Your Guide to the Tour de France Femmes 2023

Road Bike

, by Max Leonard

Photography by: A.S.O. / Thomas_Maheux

As the men’s Tour de France draws to a close this Sunday, road cycling’s best women riders will be blasting off for the second Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift – giving fans another eight days of top-level racing around the beautiful landscapes of France. Here’s our guide to the spectacle about to unfold.

While last year’s women’s Tour de France began on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, this year’s Grand Départ takes place in Clermont-Ferrand in the mountainous middle of France. That said, Stage 1 is classified as flat, with only the Côte de Durtol (1 mile / 1.62km @ 7.6%) 6.8 miles / 11km from the line to trouble the bunch in this 77 mile / 124-km loop to the north of the town.

Annemiek Van Vleuten and Demi Vollering are the favourites going into the race. Photography by: A.S.O. / Thomas_Maheux.

Stage 2, from Clermont-Ferrand to Mauriac, is where the climbing action really starts: if you watched the men’s stage that tackled the Puy de Dôme a couple of weeks ago, you’ll recognise the dramatic volcanic scenery (extinct volcanoes thankfully!) and this women’s stage is packed with classified climbs, including, only a kilometre or two from the finish, the third-category Côte de Trébiac. The current QOM there is French pro Dilyxine Miermont, and a quick glance at the leaderboard shows just how many riders have been reconning the Tour de France Femmes stages.

Stage 3 is classified as flat, but, while it looks on paper to finish with a bunch sprint in the Dordogne region, it will be a hard day on rolling hills for the peloton. Stage 4, meanwhile, travels from the vineyards around the start town of Cahors into the hill country around Rodez, with a series of classified climbs again stacking up in the final third of the race.

Then two flat days take us to the showdown the climbers will have been waiting for: Stage 7, with its summit finish on the Col du Tourmalet. This is the first time the Tour de France Femmes has come to the Pyrenees, and it’s a classic day out by anyone’s standards. First up, mid-stage, is the Col d’Aspin: rising 2,200 feet / 674m over about 7.4 miles / 12km – an average gradient of 6.5% – it is bigger than anything the women will have tackled so far this week. But the Aspin is really just an hors d’oeuvre, and all eyes will be on the Tourmalet: at 10.3 miles / 16.7km long with an average gradient of 7.4% and over 3,900 feet / 1,200m of vertical ascent, this is the highest paved road in the Pyrenees and the largest climb yet featured in the reborn women’s Tour de France. It’s also the most historic. Along with the Aspin, it appeared in the first real (men’s) mountain Tour stage, in 1910. On that occasion, Octave Lapize, the lead rider over the top, reportedly shouted “Assassins!” at the race organisers, so unimpressed was he by the ordeal he had just undergone, and it’s appeared in the men’s Tour 84 times since. So even though this is only the second Tour de France Femmes, it’s high time that the women got a go too!

With only a 14 mile / 22.6km time trial to close the race the following day, the Tourmalet will surely make or break the contenders in the fight for the yellow jersey. So who might we expect to be animating that battle? The great news is, they’re all right here to follow on Strava.

Out-and-out favourite has to be Movistar Team’s Annemiek van Vleuten. The 40-year-old Dutch rider had a quiet start to the season, but she won the Giro d’Italia Donne earlier this month in fine style. She is also the current World Champion and the defending champion, having won the inaugural Tour de France Femmes last year, so it’s fair to say that she is the rider to beat.

SD Worx’s Demi Vollering is one of the women’s peloton’s best climbers and is perhaps Van Vleuten’s fiercest General Classification rival, while Vollering’s teammate Lorena Wiebes tends to look unbeatable on any sprint stages she contests. The great Marianne Vos (Team Jumbo Visma) still has what it takes to win stages on most kinds of terrain, while another veteran, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, is having a great season at the head of AG Insurance–Soudal–QuickStep. Italian champion Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl–Trek) should be hopeful of a podium place, while Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon–SRAM), Veronica Ewers (EF Education–TIBCO–SVB) and Cecile Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ–Suez) may well be contesting the win on the hilly stages.

Will Annemiek Van Vleuten add yet another victory to her palmarès on top of the Tourmalet, inscribing her name in the history books as she does so, in this her final season? There’s not long to wait to find out!

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