In true Tour de France fashion, the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift included all of the pomp, circumstance, heroics, and controversy expected to surround the world’s greatest cycling race.
The eight-stage race covered more than 600 miles and 43,000 feet of elevation gain, the most brutal of which came on the final two stages of the highly anticipated contest.
In the end, the Dutch swept the tour, winning the yellow (overall), green (sprint points), polka dot (climber), and white (best young rider) jerseys.
Annemiek van Vleuten of team Movistar won the coveted yellow jersey. Jumbo Visma’s Marianne Vos finished in the green jersey, and Demi Vollering of Team SD Worx went home wearing the polka dot Queen of the Mountains jersey. Shirin van Anrooij (Trek-Segafredo), who is 20 years old, won the white jersey for the best young rider.
Each marks a significant accomplishment in the careers of each jersey holder, but these results were anything but a certainty, even in the race’s final stages.
Where the men’s race typically enters the final days with the top spots already mostly locked up or with only a couple of riders in contention, the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift turned that model on its head, leaving the most difficult mountainous stage for the final two days.
Here’s how the race played out stage by stage.
Stage 1: History Made With the Tour de France Femmes Avec Zwift
The men’s Tour de France traditionally ends on the Champs-Élysées in Paris following 21 stages of racing across more than 2,000 miles. The Tour de Femmes, however, began there.
The historic opening of Stage 1 marked an opportunity for sprinters to establish themselves early on as contenders and for teams to showcase their ability to work together to jockey for position in the group.
Stage 1 included an intermediate sprint and the first opportunity for Queen of the Mountains points.
Marianne Vos made a statement early on by winning the first intermediate sprint of the tour but could not hold Lorena Wiebes off at the finish line as she surged to victory to claim the first yellow and green jerseys of the race.
Vos finished second, followed by Lotte Kopecky of Team SD Worx.
Femke Markus of Parkhotel Valkenburg crossed the line first for the Queen of the Mountains competition, earning two points and the polka dot jersey for Stage 2.
While the stage was flat, it was not entirely smooth, as the terrain included cobbles that could trip riders up.
Just ahead of the final 10k, Cofidis rider Alana Castrique crashed and abandoned the race due to her injuries. She would be the first of many casualties of the race.
However, one key takeaway from Stage 1 was that both Wiebes and Vos appeared to be on form and ready to duke it out in the sprints in the coming stages.
Stage 2: Taking Control in the Wind
What was supposed to be a relatively cut-and-dry flat stage covering 84.7 miles from Meaux to Provins proved more of a challenge for riders as heavy winds hammered the peloton throughout the day.
In addition to gusting winds, a series of crashes with about 19 miles remaining in the stage left multiple riders battered and struggling to continue, including a particularly nasty collision between Marta Cavalli of FDJ SUEZ Futuroscope and Australian national champ Nicole Frain of Parkhotel Valkenburg.
As Cavalli approached a crash involving a large group of riders, Frain, who was chasing to rejoin the group, found herself unable to stop and clipped Cavalli on the left side, sending her to the ground. Frain launched over the handlebars and slammed onto the ground in front of a pile of bikes and riders. She continued to slide across the tarmac.
Cavalli later dropped out of the race. A few miles later, another crash left Trek-Segafredo rider Laura Sussemilch of Plantur-Pura hurt after she went down hard and broke two vertebrae.
Vos made it into a breakaway group and pulled ahead of the peloton by about 40 seconds within the last mile or two. She won the stage, followed by Silvia Persico of Valcar-Travel & Service, Katarzyna Niewiadoma of Canyon-SRAM, and Elisa Longo Borghini of Trek-Segafredo.
Wiebes, who held the green jersey, finished 29 seconds behind Vos, giving the latter the yellow and green jerseys for the stage ahead, although Wiebes would still wear the green jersey in her second-pace position.
Markus held onto the polka dots.
Stage 3: Into the Hills
Stage 3 sent riders into hilly terrain for an 83-mile jaunt that included three Category 4 climbs and one Category 3 climb. Until this point, both stages of the race were flat, with only one rated Category 4 climb each.
Riders began the stage with a bang, setting a quick pace early. Unfortunately, Stage 3 also included a few crashes in the last miles that blew the peloton apart. Vollering and Liane Lippert of Team DSM made contact and went down on a corner with 9 miles remaining on the stage. The pair had been in the lead.
Vollering was able to get up quickly to rejoin a chase group and catch back up to the stage leaders. Lippert, however, could not make it back into the pack that headed to the finish together.
Cecilie Ludwig of FDJ Suez Furutoscope hammered out a hectic finish to best Vollering, Vos, and seven other riders in contention for the yellow jersey for the stage win.
Vos still held the yellow jersey at the end of the stage with a 16-second lead over Persico and Niewiadoma. The top seven leaders in the general classification were all within a minute of Vos’ time, so the yellow jersey still was very much up for grabs.
Vos also continued to hold the green jersey, with 160 points. Wiebes had 113 points and was looking to run her down in the following stages.
Femke Gerritse picked up two QOM points to take the polka dot jersey from her Parkhotel Valkenburg teammate.
Stage 4: Gravel, Crashes, and a Solo Win
More hills awaited the riders in Stage 4, including two Category 3 climbs and three Category 4 climbs that had to appear tantalizing the QOM hopefuls.
Sections of unpaved gravel roughed things up and presented another challenge for riders. But with many riders with a cyclocross background, the stage looked like an opportunity for those with technical skills.
The gravel, as expected, resulted in punctures and mechanical issues galore. Despite the challenging terrain, European time-trial champ Marlen Reusser of SD Worx jumped ahead of the bunch with about 15 miles remaining to go solo to the end for the stage win.
Meanwhile, Mavi Garcia of UAE Team ADQ suffered a mechanical issue made infinitely worse when she collided with her team car and went down hard while trying to rejoin the race. When the day began, Garcia was only 55 seconds behind Vos in the general classification. She lost more than 2 minutes by the day’s end and had fallen entirely out of the top 10.
Yet again, Vos put on a commanding performance and held on to the yellow and green jerseys. Gerritse also kept the polka dots.
Stage 5: Controversy on the Longest Day of the Tour de France Femmes
Stage 5 of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift pitted riders against a 109-mile course full of rolling hills. The course included two Category 4 climbs and a sprint about 71 miles into the stage.
The first bit of controversy on the day came when news broke that Human Powered Health rider Barbara Malcoltti had been disqualified after receiving “irregular assistance” from her team car by swapping out bikes at the front of the peloton. Many called the decision by race commissaries harsh and questioned whether a hefty fine or another penalty would have been sufficient. But what was done was done, and she was out.
With about 28 miles remaining on the stage, another colossal crash took out nearly half of the peloton, leaving a pile of twisted bikes and bodies scattered on the tarmac. Most race leaders avoided the crash by staying safely out in front.
However, Emma Norsgaard of the Movistar team abandoned the race with a possible collarbone fracture.
Perhaps the stage’s most significant point of contention came just before the close when Trek-Segafredo’s Elisa Longo Borghini took a wrong turn just before the final sprint erupted. She had been serving as the lead-out rider for world-champion Elisa Balsamo. She had to head into the sprint alone after Longo Borghini’s mistake and finished second behind Wiebes, followed by Vos.
Race officials ended up allowing Longo Borghini to receive the same time as the race winner despite her mistake, keeping her in a top position in the peloton.
Wiebes became the first rider to win two tour stages and narrowed Vos’s lead for the green jersey to just 26 points. She looked poised to claim the green for herself.
However, Vos still held the yellow and green jerseys and clearly would not give them up without a fight. Vos grew her general classification lead from 16 to 20 seconds over Persico and Niewiadoma. Longo Borghini was 34 seconds behind.
Gerritse held the polka dots again with eight points, with the nearest riders holding five points. At this point, the leading positions in the race for every jersey still were up in the air. A fantastic performance or costly accidents on any remaining stage could easily see them change hands.
Stage 6: Wiebes Goes Down, Vos Goes Up
Stage 6 spanned 80 miles through hilly terrain featuring one Category 3 climb and three Category 4 climbs. It marked the last of the flat or hilly stages before the peloton headed into the proper mountains for the final two stages of the tour.
A considerable breakaway of 14 riders surged ahead with about 50 miles to go in the race, pulling more than a minute in front of the peloton. Despite visible frustration and pleas from leaders in the breakaway to work together, the group could not cooperate to maintain the lead and fell back into the main group for what was sure to be an exciting sprint finish.
Wiebes, however, crashed on a descent with about 15 miles to go and slammed hard into the ground. She had been the primary contender to snag the green jersey from Vos, and a stage win here would have done it.
With Wiebes too far back to catch the leaders, Vos hammered the pedals to her second stage win. She increased her total points to 267 compared to Wiebes’ 191, throwing the idea of a comeback into question.
Vos extended her lead over Persico and Niewiadoma in the general classification to 30 seconds. Longo Borghini finished 35 seconds back in the general classification.
Gerritse once again kept the polka dot jersey.
Stage 7: Up and Away
Stage 7 marked the beginning of the proper mountain terrain of the Tour de France Femmes. Riders had only been through Category 3 and 4 climbs since the start of the race. Now, they squared off with three Category 1 beasts in a single stage. Mountain stages are notorious for blowing the peloton apart, as sprinters tend to suffer and lose a lot of time on grueling climbs.
Plenty of questions hung in the air at the beginning of the race. Could Vos hold her lead in yellow when the road went skyward? Could Wiebes pull back the points she needed to grab the green?
Both of those questions got their answers almost immediately. After a short distance, Wiebes abandoned the race due to injuries she suffered in her previous crash. The move left Vos all but untouchable in the race for the green jersey. All she had to do was finish the stage.
As for the yellow, a breakaway from Movistar’s Annemiek van Vleuten and Demi Vollering left Vos (and everyone else) in the dust. Van Vleuten attacked early in the first climb and managed to shed Vollering from her wheel on the second ascent. She then soloed more than 37 miles to the finish. Her victory was astounding, leaving other riders scratching their head in confusion or sheer awe of her power.
At the end of the stage, van Vleuten had a 3:14 lead on Vollering in the general classification and more than 4:30 on Niewiadoma, who sat in third place.
Vos found herself entirely out of contention for the yellow jersey. She still held the green jersey, however. Barring any major mishaps on the final day, that jersey was hers.
For her tremendous effort in sticking with van Vleuten as best she could, Vollering donned the polka dot jersey for the first time.
Stage 8: Sealing the Deal and the Tour de France Femmes
After an all-out performance the previous day in which van Vleuten dropped all of the best cyclists in the world, it was unclear whether she would have the legs to seal the deal. Likewise, Vollering had suffered in her chase the day before, so whether she would hold on to the polka dots remained in question.
At the beginning of the stage, van Vleuten led the general classification with a total time of 3:47:02.
Vollering sat in second place with a 3:26 deficit, followed by Ludwig at 5:16 behind and Team DSM’s Juliette Labous and Niewiadoma at 5:18 behind. Persico and Longo Borghini rounded out the top seven at 6:56 back.
If Vos finished the stage, she would win the green jersey. The yellow, polka dot, and white jersey for the youngest rider were all still a tossup, though van Anrooij pulled ahead in the white jersey contest by more than 5 minutes the day before.
Van Vleuten had a tough race. She cycled through five separate bike changes throughout the stage. Each time, she had to retreat to her team car, and then hammer the pedals to regain her place at the front of the peloton. This wasted precious energy while carving a path through a stage that included one Category 2 climb to start things off. Two Category 1 climbs followed, including a treacherous finish on La Super Planche des Belles Filles.
Any doubters would end the day with a foot in their mouth.
For a second consecutive day, van Vleuten flexed her mountain muscles. Despite bike change after bike change, she continued to stick with the lead all day. With about 4 miles remaining, she opened up to catch the last few attackers on the day and leave them in the literal dust off La Super Planche des Belles Filles. She continued to her second stage win and the overall women of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.
Vollering again gave chase and finished in second to claim the polka dot jersey, while Vos held on to the green. Van Anrooij also held off attacks to cement her claim to the white jersey.