It took the men’s Tour de France almost 50 years to climb Alpe d’Huez; the women’s Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift will do it in its third year. But it’ll be a long road to get there… here’s our look at how the 2024 women’s race plays out.
The Women's Tour... Round 3!
After Demi Vollering’s incendiary performance climbing through the clouds on the Tourmalet at last year’s race, Femmes race director Marion Rousse will be hoping for another grand finale in 2024 – this time on the iconic 21 hairpin bends of Alpe d’Huez. She has also programmed a significantly harder and more varied climbing course than in 2023, with plenty of climbs of more than 5km (3 mi) and above, and a good few touching double digit percentages or gradients.
But there won’t be much uphill action in the first three stages of this the Tour de France Femmes aves Zwift: for the first time, the third edition of the women’s race will be starting outside of France, in Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
The men’s grand tours, of course, often start in foreign countries for a stage or two, but the women won’t be touching French soil until half way through their race. The Netherlands is cycle crazy, and has furnished some of the biggest names in women’s cycling past and present – Annemiek Van Vleuten, Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen, Demi Vollering and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, to name just a few – but even so, one suspects the proximity of the Paris Olympics may also have influenced the choice.
The first stage, from Rotterdam to The Hague, is flat as a pancake and made for the sprinters. Ditto Stage 2, from Dordrecht back to Rotterdam The relentless ups and downs of last year’s Tour took their toll on the sprint specialists and only one stage ended in a true bunch sprint to the line, so these days will be welcome indeed – if, that is, the winds off the North Sea don’t have their say and force a split.
Stage 2 is a curio: at only 67 kilometres (42 mi) long, it will be fast and furious and full of attacks; later in the day there’ll be a short, sharp time trial through Rotterdam, following some of the same course as the 2010 men’s Tour TT. These kind of split days were common in the men’s Tour in the 1970s and early ’80s; it will be interesting to see how the format works here.
The Hills Begin
For Stage 4 the race relocates to Valkenburg, in the corner of the Netherlands that is actually hilly. With a ‘Best-of-the-hilly-Classics’ feel to it, the day should be a treat. Early in the stage there are climbs of the Bemelerberg and the Cauberg, both best known from the Amstel Gold Race. Later, as the action moves into Belgium, there’ll be the La Redoute and Côte de la Roche aux Faucons (1.3km / 0.8 mi @ 11% according to the Tour stats) climbs, which star in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Given Demi Vollering won both Amstel and Liège in 2023, the SD Worx rider will be licking her lips.
Indeed, it’s hard to see where the SD Worx team will not shine in 2024’s race (though their puncheur and time-trial supremo Lotte Kopecky, has said she may not race, in favour of the Olympic velodrome events). Stage 5, another up-and-down affair, with a short, sharp punch to the line, may see a breakaway succeed, as may Stage 6, which has a series of climbs before a long descent leading into the finish, that should encourage late attacks.
The GC battle
None of this, most likely, will have any effect on the GC. Given Vollering’s dominance as a climber, she may mark her opponents and keep her powder dry for the last day. Might someone chance it on the penultimate stage, Stage 7? The finish above Le Grand Bornand, the Montée du Chinaillon (7km / 4.3 mi @ 5.1%) does give the scope to take the yellow jersey at the end of a long and hard day.
Key segments of the Tour de France Femmes 2024
But really, it’s Stage 8 we’ll all be waiting for. And Alpe d’Huez is not the only obstacle. The Col de Glandon, a 1,924m-high (6,312 ft) Hors Catégorie monster, comes first. This is a climb that Marion Rousse described as, in her opinion, “the hardest in France”. And it’s not even the main event. That prize belongs to the Alpe.
The Strava QOM for Alpe d’Huez is held by British former pro rider Illi Gardner, who also holds the women’s world record in Everesting. Before Gardner, the QOM was held for almost nine years by British professional cyclist and triathlete Emma Pooley, who took the QoM on the way to winning the Alpe d”Huez Triathlon 2015. If Vollering is in the same form as 2023, it’s difficult to see the QOM standing … or anybody beating her. But her principal rival Kasia Niewiadoma will be training to up her game, and the beauty of racing is that there is always a chance for the right woman, on the right day… Roll on summer 2024.
The Stages in full
Total distance: 946km / 588 mi over three flat stages, two hilly stages, one individual time trial and two mountain stages.
Stage 1 / 12 August / Rotterdam > The Hague - Flat / 124km (77 mi)
Stage 2 / 13 August / Dordrecht > Rotterdam - Flat / 67km (42 mi)
Stage 3 / 13 August / Rotterdam > Rotterdam - Individual time trial / 6.3km (3.9 mi)
Stage 4 / 14 August / Valkenburg > Liège - Hilly / 122km (76 mi)
Stage 5 / 15 August / Bastogne > Amnéville - Hilly / 150km (93 mi)
Stage 6 / 16 August / Remiremont > Morteau - Hilly / 160km (100 mi)
Stage 7 / 17 August / Champagnole > Le Grand-Bornand - Mountains / 167km (104 mi)
Stage 8 / 18 August / Le Grand-Bornand > Alpe d’Huez - Mountains / 150km (93 mi)