Every race since the end of the Spring Classics has led to the upcoming Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, which kicks off in Clermont-Ferrand on Sunday, July 23rd. The best women in the world will line up to race eight stages, with sprints, mountains, and even a time trial to close the race.
This season has seen one of the best rivalries in years when it comes to the general classification: the reigning champion Annemiek van Vleuten vs the new order in Demi Vollering. At La Vuelta Femenina they were nearly evenly matched – Vollering was the better climber but Van Vleuten had the winning tactics. Vollering opted out of the second major stage race of the year, the Giro Donne, and Van Vleuten won it in a landslide, taking three stages to add to her tally.
Now, they are back on the same stage and it’s anyone’s guess who will come out on top once the Tour de France Femmes reaches Pau.
While the general classification will be going on in the background, there are at least six other stages for the rest of the peloton. The question on everyone’s mind, especially with the season we’ve had so far, is will SD Worx mop the floor with everyone? Other teams have done the same amount of homework, and every team is bringing their A-game, but is the Dutch powerhouse that much better? They’ve got a rider for every type of finish, and the best sprinter on the road right now, but can the rest of the peloton outsmart them in this, the top race in women’s cycling right now?
Last year’s Femmes edition will be hard to top. Every stage was phenomenal, with sprint finishes, surprise winners, solo breakaways, and high mountains that brought the general classification down to the final two stages. For its second edition, the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift is attempting to make the race even more intense, with only one real mountain stage (it’s a doozy) and a time trial at the end. You can read all about the route here.
So with that, let’s break down the biggest battles to come in France and all the riders you should keep an eye on throughout the Tour de France Femmes.
The GC battle
As much as it hurts to say, when it comes to the general classification the fight for yellow comes down to two primary players. There are a handful of incredible women who will vie for the final spot on the podium, but the top two spots will likely be contested by two women.
In one corner we have Annemiek van Vleuten. The current world champion, winner of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes, Giro Donne, and Vuelta. Winner of the 2023 Vuelta and Giro. In her final season as a professional, still at the top of her game.
Going into the Giro speculation rumbled through cycling: had Van Vleuten lost her edge? She answered that with a resounding “nope” by winning three stages and the pink jersey by nearly four minutes.
But people were right to speculate. At La Vuelta in May, Van Vleuten wasn’t the rider we’ve seen demolish women’s cycling for almost nine years. She was clearly not as strong in the mountainous stages as Demi Vollering, the current Dutch national road champion, next in line to take Van Vleuten’s title as the best stage racer in the women’s field.
It’s hard to overstate the tension going into the Femmes when it comes to these two riders. Both are unreal in terms of their ability, yet they have different strengths. A year ago Vollering was the more explosive rider, while Van Vleuten was hands down the best climber. At La Vuelta, Vollering put her training to the test and outclimbed Van Vleuten, but it was Van Vleuten’s years of experience that got the better of her younger rival and won her the red jersey.
Mistakes that Vollering made in Spain will haunt her, and coming into the Femmes she will have a point to prove. Vollering skipped the Giro and went to altitude instead.
After a week of racing in Italy, we all know that Van Vleuten still has that edge. The question now is: how is Vollering riding? Her last race was Nationals where she finished second in the time trial and won the road race. Before that she finished second overall at Tour de Suisse in June, a race Van Vleuten didn’t attend.
Netflix couldn’t write a better story with two more different main characters. Vollering is quiet, she’s new to the sport with only a few years of experience, but she’s on the best team in the world with one of the best female cyclists of all time, Anna van der Breggen, as her mentor.
Van Vleuten, the chief rival of Van der Breggen before the latter retired, remains at the top of the sport but is in her final season, being chased by riders more than 10 years her junior. The whole thing is almost too good to be true, and it all comes down to these eight days in France.
Sure there will be races after the Femmes, but nothing with such notoriety. And when it comes to the World Championships these two will be on the same team (that’s a story for another time).
So how do the two match up? Vollering is faster on paper if they go head to head. In climbing they are evenly matched. In a time trial, Vollering may have bested Van Vleuten at Nationals, but Van Vleuten has more experience (she is the Olympic time trial champion and former world champion after all). Vollering has the stronger team, but that might not be a good thing as there are other riders on SD Worx who want to win whereas all of Movistar will be behind Van Vleuten. A 10/10 team with one bad apple will always outperform an 8/10 team that’s on the same page.
Where one is stronger the other makes up for it in another area of the sport. As I said, you couldn’t write a better prologue to an epic story.
Van Vleuten vs Vollering may be the most interesting story going into the race but they aren’t the only ones dreaming of that yellow jersey. Third overall in 2022, Kasia Niewiadoma has gone the way of Vollering and skipped the Giro in favour of a hard training block at altitude. The Canyon-SRAM rider came up short in the time trial at Tour de Suisse, but she is more aggressive and opportunistic than the other GC contenders. When she doesn’t find an opening she will force one, and the rest need to be ready to follow if they can.
Lidl-Trek goes into the race with a few cards to play. The team’s top contender, Elisa Longo Borghini, was looking the best she has all season at the Giro, and even won the fourth stage ahead of Van Vleuten and EF Education-TIBCO-SVB’s Veronica Ewers, before a crash on stage 5 took her out of the race. Since then the Italian national champion has been home recovering with her sights set on the Femmes.
Alongside Longo Borghini is Amanda Spratt, Van Vleuten’s former teammate, who joined Lidl-Trek at the beginning of the season. Spratt is a valuable teammate to Longo Borghini but is a general classification contender in her own right, should the American team need to change its focus.
One of the best climbers in the business, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio is a former teammate of Vollering and goes into the race the sole leader for AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step. The South African, who has been a staple of the peloton since 2010, finished second overall at Setmana Volta Valenciana in February, sixth at La Flèche Wallonne, and third overall at Vuelta a Burgos behind Vollering and Van Anrooij. This season Moolman Pasio has seemed at the top of her game especially when it comes to being the best sprinter in a group of climbers (she took the first stage of Tour Féminin des Pyrénées this way, for example.)
Then we have the hometown favourite Juliette Labous. The DSM-Firmenich rider finished second behind Van Vleuten at the Giro just weeks ago and was fourth overall at the Femmes in its first edition. Every year she has gotten better and better, and the results are following. It will be hard to land herself on the podium of the Femmes, but she is capable of finding her way there. One thing that she has that others lack is consistency. She finished on the podium of the Giro by consistently chipping away at her rivals.
Just like in 2022, FDJ-Suez enters the race with multiple options that will hopefully be able to play off each other to best the rest. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who won the third stage of last year’s event, wasn’t looking her best at the Giro but that wouldn’t have been her target. The Dane will be targeting the Femmes like she did last year to great success. The French team also has Marta Cavalli, who finished runner-up behind Van Vleuten at the Giro last year. The Italian is coming back from a traumatic crash at the 2022 Femmes and finally in June started to show signs of her former winning ways.
While she might not excel in the mountains Riejanne Markus (Jumbo-Visma) only needs to make it through one day of tricky climbing before she is on familiar territory. The Dutch time trial champion targeted the general classification at La Vuelta earlier in the season and ended up finishing fourth overall – not bad for someone who used to be a domestique. Now she has turned her attention to the Femmes, and it would be unsurprising to see her finish on the podium at the end of the race. Especially with Marianne Vos guiding her through the first six stages.
Coming off her fourth-place overall finish at the Giro Donne, Veronica Ewers has put herself on the map in recent times. She broke onto the scene at last year’s Femmes where she finished ninth overall, and has since become the main woman for EF Education-TIBCO-SVB’s GC ambitions. Her gutsy move on stage 4 of the Giro Donne almost got her that first WorldTour victory, and proved she’s willing to leave it all out there. She probably won’t be able to slip away from the peloton in the Femmes, but with her climbing ability and the Tourmalet on the menu, it’s looking like a great race for the American.
Another rider who made a name for herself in 2022 was Italian Silvia Persico. Persico was phenomenal at the 2022 Femmes and backed up those results with a stage win at last year’s Vuelta. She has been consistent throughout 2023, even if she hasn’t taken a WorldTour win yet this season, and recently finished eighth overall at the Giro Donne. The UAE Team ADQ rider was super close to getting a stage, finishing fourth on stage 8 and fifth on stage 6. Coming into the Femmes, she will be one to keep an eye on.
Finally, while she probably won’t get a shot at the overall this year, Van Vleuten’s teammate Liane Lippert is always one to remember. The German national champion is an exciting rider of the future, a strong climber in her own right, and you never know what could happen in bike racing.
Escape Collective Star Ratings
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: Annemiek van Vleuten, Demi Vollering
⭐⭐⭐⭐: Elisa Longo Borghini
⭐⭐⭐: Kasia Niewiadoma, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, Silvia Persico, Riejanne Markus
⭐⭐: Juliette Labous, Marta Cavalli, Veronica Ewers
⭐: Liane Lippert, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Amanda Spratt
Wheel Talk Podcast picks
Picks below are in order of how they were made with no repeats allowed, first come first pick.
Matt de Neef: Annemiek van Vleuten (* but he wants Demi to win)
Abby Mickey Skujina: Elisa Longo Borghini (third time’s a charm?)
Loren Rowney: Demi Vollering
Gracie Elvin: Riejanne Markus
The green jersey
As per usual with the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, the green sprinter’s jersey will be as hotly contested as yellow. There are fewer sprinting opportunities this year than last, but that hasn’t stopped teams from bringing their best sprinters to the event.
It will be hard to top her inaugural Femmes where she took the first stage on the Champs-Élysées and wore the first yellow jersey, but if any sprinter can take the first stage it would be Lorena Wiebes. In her first season with SD Worx, the Dutch rider has become even more unbeatable than she was with Team DSM previously. In 2023 alone she’s racked up nine victories and countless podiums. At the Giro Donne, she won the third-stage sprint and finished second on the sixth stage which finished in a short steep climb and was won by Van Vleuten.
Interestingly, one of the competitors to Wiebes’s green jersey hopes is her teammate Lotte Kopecky. Kopecky finished second in the points classification competition behind Marianne Vos last year, and those who follow the men’s race will know it’s not always the strongest sprinter who wins green.
Kopecky has all the makings of a green jersey winner. She can sprint, but isn’t a pure sprinter. She’s definitely more of a rouleur and will be loving the fact that there’s only really one pure sprinters’ stage. The rest of the relatively flat stages have her name all over them.
Coming off her near-clean-sweep of the Baloise Ladies Tour, Charlotte Kool will be one to watch in any fast finishes. The Dutch rider has picked up right where her former teammate Wiebes left off on DSM-Firmenich and become an impressive sprinter, only beaten by Wiebes so far in 2023.
Although like most of Movistar Emma Norsgaard will spend most of the race in the service of Van Vleuten, the Danish rider hopefully will get some opportunities to test out her legs in the sprints. Similar to Kopecky, she isn’t a pure sprinter but loves a Classic-style course, like on stages 2, 3, and 5.
Last year’s green jersey winner Marianne Vos returns not exactly in the same form she had in 2022. After undergoing surgery in February Vos hasn’t had the same old pop she used to, which was especially evident at the Giro – the first edition she’s ever raced and not won a stage. That being said, she won two stages of the Vuelta in May and looked really strong there so maybe she was just building into the Femmes all along. We will find out.
If Vos isn’t feeling her best Jumbo-Visma can lean on American Coryn Labecki in the sprints. Labecki recently finished second behind Chloe Dygert at the US Road Championships and will be coming into the Femmes with some high hopes.
While she’s been out with a serious injury after a crash in RideLondon, Elisa Balsamo is sure to get up in the sprints for Lidl-Trek. The former world champion was the main rival of Wiebes in 2022 and even managed to best her on a few occasions. But, as she recently had a long stint off the bike, no pressure. We’re just happy she’s back in the peloton.
After winning the final stage of the Giro Donne Chiara Consonni continues to become a star sprinter in the women’s peloton. The Italian youngster on UAE Team ADQ said after the race she wasn’t feeling her best until that final stage, but with that victory, she’s riding into the Femmes on a high.
Alexandra Manly is Jayco-AlUla’s fastest finisher and judging by the roster they are putting a lot into the Australian rider for the sprints. She might have one of the strongest lead-out trains in the peloton since the other sprinters’ teams also have high hopes in the GC.
And lastly, we have AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step’s Lotta Henttala. The Finish sprinter was one of the best when she rode for Bigla and Trek-Segafredo before taking a year off to have a baby. Now she’s returned to the peloton with a new perspective, and although she hasn’t won a race this year she’s been darn close. A win at the Femmes would be a fairytale story for Henttala, who has been open about struggling with mental health in her career.
Newly re-crowned British national road champion Pfeiffer Georgi will be spending some of her race guiding Kool in the sprints, but DSM-Firmenich will hopefully give her some freedom based on her results this year. Her win at Brugge-De Panne during the Classics season was a massive step up for the British rider.
Another rider who will hopefully be let off the leash for a stage or two is Floortje Mackaij. The Movistar rider is aggressive and would be fun to watch trying on a day like stage 5.
Two Lidl-Trek riders who aren’t really sprinters, but also won’t factor in the general classification but could definitely go for a stage, are Lucinda Brand and Lizzie Deignan. Two of the top names in women’s cycling, they will be riding for Longo Borghini but the American team won’t be afraid to let them go for it if they’re feeling good. Brand especially, who recently won the Baloise Ladies Tour after winning the time trial by 13 seconds.
Paris-Roubaix Femmes winner Alison Jackson is another one who will be looking to take a stage, and there are a few that look great for the Canadian on EF Education-TIBCO-SVB. She’s a really gutsy rider, which she proved when she won the Hell of the North this year, and she can pick and plan her moves to perfection.
Audrey Cordon-Ragot has had a quiet season in terms of results but has been through the wringer in terms of teams. She was part of the Zaaf chaos earlier in the year and found herself on Human Powered Health for the remainder of the season – honestly a huge get for the American WorldTour team. Whether or not her form is there to take a stage, I think everyone is just happy to see our favourite Frenchwoman on the start line of her home race.
Climbers and time trial specialists
It’s not every day a major women’s stage race includes a time trial so the top aero women in the game will be targeting the final stage to test their legs against the competitors ahead of the World Championships.
The best time trialist in the world right now, with Ellen van Dijk out on maternity leave, is Marlen Reusser. If it wasn’t for her teammate Vollering, Reusser would probably be a GC contender, after winning both Itzulia Women and Tour de Suisse. But since SD Worx has been clear they are all in for Vollering, Reusser only has the final stage as her own, and beating her will be a tall task.
One rider who will maybe be able to come close to Reusser is Australian Grace Brown. The FDJ-Suez rider hasn’t raced a ton in the WorldTour this season but started the year strong winning the Tour Down Under. She might not be a GC contender at the Femmes, but the final stage will be her main target for the race.
Canyon-SRAM has a few strong climbers lining up for the Femmes: breakthrough young rider Ricarda Bauernfeind who finished fifth overall at the Vuelta, and Suisse talent Elise Chabbey. Bauernfeind impressed on stage 5 of the Vuelta, finishing third behind Vollering and Van Vleuten. She then finished fifth on the final-stage mountain top, securing her place overall. As for Chabbey, you can count on her to go for the mountains classification. She can regularly be found off the front on solo moves, gobbling up points.
UAE Team ADQ’s Erica Magnaldi was one of the strongest climbers at the Giro Donne recently and the team will be looking at her for a good result on the seventh stage of the Femmes. She ended up fifth overall at the Giro after finishing consistently within the top 10 on the hilliest stages.
One of the strongest climbers in the peloton, Mavi García (Liv Racing TeqFind) is one to watch on the seventh stage. A strong time trialist, the Spanish national champion is an outside bet for the overall, but her strengths definitely rely heavily on her climbing ability. If she comes through the first six stages safely García could find herself on the podium at the end of the race.
Jayco-AlUla’s team is mostly based around the first six stages but when it comes to the climbing at the end of the race it will be Ane Santesteban representing the Aussie team. A long-time member of the WorldTour peloton, Santesteban raced for Alé-Cipollini for a number of years before joining Ceratizit-WNT and then Team BikeExchange in 2021.
Since making the move she’s progressed as a strong climber and especially this year she finished 10th overall at the Giro, second at Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria, and was consistently present at Vuelta a Burgos and La Vuelta.
Riders your should know according to the Wheel Talk Podcast
Loren Rowney: Jenny Rissveds
The 2016 Olympic gold medal cross-country mountain biker made the jump to a road team with Coop-Hitec Products in June of this year, and while her focus remained on the dirt for the most part, Rissveds joined the team to hone in her road skills. Where better to do that than at the top of the sport; the Tour de France Femmes?
Rissveds has an impressive palmares on the road for someone who doesn’t do it all that often. Recently she took the Swedish time trial national title and finished fifth in the road race. She finished fourth overall at the Baloise Ladies Tour just a week before the Femmes after finishing third in the opening prologue and sixth in the time trial, so clearly the power is there. Rissveds is one to watch on the technical stages with her handling skills and will be an asset to the young team.
Abby Mickey: Loes Adegeest
Winner of the 2022 and 2023 UCI Cycling Esport World Championships and former speed skater Adegeest rode for Parkhotel Valkenburg for the 2019 season but struggled to find a contract for 2020 and 2021.
After proving her strength in the virtual world she was picked up by the WorldTour FDJ-Suez outfit and quickly made her mark on the women’s peloton, winning Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in January after helping Brown secure the Tour Down Under overall with some impressive teamwork. She was recently named to the Dutch road team for Worlds, an impressive feat given the amount of talent coming out of the Netherlands.
Gracie Elvin: Esme Peperkamp
Peperkamp joined DSM-Firmenich in 2021 and remained relatively under the radar her first year in the WorldTour, but since then she has improved year upon year with a breakthrough performance at the UAE Tour where she finished fourth on the hilltop finish of stage 3. She recently finished 15th overall at the Giro while working for Juliette Labous who rode to second overall, proving she will be an asset to the team come stage 7 of the Femmes.
Matt de Neef: Georgie Howe
Folks should keep an eye on Howe in the final stage individual time trial. She’s just been announced for the Aussie Worlds team in Glasgow, specifically for the ITT, and is an impressive talent who only got into the sport during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Make sure to check out our analysis of the teams racing the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift (coming soon), our full stage-by-stage breakdown, plus daily coverage of the race as it unfolds, all on EscapeCollective.com!
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