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PARIS, France (VN) — On the back of this year’s highly successful inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, race director Marion Rousse has unveiled an intriguing and tougher route for the second edition of the race in which the stand-out stages come on the final weekend when there’s a summit finish on the legendary Col du Tourmalet followed by a time trial in and around Pau.
As was the case this year, the event will be eight days long, but the similarities largely end there.
Contested by 22 teams of seven riders, rather than the six-strong line-ups that contested the yellow jersey back in July, the race will get underway in Clermont-Ferrand rather than Paris in order to facilitate access to the high peaks of the Pyrenees.
Moving the start to the Massif Central also means that the opening stages will be significantly more rugged than they were in this season’s debut event.
The opening day starts and finishes in Clermont, where Rousse has predicted that the peloton’s puncheuses should be in their element. Returning to the western side of the city, the riders will tackle the Côte de la Route de Champiot, with the course then weaving and undulating through the suburb of Chamalières to reach the finishing straight.
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Day two is harder still. From the start in Clermont-Ferrand, the peloton will head through the Natural Park of the Auvergne Volcanoes to reach Mont-Dore and then continue on towards the finish town of Mauriac, where there’s a circuit containing half a dozen categorized climbs. The last of them tops out in the final kilometer, just before a gentle rise to the line.
Stage 3 should suit the peloton’s sprinters. Starting in the beautiful Corrèze village of Collonges-la-Rouge, it’s arguably the most attractive of the race, passing castles and other landmarks as it makes its way along the Vézère valley to reach Montignac-Lascaux, home to the Lascaux prehistoric cave that’s been dubbed the “Sistine Chapel of cave art”.
Lorena Wiebes and her sprint rivals should be in the thick of the action on the finishing straight that will be close to the famous prehistoric site.
Extending to 177km, stage 4 between Cahors and Rodez is the race’s longest. Benevolent to begin with, the terrain gets steadily tougher and noticeably so approaching the finish. There are three successive climbs in the closing 40km, then a final haul up to the line on the Côte de Saint-Pierre in Rodez itself.
The fact that the very punchy Greg Van Avermaet and Michael Matthews have both won here in the men’s Tour highlights the qualities that will be required at the conclusion of this lengthy day.
There are more bumps and rolls in the first half of the fifth stage, which starts near Rodez in Onet-le-Château and heads south and west through the undulating Aveyron countryside. The terrain gets flatter approaching Albi, where there’s likely to be a contest between sprinters who can cope with small climbs and punchy climbers who are blessed with a strong finishing kick.
There could be a similar contest on stage 6 between Albi and Blagnac, the town right on the western edge of Toulouse that hosted the Grand Départ of the 1989 Tour Féminin. There are climbs into the magnificent hilltop villages of Cordes-sur-Ciel and Puycelsi, the latter the harder of the pair.
Yet the main difficulty could prove to be the wind. As anyone who’s flown in and out of Toulouse airport at Blagnac will testify, it can be relentlessly fierce. If it’s gusting, there’ll be splits. On a calm day, though, this will be the sprinters’ last chance for success.
When last year’s inaugural Tour de France Femmes route was revealed, there was some criticism that it didn’t feature any of the country’s legendary climbs. While the absence of any of these renowned passes didn’t end up impacting on a race that received huge acclaim, Rousse and her organizational team have squashed the potential for similar complaints by sending the 2023 race into the heart of the Pyrenees.
From the start of stage 6 in Lannemezan, the peloton will head south to cross the Col d’Aspin and then tackle the eastern flank of the Col du Tourmalet from Sainte-Marie-de-Campan. As was the case this year when Van Vleuten won the equivalent stage on the Markstein in the Vosges, the winner at the 2,115-meter summit will be well placed to claim the yellow jersey on the final day in Pau.
The race concludes with its first-ever time trial, which takes place at Pau, where Canada’s Kelly Ann Way and the USA’s Inga Thompson were victories in the Tour de Féminin in 1984 and 1986, respectively. The 22km course initially follows the same roads as the 2019 men’s Tour TT but runs in the opposite direction from Pau to Gan.
After a climb of close to two kilometers in length, the course bumps and winds back towards Pau, where there’s a climb up to the line, where the high ridge of the Pyrenees will provide an impressive backdrop to the event’s finale.
Etape 7 / Stage 7
🚩Lannemezan – Col du Tourmalet 🏁90 km #TDFF2023
🤩 The riders will have to tackle the two most frequently climbed passes in the Tour de France history!
🤩 Les coureuses devront gravir les deux cols les plus empruntés dans l'histoire du Tour de France ! pic.twitter.com/z78uapFfXu
— Le Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift (@LeTourFemmes) October 27, 2022
Tour de France Femmes 2023 stages
Stage 1: Clermont-Ferrand to Clermont-Ferrand, 124km
Stage 2: Clermont-Ferrand to Mauriac, 148km
Stage 3: Collonges-La-Rouge to Montignac-Lascaux, 147km
Stage 4: Cahors to Rodez, 177km
Stage 5: Onet-Le-Château to Albi, 126km
Stage 6: Albi to Blagnac, 122km
Stage 7: Lannemezan to Tourmalet Bagnères-de-Bigorre, 90km
Stage 8: Pau to Pau, 22km