Tour de France Femmes 2023 – 5 Things
Some people said it was a mistake to have the women’s Tour follow the men’s so directly, but it worked for me. When you get in that daily watching habit, it’s easier just to keep it going, and I know a lot of people who just followed along from one to the other.
This Tour de France Femmes had a lot going for it, an epic battle between generational talents, and a strong field of young riders, but for me it was a bit muddled in its conception. I’ll say more below. Generally, I have enjoyed the women’s races so much this year, and this Tour was worth watching, but it could have been so much more, not to mention the fact that too often the race organization looked sloppy and dangerous, with team cars jamming their way through the peloton and riders crashing left right and center on wet twisting roads, as if race radio hadn’t issued proper warnings.
None of that should take away from the riders, who lit this thing up and gave everything they had, as you do, for the Tour. Here are five takeaways:
Demi Vollering – It would be churlish to lead with any other story, and it’s tempting to talk about what Vollering is doing this season in comparison to what other great cyclists have done, but let’s just give her this moment entirely to herself. After sweep the three Ardennes Classics this spring, she’s come to the Tour and won it easily, won it without riding her best race, won it despite her team’s muddled daily strategy, won it going away. If you think she isn’t fully intending to be World Road Race champion next week, I have news for you.
Annemiek van Vleuten – The GOAT, here on the precipice of retirement, racing the Tour to see if she could sweep the three Grand Tours in one season, 40-years-old and still at the very top. She’ll be sad not to have won this Tour, slipping to 4th place on the last day. The things she’s done in this sport are currently, literally, beyond compare. Could she have ridden better? Possibly. But, her Movistar team isn’t quite as strong as Vollering’s SD Worx squad, and one bad day on an eight-day Tour is one too many.
SD Worx – It’s stupid really to have this much talent on one team. They took yellow and green jerseys and the first two steps on the podium. Tactically, they got caught out a few times in this Tour, but overcame those mistakes with pure strength. Lotte Kopecky, who finished second on GC, wore the yellow jersey most days, and still did all the work to set Vollering up for her win. It was a wow performance, beyond even what Wout van Aert did for Jonas Vingegaard in the men’s race. Oh, and Marlen Reusser won the ITT and spent most of the Tour crushing the peloton in service of the team’s goals. The only question in my mind is whether SD Worx will be able to keep all these superstars together.
Protagonists Leaving the Stage – There is a generational change coming in the women’s peloton. Van Vleuten and Marianne Vos will be out of the picture sooner rather than later, and it’s going to be really interesting to see who rises to the top next. Vollering may be the next generationally dominant rider, but there are others coming into the frame as well. Kasia Niewiadoma, Ashleigh Moolman-Passio, Lotte Kopecky, Juliette Labous, and there are many others. In fact, one of the joys of this Tour was watching so many strong riders imposing themselves on the race with long breakaway rides. The future is bright. Stay tuned.
The Parcours – This year’s route was a fail, in my opinion. Perhaps the most glaring error was ending with an Individual Time Trial. The Tour deserves a proper road finish, not riders sitting around in the finish area, watching the clock. There was also a dearth of climbing for my taste. Perhaps the organizers wanted to avoid massive time gaps building up day-by-day, but for my taste, there was just too much indifferent terrain. They also visited very little of France, which runs counter the idea of the Tour as a celebration of the country as a whole. Frankly, eight stages are not enough. I have said before that shorter Grand Tours are good in the women’s peloton, because it produces sharper racing, and I still think that generally. The men could take a hint. But eight days are not enough for a TdF. Ten would be better. Twelve might be ideal. This race and these women deserve it.