Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Demi Vollering pulled off a superb performance on the biggest, toughest day of the Tour de France Femmes Avec Zwift, emerging from the mist to a brilliant victory atop the Col du Tourmalet on Saturday.
The SD Worx-Protime surged clear with 5.5km remaining, dropping a small group of riders including defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar Team) and her own teammate, the race leader Lotte Kopecky, and swiftly gained time.
Vollering overhauled Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), who had attacked on the previous descent, and hammered onwards to the summit, reaching the line well ahead.
“This was amazing,” she said at the finish, between tears of joy. “I mean, so many people at the side of the road. I saw my family, I saw my friends. They gave me a lot of strength today. Also Lotte, knowing that she was behind me the whole time was amazing.”
Van Vleuten said she tried and things didn’t work out. “I’m of course disappointed. I was hoping to have a better day,” she said, warming down on a turbo trainer at the top of the climb. “I didn’t have my best day out there. But I was full of confidence to go, that’s why I went on the Aspin already. We had a good team plan if I would have had a really good day that was the best plan to make it hard from the Aspin already.
“Then in the end I didn’t have a good day, so I had to pay the price on the top.”
The stage saw a number of early attacks, then a big surge by Van Vleuten on the Col d’Aspin which saw her drop all bar Niewiadoma and Vollering.
They remained with her to the summit, with Niewiadoma then going clear on the descent, fending off a chase by a rejoined Marlen Reusser (SD Worx-Protime), and building her advantage once again.
Vollering put in her move with 5.5km left on the clock, dropping Van Vleuten, Ashleigh Moolman (AG Insurance – Soudal Quick-Step), race leader Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx-Protime) and others.
They had no answer to her climbing speed, and neither did Niewiadoma, bravest on the stage but caught and passed and having to settle for second place.
The Polish climber was 1:58 back at the mist-shrouded summit, 36 seconds ahead of an exhausted Van Vleuten. Ashleigh Moolman (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step) and Juliette Labous (DSM Firmenich) were close behind the world champion, with Kopecky at 3.32, conceding yellow to her teammate but riding better than many had expected.
Vollering jumped up six places to first overall, while Niewiadoma improved three to second. She is 1:50 behind while Van Vleuten stays third and is now 2:28 off yellow. Kopecky and Moolman are very close behind, just seven seconds and 11 seconds off that podium position.
There will be a big fight for second and third overall on Sunday but, barring disaster, Vollering is poised to win the race.
“It is amazing. You set dreams, you make goals for them, you get a bit nervous before,” she said, thanking her team for giving her confidence. “They really kept me calm and that is just so nice. They are very important for me.”
How it played out
Stage 7 of the Tour de France Femmes Avec Zwift was the big one, just 89.8km in length but unmistakably the toughest of the race. It began in Lannemezan, covered slightly uphill terrain to the intermediate sprint at Sarrancolin (km. 41.7), then pitched steeply uphill to the top of the cat. 1 Col d’Aspin (km. 60.1).
After a 12.2km descent they would then hit the lower slopes of the Col du Tourmalet, a savage 17.5km hors category climb to a dizzying 2,100 meters above sea level.
A GC which was relatively tight was certain to be blown apart, making for some very exciting racing.
A number of riders tried from very early on to get away, some gaining more time than others, but nothing lasted very long. A more successful move went coming up to 60km to go when Susanne Andersen (Uno-X) and Margot Pompanon (St Michel-Mavic-Auber93) surged clear and opened up a 34 second gap.
Sara Poidevin (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) tried to bridge and was stuck in no man’s land—or perhaps no woman’s—for some time before being gobbled up.
The leaders raced through the intermediate sprint, Pompanon taking first, while race leader and green jersey Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx-Protime) took third from the bunch behind. They were approaching the Col d’Aspin, the start of the climbing, and a very clear shift in the pattern of racing in this Tour de France Femmes.
Niewiadoma rides clear, then Vollering races home
Teams fought to position their leaders as well as possible before the first climb, working hard to bring them to the front and, in doing so, ramping up the pace. That saw the two leaders caught. Queen of the Mountains Yara Kastelijn (Fenix-Deceuninck) was dropped, spelling an end to her time in the polka dot jersey.
Defending race champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar Team) then made a big move with 35km left, attacking and dropping everyone bar key rival Demi Vollering (SD Worx-Protime) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM Racing). She continued to apply the pressure but wasn’t able to gap them before the summit, where Niewiadoma led her across the prime line.
The Polish rider then opened a gap on the downhill and amid squabbling between the other two riders about who should lead the chase, gained solid time on the descent.
Driving the pedals around rather than conserving energy, she had 43 seconds with 20km to go. She looked set to continue building her advantage, but the drama was notched up when the group behind the two chasers got back up to them and Vollering’s teammate Marlen Reusser began to drive it along.
Also there was race leader Lotte Kopecky, tagged on at the back, as well as Juliette Labous (DSM Firmenich), Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-SUEZ), Ashleigh Moolman (AG Insurance – Soudal Quick-Step) and Ane Santesteban (Team Jayco AlUla).
Reusser did huge work, whittling the gap back down to 6 seconds with 12km remaining. She then cracked and went south. Niewiadoma was undeterred and continued at her own pace, building her lead back up to 30 seconds with 10km remaining.
Labous wasn’t happy and attacked with 9.3km remaining. She was marked by Vollering, Van Vleuten, Moolman and Kopecky but put Uttrup Ludwig and Santesteban out the back. The Frenchwoman had started the day 10th overall and was willing to keep riding, knowing that she would at least overtake some of those who were ahead of her.
Nieuwiadoma had 44 seconds with 6km to go and was looking good. However 500 metres later Vollering attacked, putting Labous and Kopecky out the back, then distancing Moolman and, finally, Van Vleuten. She caught Niewiadoma with 5km left, dropping her, and plugged on through the mist.
Van Vleuten was clearly suffering and had drifted to one minute behind with 3km remaining. She continued to shed time, while Vollering was utterly relentless in her climbing and moved closer and closer to the yellow jersey and, most likely, the overall race win on Sunday evening.
Niewiadoma came in 1:58 back. Van Vleuten was at 2:34, with Moolman and Labous a further 9 and 12 seconds adrift respectively. Kopecky was at 3:32 and while she lost yellow, she was delighted for her teammate Vollering.