Two likely sprint finishes, one short time trial, a couple of toss-ups, and three mountainous stages: the 2024 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift follows a similar journey as the 2022 edition, starting out flat and gradually gaining altitude through to the end.
We’re kicking off the third Tour de France Femmes not in France but in the Netherlands before passing through Belgium and eventually landing on French soil to make our way to the iconic Alpe d’Huez. The legendary climb finishes off a week of racing and will crown a worthy third champion of the women’s Tour.
The 2024 route was unveiled in Paris alongside the men’s course on Wednesday, with a handful of the top cyclists in attendance.
Partly due to the Olympics taking place just after the men’s Tour, the women will start their fight for yellow in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The Olympics in Paris require a LOT of logistics. Once the multi-sport event wraps up all the volunteers and staff involved get a mandatory two-week vacation, hence the TdF Femmes’ non-French start and delay actually entering France. The dates are also pushed back on the calendar from late July to August 12th-18th.
But the start in the Netherlands and a brief stop in Belgium will likely hail a completely insane amount of fans. The two nations are home to the three best cyclists of 2023 in the defending Tour winner Demi Vollering, top sprinter and winner of an absurd number of races, Lorena Wiebes, and reigning World Champion Lotte Kopecky.
Two of those three riders will already be feeling butterflies in anticipation of the first three stages of the Tour, all of which are as flat as flat can get.
The Grande Départ from Rotterdam to La Haye is a 124 km long pancake, with a sure-fire sprint finish that looks right up Wiebes’ alley. If she doesn’t win the first stage, the second one is waiting for her; a very short 67 km long stage from Dordrecht back to Rotterdam. This stage could feature some crosswinds, which would make things a bit spicy.
If you’re confused about the short nature of the second stage, it’s because the women have a double dose on Tuesday: two stages in one day. The race is cut down to seven days in 2024 but doesn’t lose a stage. There are often double days in lower-level races and they used to be a common feature of the men’s Tour decades ago, but it’s uncommon to see two stages in a day at this level.
The second stage the women will tackle on August 13th is a very short, very flat time trial in Rotterdam. At only 6.3 km long, it’s barely a time trial but can’t be considered a prologue.
The time trial is a fantastic opportunity for track riders fresh off the Olympic Games. They will be at their peak fitness, granted they hold on for a week or so after their big event.
After three stages in and around Rotterdam, we finally hit a few hills for stage 4. After a Dutch start in Valkenburg the women will race to Liège in Belgium and hit a handful of climbs on the way. The course is a fabulous combo of two Spring Classics: the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. A few of the climbs – the Cauberg, Geulhemmerberg and Bemelerberg – are very familiar to the peloton.
The Tour de France doesn’t finally set wheel in France until stage 5, starting in Bastogne in Belgium and finishing 150 km later in Amnéville.
The stage could be a sprint, but it finishes with a little kicker that will remove any “pure sprinters” from the mix (except Wiebes – she can never be removed). In all the stage covers 2,000 m of elevation gain, but while there are five categorized climbs, they are all pretty short.
The yellow jersey will no doubt change hands in the first five stages, but it’s the sixth stage and beyond where the real fight will begin.
The sixth stage sees the first significant climbing; with a slight descent to the finish, it’s not a pure mountain stage, but an appetizer for what is to come the final two days.
And then the final two stages, the real fun. With mountaintop finishes on both, the final two stages are reminiscent of the first edition of the race, when the women raced two back-to-back brutal stages that were demolished by Annemiek van Vleuten.
The first climb on stage 7 is the longest on paper at 12 km, but the final climb to Le Grand-Bornand is really two climbs in one—the 5.4 km ascent of Col de Saint-Jean-de-Sixt and the 7 km climb to the finish; the short descent between them provides little break or chance for dropped riders to catch back on.
A historic final stage awaits the women on Sunday. It is the first time in this resurrected version of a women’s Tour de France that the peloton will race Alpe d’Huez, but the stage also includes Col de Tamié (9.5 km), Col du Glandon (a whopping 19.7 km) before racing up the final ascent (13.8 km). It marks the first time women have raced the Alpe in 31 years; the climb featured in the 1992 and 1993 Tour Cycliste Féminin, won both times by Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel.
One of the best aspects of the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift was that the course built from the first stage in Paris to the final stage atop La Super Planche des Belles Filles. While the first three stages of this year’s eight-stage/seven-day race are on the tamer side, it has a similar feel, and the women are the ones who will make it worth watching.
Vollering said it was exciting to finally see the course unveiled. “I became national champion in Limburg, and of course [there’s] the Amstel Gold Race,” she said of stage 4. “It’s a lot of emotions coming. When I was a little kid, Alpe d’Huez was the first mountain I knew about, and the first I wanted to climb on my bike.”
Some might begrudge the third edition already departing France to start in the Netherlands, but the Paris Olympics play a large role in the decision. Aside from that, the fan base of the two nations where the race will start will be worth the detour. Belgium is currently experiencing a cycling boom thanks to Kopecky, and the rainbow jersey on the back of one of their own will call fans far and wide to see the women finish in Liège. Kopecky called the course “well-balanced, with stages that suit any kind of rider. It will be very nice to ride in Belgium with the rainbow stripes, in the Tour de France!”
There is a heck of a lot to look forward to in 2024, between this route, many other growing events, and the Olympic Games. The countdown has begun.
What did you think of this story?