. They don't care if it's the men or women and the proof has been there for all to see, at the roadside, in technicolour with flags, banners and colourful jerseys; at the top of the Tourmalet screaming the riders through the mist to the summit; at the start and finish areas with fans clamouring for an audience with their favourite riders. The media have embraced the race, and aside from the gripes over not having start to finish broadcasts for 5 out of the 8 stages, coverage has been fantastic, and has done justice to the elite athletes who've battled pedal stroke for pedal stroke over 8 dramatic and unpredictable days.
The race itself took a little while to get going, but when it did, it was unstoppable, with breakaway wins, underdog wins, first pro wins, and a yellow jersey stint for Lotte Kopecky that was unexpected in the length of its tenure but so well earned. Stand-out performances, day in day out, displays of fortitude and endurance, and scaling new heights, quite literally, with the addition of the iconic Col du Tourmalet, presenting a new challenge in racing for the women's peloton.
SD Worx dominated, and yet didn't; whilst they retained control of the overall race throughout, the daily battles for the prestigious prize of a stage win did not all go the way of the Dutch superpower, and the open, expressive nature of women's racing was on full display. And there was a changing of the guard, as Demi Vollering ascended the Tourmalet and left Annemiek van Vleuten in her wake, unable to match her and bowing out of Grand Tour racing with her head held high despite missing out on the podium at the last, and her usual grace and humility.
The Tour de France has always been synonymous with July, and where the final week of the month has in previous years felt flat and anti-climactic, it now feels complete. It's a celebration of how far cycling has come, that we can enjoy a full month of Tour action, and where the men's race can often feel oppressive and unwieldy due to the immense pressure and media circus that surrounds it, the women's race feels like exactly what it is: a victory.
APRÈS L'EFFORT, LE RÉCONFORT
def: after the effort, the comfort
Taking a look back at the day's action.
Stage 8 (and the race): in Review
by Peter Barnes
There’s a certain beauty to time trials, aimed at a more sophisticated palate. I possess no such sophistication and therefore find watching them largely of limited appeal compared to reading the results afterwards.
However, this time trial had intrigue, drama and mystery. For starters, there’s not many races for women that contain a time trial and as such, many of the riders are an unknown quantity. For example I wouldn’t have been able to tell you how good Kasia Niewiadoma is versus her compatriot Agnieszka Skalniak-Sojka.
Then after the difficulty in predictions, came the intrigue, mostly from the UAE-ADQ team van and the motorbike outrider that impeded Marlen Reusser by staying in front of her. The intrigue being - what on Earth are you doing there?!
Marlen, despite this, set the fastest time and looked largely unchallenged outside of her own team mate and overall winner Demi Vollering. Behind her in the general classification there was still time for drama: Annemiek van Vleuten riding to defend her podium position and Lotte Kopecky attempting to complete the most unlikely of Tour de France podiums I would ever have imagined.
It was almost dramatic yet undramatic as it unfolded. The seven seconds seemed like a small gap to make up, but Annemiek is a former World Time Trial Champion and the course was what UK riders would call “sporting”.
At the first time check however Lotte was 30 or so seconds ahead of Annemiek and it looked like there was no way back for the Dutchwoman, or was there time for a comeback?
No. Sadly for van Vleuten she was unable to stop an incredible performance from Kopecky and SD Worx as a whole. They claimed 1-2-3 on the stage, the overall victory and the points jersey. The only prizes they didn’t win were the Queen of the Mountains jersey or the young riders jersey; although the latter would have been impossible for them as they didn’t have any eligible riders.
Their dominance has been impressive and for a short time I thought they could get a stage win for every rider in their team, so talented is their squad. For now it looks like it’s SD Worx against the world, and SD Worx are winning.
Vive la Lanterne Rouge
Vive ERI YONAMINE!
Today's last placed rider is none other than our 3-word diarist from the Giro Donne, Human Powered Health's Japanese national champion Eri Yonamine. Let's find out a bit more about her, with THREE FACTS!
- She loves coffee and beer, and is famed for her range of excellent mugs for drinking her favourite beverages (well, mainly coffee).
2. She loves to visit Kühtai in the Tyrol region of Austria and visits regularly.
3. She was originally a tennis player, and came to cycling through the club at her university.
4. She is the only Japanese rider in the Women's World Tour. She's won the national title 11 times.
Yes, we love Eri, so she gets 4 facts!
VIVE MARJOLEIN VAN 'T GELOOF!
The overall Lanterne Rouge on GC, finishing 2 hours, 10 minutes and 20 seconds behind yellow jersey winner Demi Vollering, is another HPH rider, and yesterday's guest in the Vive Lounge, Marjolein van 't Geloof. We don't need three facts as we had them yesterday, but the whole at writebikerepeat.com extend our congratulations to Marjolein for completing the race in such a lauded position. Chapeau!
noun: the refuelling
Features to enhance your Tour experience, and refresh your mind after a long day's cycling viewing.
by Lena Koch
Valentina Polkhanova was 20 years old when the Soviet Union fell. Born in Samarka, Valentina began her cycling journey when she was 8 years young.
She joined the cycling club Luhovka and received dedicated training. Very much unlike many of her peers from Western Europe and the US.
Access to typically male coded sports was a fundamental part of Soviet ideology. And international success reflected positively back on the system.
The Soviet Union was an absolute powerhouse in every Olympic cycling discipline after the Second World War.
During the first few years after the Second World War, talent was poached from disciplines like Ski Touring - not unlike today in pro cycling where top talents like Antonia Niedermeier find their way indirectly into the sport. However, very soon a countrywide system to recognise and develop talent was established.
Valentina Polkhanova was one of the last stars of the system that only shone long after it was destroyed.
It’s crazy to think that currently only two Russian women ride in the women’s world tour. And while the Soviet Union encompassed many more countries, to my knowledge only one Belarussian rider is representing them today.
Unlike her former compatriots, Valentina turned pro in 1999, after she had already become national champion, world champion and won the Grand Boucle Feminine (The Tour de France).
She was one of the strongest cyclists of her era, winning stages and races for 15 years on the highest level until she retired in 2005.
Stat du Jour
by Sam Mould
That is the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in the bag for a second year. Thank you to all who have enjoyed reading these stats throughout both this race and the Tour de France.
The speed check below shows the speed to finish the race. That speed is based on the average speed of each of the stage winners.
Based on that calculation, the average speed to complete the race was 38.03kph.
Demi Vollering managed to complete the course in 37.97kph compared to the race's Lanterne Rouge Marjolein van 't Geloof who averaged 34.97kph.
While the 2023 edition was 73.2km shorter than the 2022 edition, it had an additional 877m of climbing and the average speed was only 0.4kph slower than last year.
Today's highest point of the course was Bosdarros, at 168.89 Marlen Reussers.
def: The bits and bobs, the shiny things, the small treasures that would otherwise go unnoticed.
League of Nations
We've known for a while now that with two stage wins and 7 yellow jerseys, Belgium would be queen of the national standings at this year's Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. It's slightly ironic that the Netherlands were only able to take second place, because Lotte Kopecky took care of the yellow jersey for her teammate Demi Vollering for so long, but I sincerely doubt either of them care too much about this.
Two points of note; seven nations make up the final league table, with the addition today of Switzerland, as Marlen Reusser added a stage win on the time trial, to precisely no-one's surprise but in dominant fashion.
And Poland's two days in the QOM jersey deserve a special mention: Kasia Niewiadoma's brave, gutsy performance on the Col du Tourmalet meant she won the jersey outright, and almost took second on the GC too were it not for the countback - she finished on exactly the same time as Kopecky, but Kopecky's stage win nudged her in front in the end to cap a truly incredible performance for the Belgian, but also a worthy QOM in Niewiadoma.
Tweets of the Day
Four unique jersey winners - it's what we all love to see. Another thing we love to see is the love and respect between teammates and the way all these amazing women celebrate one another's successes, and none more so than Ceratizit-WNT, who stormed the stage to join their white jersey winner Cédrine Kerbaol, who owned the jersey throughout and gave the home crowd, and her teammates, plenty to cheer about.
And I defy you not to be moved by the cheerful good humour of Annemiek van Vleuten in defeat, and the warmth of her teammates and Movistar staff as they surround her. A true champion.
And it seems fitting to leave the final word to the World Champion... we're all doing the same tonight, right?!
Justin Britton has been providing exceptional photography for the site's coverage throughout the race - keep an eye out over the next couple of days for a special post curating the very best of his photography into a series of galleries telling the story of the race.