The Decisive Moments of the Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes


, by Max Leonard

Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar played out an epic battle throughout Tour de France 2023. Photo: A.S.O. / Charly_Lopez

The men of the Tour de France raced for three weeks, and the women of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift for eight days – but in both races the winning moves took place on just a couple of key segments.

Tour de France

In the men’s race, it was all about the rivalry between Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo–Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates). Would the Dane retain his Tour de France title, or would the Slovenian find a way to come back for a third win in Paris?

It didn’t take long for battle to commence. The peloton entered the Pyrenees early in the first week, and Stage 5 gave the first indications of who might come out on top. On the Col de la Marie Blanque – 4.8 miles / 7.72km at 8.6%, with nasty ramps above 10% near the finish – Pogačar was distanced. In the last 1,500 metres (around a mile) of the climb, he lost 36 seconds; by the end of the stage, the deficit was 1’04”.

(L) “I'm gone, I'm dead,” Pogačar cracked during Stage 17. Photo: A.S.O. / Pauline Ballet (R) Jonas Vingegaard convincingly beat Pogačar in the Stage 16 time trial. Photo: A.S.O. / Charly Lopez

Subsequently, on Stage 6 and on Stage 9’s mighty Puy de Dôme, Pogačar clawed some seconds back, but once the Tour hit the Alps, the writing was on the wall. After multiple days of back to back categorised climbs, Vingegaard convincingly beat Pogačar in the Stage 16 time trial, finishing 1’38” faster over a 22.4km (13.9 mi) course.

The next day, the Queen Stage gave Pogačar a chance to fight back, but on the fearsome 7,559ft / 2,304m Col de la Loze, he did not even keep pace up to the hardest section at the top, dropping back among the chalets of Méribel. “I'm gone, I'm dead,” he said into the radio, urging his team-mate and loyal helper Adam Yates to ride for himself and safeguard his own general classification (GC) placing. Vingegaard, meanwhile, struck out for glory at the summit alone.

Tour de France Femmes

In the women’s Tour, barring injury or disaster, the GC was also always going to be a two-horse race. Would Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), defending Tour winner, winner of the Giro Donne and world champion, go out on a Tour high in her final season? Or would her less-experienced compatriot Demi Vollering (SD Worx) come back stronger after her defeat last year? Vollering had skipped the Giro Donne to focus totally on the Tour de France Femmes. Would she bring her brilliant form from the Ardennes Classics (she won a clean sweep of the Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège) to the Tour start line in Clermont-Ferrand?

As it turned out, over the eight days of racing, only two women would wear the yellow jersey – and both were from the SD Worx team. Towards the end of Stage 1, on the Côte de Durtol, the short, steep, defining climb of the day, Lotte Kopecky jumped from the front of the bunch and soloed downhill all the way to the finish line.

(L) The GC was also always going to be a two-horse race between van Vleuten and Vollering. (R) Vollering unleashed an attack on the Tourmalet. Photo: A.S.O. / Thomas Maheux

After that, she held the race lead until Stage 7 in the Pyrenees, when it was expected the GC showdown would happen. Van Vleuten tried to attack on the mid-stage climb, the Col d’Aspin, which, at 7.45 miles / 11.97km long was already longer and higher than any climb the women had yet tackled. But she was brought back by her rivals, and it all came down to the legendary Col du Tourmalet. The Tourmalet is the most-used climb of all time in the men’s race, and when it was climbed by La Grande Boucle, a French women’s stage race in the 2000s, Brit Emma Pooley won. This would be the first time the 10.63 mile / 17.1km climb at 7.3% was climbed by the official women’s Tour de France.

After a cagey start, with the favourites marking each other and biding their time, with around 3.4 miles / 5.5km to go Vollering unleashed an attack that nobody could match. In dramatic weather conditions, she ascended through the clouds to finish over two-and-a-half minutes ahead of Van Vleuten, taking multiple QOMs in the process. A second-place finish the following day, in the concluding time trial, extended her lead, but it was on the Tourmalet that the race was decided.

Vollering will have to find a new challenger next year, but the rivalry between Vingegaard and Pogačar looks set to run and run.

Bring on 2024!

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