The Fenix-Deceuninck bus is parked outside a bridalwear shop on the outskirts of Rodez. Apart from the hum of the bus’s air conditioner, it’s strangely quiet in the vicinity. And then it’s not.
A team staff member bounds up the stairs into the bus and lets out a guttural yell, violently hugging his colleague inside. Someone else closes the curtains behind him to give the team some semblance of privacy, but it’s largely in vain. The whoops and hollers, the slaps on the back – they can all be heard clearly from outside as more staff arrive to celebrate.
And they’ve got every reason to celebrate: they’ve just won a stage of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.
Minutes earlier, the team’s 25-year-old cyclocross racer turned road prospect, Yara Kastelijn, threw her arms in the air as she crossed the finish line. She’d been part of a 14-rider break that stole more than 10 minutes on the peloton, before disintegrating in the climbs that punctuated the long day’s final kilometres. Several attacks later and Kastelijn was free, racing towards the finish on her own.
As the GC favourites and overall leader Lotte Kopecky attacked behind, and as Kastelijn’s former breakaway companions were steadily reeled in, the Dutchwoman powered on, sailing to the first win of her pro road career.
Her parents were there to help celebrate – moments after the finish, TV coverage found Kastelijn in a hearty embrace with her mother.
While Kastelijn attends to her media duties, her teammates arrive one by one at the bus. They’re met by team directors, staff, other riders. More hugs, more cheers, more celebrating.
Marthe Truyen arrives, happy tears tumbling down her face. She was in the break with Kastelijn, doing a lot of work so Kastelijn could sit at the back, saving her energy for later.
“First of all, she was going for the polka dot jersey, but [Anouska] Koster took all the points,” she says, between quiet sobs. “I had to sprint against Koster uphill, but I’m not a climber. I couldn’t beat her. But then I said [to Kastelijn] ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, you can win the stage – it’s much better than a polka dot jersey.’ And she did it.
“I couldn’t stop crying the last 5 k.”
Sports director Michel Cornelisse breaks from congratulating his riders to speak with the media. First to the Dutch-speaking press, then in English. He is understandably animated – delighted with the win, of course, but equally as delighted with how the win came to be. The fight that his riders showed.
This is Fenix-Deceuninck’s first season in the WorldTour. Besides the all-conquering SD Worx, no team has animated this year’s Tour de France Femmes as much as Fenix-Deceuninck. On stage 2, an aggressive ride in the closing kilometres won Kastelijn the QOM jersey. A day later, her teammate Julie Van De Velde took polka-dots for herself and very nearly won the stage. Today, the team soared to even greater heights.
“We are a young team and now we are winning a stage in the Tour de France,” Cornelisse says, beaming. “I think we fight already three days very hard for it. Yara Kastelijn two days ago, yesterday with Julie Van de Velde. Every final we try to make it and today we deliver and that makes us very happy and emotional.”
Around Cornelisse, more Fenix-Deceuninck riders are arriving, embracing team staff, embracing each other. They recap the stage in animated voices, they cheer, they cry. Then they get on their bikes, on trainers, to warm down, their preparation for tomorrow’s stage already underway.
Ready to fight once more.
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