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On Sunday, for the first time in a very long time, there will be two pelotons in Paris racing the Tour de France.
The Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift begins on July 24 and runs for eight history-making days across northeast France. 144 women from 24 teams will race 1,029 kilometers broken into four flat stages, two hilly stages, and two mountain stages with a summit finale at La Super Planche des Belles Filles.
The race is the long-awaited women’s analog to the Tour de France, and at 1:30 p.m. local time on Sunday, the women’s peloton will ride onto the world stage.
Race organizers and sponsors have promised that the inaugural edition will only be a harbinger of things to come. This year, €250,000 will be awarded across the different stage, jersey, and team competitions, with €50,000 going to the winner of the final general classification. Zwift has signed on as title sponsor for four years, and NBC will feature a 2.5-hour broadcast on its Peacock channel in the United States.
VeloNews reporters Sadhbh O’Shea and Betsy Welch will be following the Femmes throughout the entire race; read their content on VeloNews.com
The route: Gravel, mountains, and sprints
The route of the first Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift was always going to be heavily scrutinized and the organizers knew it. However, they’ve pulled off a course that should give plenty of opportunities for different riders to claim victories and keep the GC battle open right until the final weekend.
Stage 1 kicks off at the Eiffel Tower, where the peloton will race 12 laps of the legendary circuit that ends at the Champs-Élysées. The stage is flat and fast — the women are anticipated to finish in around two hours, preceding the men’s arrival in the city.
In addition to bringing big crowds to the first day of the race, the 82km stage is a nod to the inaugural edition of La Course, held in 2014 on a nearly identical parcours. While we don’t lament losing the one-day race on the calendar, we wouldn’t mind seeing history on that course repeating itself: Who wouldn’t love to see Marianne Vos with arms raised on the Champs-Élysées?
Stage 2 begins in Meaux, just east of Paris. It’s another very flat one but 50 kilometers longer than the opening day. Like stage 1, this 135km stage will suit the fastest riders in the peloton, with a predicted bunch sprint finish in Provins.
The vert kicks up on stage 3 from Reims to Epernay. The 133km stage has four categorized and one uncategorized climb. The first punch comes at 21.6 km, while the remaining climbs are in the second half of the day.
The last categorized climb, Côte de Mutigny, comes at 118 km and will pack a punch at an average 12.2 percent grade. Separations in the peloton are likely here, and the final climb up Mont Bernon could also be decisive with only 2.7 km to go to the finish.
Stage 4 continues on the hilly trajectory of stage 3 and throws some dirt into the mix. After a fairly flat start with an intermediate sprint at 60km, the fun begins halfway through the day.
There are four gravel sectors ranging from 2.3 to 4.4 km, totaling about 13 km of dirt roads. In between each of those sectors are five significant climbs — the first two, Côte de Celles-sur Ource and Côte du Val des Clos, are short and steep, with an average gradient of 8.8 percent. The 1.8km Côte du Val Perdu is a four percent kicker six kilometers before the finish in Bar-sur-Aube.
Stage 5 is the longest day of the race and the longest stage thus far in a WWT race, topping the 170 km stage 4 of the 2020 Giro Rosa. There are only three climbs of note, so Thursday might be a day for a breakaway to form. There are 20 kilometers between the last 1.5km climb over Col du Haut du Bois and the finish, plenty of time to set up a bunch sprint to the finish.
No rest for the weary, as Friday’s stage 6 gets hilly again. It’s a roller-coaster of a route with four categorized climbs scattered along the way at kilometers 19, 58, 66, and 119. One for the puncheurs, the summit of the final climb comes just nine kilometers from the finish. A bold rider who can climb and time trial could be first to the finish.
What the early stages of the Tour de France Femmes lack in elevation, they make up for on the final two days. Stage 7 will see riders summit the Petit Ballon, Col du Platzerwasel, and Grand Ballon, the highest point of the race at 1,336 meters. Petit Ballon is 9.3 km at a stout eight percent and only offers a brief reprieve before the 7.1 km climb up the Col du Platzerwasel at 8.3 percent.
After that, it’s up, up, and away for 13.5 km up the Grand Ballon, with the final six kilometers of the climb kicking up to 8.5 percent.
The final stage will end, literally, on a high note. The 123km stage finishes at the summit of La Super Planche des Belles Filles, where Tadej Pogačar won the seventh stage of the men’s race. Before the final seven-kilometer climb, riders will tackle the Côte d’Esmoulieres and Ballon d’Alsace.
While La Super Planche des Belles Filles tends to grab all the attention, the nine-kilometer Ballon d’Alsace might prove the most pivotal ascent of the day. A rider that makes good time up its seven percent slopes may also hold a gap into the nearly 25 kilometers of descending until the base of the Planche des Belles Filles. If it’s not decided by then, stage 8 will be the perfect venue for fireworks in the GC.
The favorites: Annemiek van Vleuten versus the world
It may be a little simplistic to define the GC battle at the first-ever Tour de France Femmes as Annemiek van Vleuten versus everyone else but the Dutchwoman will be the overwhelming favorite for final glory when the race sets off in Paris later this week.
Van Vleuten has already shown her rivals that she’s in supreme form with her dominating win at the Giro d’Italia Donne earlier this month. She is one of only a few GC riders to tackle the Italian and French grand tours with victory in mind. One of the interesting storylines in the Tour will be how the Giro riders hold up in the final stages compared to those who come to France fresh from training camps.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope) also rode the Giro d’Italia Donne but did it more for training than for a result so it remains to be seen if they can step up their games in the two weeks between the events.
Among those that decided to keep their powder dry for France are Demi Vollering (SD Worx) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM). Vollering is likely to be one of Van Vleuten’s toughest competitors and the freshness element could come into play over the final mountain stages.
Others to keep a watchful eye on in the GC competition are Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD Worx), Kristen Faulkner (BikeExchange-Jayco), Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope), Pauliena Rooijakkers (Canyon-SRAM), and Juliette Labous (Team DSM).
There are also the sprints to think about with a yellow jersey on offer for one of the fast women on the opening day of racing. Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) comes into the race as the big favorite for that but she’ll face some stern competition from the likes of Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo), Emma Norsgaard (Movistar), Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), and Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx).