Tour De France Femmes 2022 – Fully Digested

This race went off with the generosity of Zwift (Virtually nothing happened, in fact, sans Zwift. Everything was avec), but it seems more generosity was required to make it a true Tour de France. There were just eight stages and many of them were shorter than you might expect from a race at this level, while requiring big day-to-day transfers from the teams. It’s hard to know how to feel about this. On the one hand, we have a TdF for the ladies again finally. On the other hand, this wasn’t exactly a grand tour, and the racers deserved more, in my opinion.

With so few stages and the final two in the mountains, there were not an abundance of early opportunities to put in big time gaps. Having said that, the racing was outstanding, the peloton’s stars mostly living up to their billing. Here’s how it all unfolded, by stage:

Stage 1 – Short (81.6km) and all in Paris, like the traditional final day of the men’s race, with multiple sprint points. It was basically a showcase kick off, a bet perhaps that they would never have more eyeballs than at the roll out. Lorena Wiebes took the bunch sprint from Marianne Vos and Lotte Kopecky. No time differences for GC other than the bonus seconds that come with each place.

Stage 2 – 136.4km. Marked by cross winds and crashes. Somehow a handful of GC contenders got into a breakaway, and Marianne Vos took the sprint from that group ahead of Silvia Persico and Kasia Niewiadoma. That put Vos in the yellow jersey. Wiebes led the peloton in but dropped down to 6th on GC.

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Stage 3 – 133.6km. Three Category 4 climbs and one Cat 3. A crash in the lead group on the final descent let Vos and the other favorites go clear, but neither the Dutch legend, Persico or Elisa Longo-Borghini could capitalize, losing out to a last second surge from Danish champion Cecily Uttrup-Ludwig. This left Vos in yellow, with Silvia Persico at 16″ and Niewiadoma on the same time in third.

As I said, you could see how telling a few seconds could be in the opening stages. Only 1’48” separated the entire top 10.

Stage 4 – 126.8km. A legitimate gravel stage with a smattering of Cat 3 and 4 climbs thrown in. The chunky middle passages produced a load of punctures that kept the peloton sorting and resorting itself. Eventually, European time trial champion Marlen Reusser got off the front and stayed there for the win. Marianne Vos led home the peloton, protecting her GC lead from Persico and Niewiadoma still on 16″.

Stage 5 – 175.6km. A day for the sprinters. A massive crash took down GC contenders Persico and Lotte Kopecky with a whole passel of them latching conspicuously onto the team cars to get back. The day’s breakaway held onto the last couple of kms, before the peloton swept them up and the sprint began to organize itself. Just past the flamme rouge, Elisa Longo-Borghini went left when she should have gone right, which meant she wasn’t at the pointy end coming into the finishing straight where Lorena Wiebes, wearing the green jersey outsprinted Elisa Balsamo and Vos, who picked up the bonus seconds to extend her GC lead to 20″.

Stage 6 – 129.2km. A pretty open stage, maybe there for a breakaway or a group sprint at the end. If there weren’t climbing stages ahead, Vos’ competence, dominance and smarts looked unassailable, assuming she could avoid one of the many crashes that had taken out other riders. Lorena Wiebes hit the pavement towards the end of this stage, climbing back on with blood streaming down both arms. Vos’ Jumbo-Visma team managed to pull the peloton back together in time for the group sprint though, and their Dutch leader duly executed the perfect ending, adding 6″ more to her GC lead, now at 30″ from Persico and Niewiadoma.

I should note that while Wiebes was wearing the green jersey (and she did finally make it to the finish on Stage 6), Vos was actually well ahead on sprint points, only ceding the green, because she was too busy wearing yellow.

Stage 7 – 127.1km. The makings of a race decider with three Cat 1 climbs. Elisa Longo-Borghini got way out in front of the yellow jersey for a stretch, the first real threat to Vos’ lead yet, but there was a long way to go, and being in virtual yellow isn’t the same as the real thing. Speaking of which, up ahead, Annemiek van Vleuten was climbing like a hot air balloon. She won alone-in-photo after going clear on the first climb, a ride like you dream about, and based on the huge gap to the Vos group, she ended up pulling on the yellow jersey with just one day to go. It was the performance of the race so far for van Vleuten. Demi Vollering used second place to claim the polka dots jersey (by one point from van Vleuten) and second on GC at 3’09”. Kasia Niewiadoma remained in 3rd, now at 4’20”.

Annemiek van Vleuten, probably my favorite Annemiek in the world.

Stage 8 – 123.3km. A refreshingly brutal final day with two more Cat 1 climbs and a finish at the top of La Super Planche des Belles Filles where the final stretch to the line was on gravel with an incline of 24%. van Vleuten’s day was complicated by three bike changes and a lot of chasing back. Finally with 6kms to go she caught and dropped Vollering, leaving everyone, including what was left of the break, in her wake. It was a grind, but also a sort of processional at that point. There is a reason why van Vleuten is the world number one. Vollering managed to be the best of the rest, cementing her 2nd place on GC and Queen of the Mountains, and that just left Kasia Niewiadoma to grab 3rd overall. Marianne Vos contented herself with the green jersey.

I found myself in two minds about this TdF Femmes. While I wanted more, the compact format made each stage more meaningful, and I didn’t have to endure any time trials, which I abhor. Perhaps the real problem was in trying to replicate the men’s race for the women. With shorter and fewer stages, it was always going to leave a sense that the women were still being short-changed. Hopefully, the riveting spectacle on view convinces some more sponsors to come in and give us a race worthy of the amazing women toeing the line.

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