Stage 7 of the Tour de France Femmes was never going to be an easy day for the non-climbers with the mountains arriving in full force, but with so many carrying crash wounds and then a brutal long-range attack from Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar ) to split the field early, the penultimate stage became a race ending day of suffering for many.
There were 13 riders who stepped out of the Tour de France Femmes on the day of the 127.1km stage to Le Markstein Fellering, which included three category one climbs. Even before the stage started the crashes of previous days had taken a toll, with stage 4 winner Marlen Reusser (SD Work) suffering from a concussion and therefore registering a DNS, as did sprinter Rachele Barbieri (Liv Racing Xstra).
Then during the stage it wasn’t long before the abandons started, with the pace driven early as a large break pulled away. Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM), nursing the injuries and stitches of a crash on stage 6, climbed off early as did Letizia Borghesi (EF Education-Tibco SVB). There were also further additions to the list of riders not finishing as the stage went on. They included Anne van Rooijen and Nicole Frain of Parkhotel Valkenburg, who the team said could not finish due to their injuries, while Gladys Verhulst (Le-Col Wahoo) also failed to make it to the end.
“For me it was a real suffer day, I didn’t make it through today so that is the end of my Tour,” said Australian champion Frain in an interview with broadcaster SBS (opens in new tab). “There were big time gaps…so it shows how hard the day actually was. The pace was on from the start.”
Then there were the riders who tortured their bodies to make it to the end as fast as they could, but to no avail. The already substantial challenge of making it within the time limit on such a climb heavy day was made even harder when the field was torn apart on the very first major ascent, the Petit Ballon. This is where Van Vleuten attacked less than 50km into the racing, sending large swathes of riders off the back and shattering the field as the Movistar rider’s rivals scrambled to salvage their GC hopes.
Even the top climbers in the peloton, however, couldn’t help but shed chunks of time to Van Vleuten, who finished in 3:47:02. Only eight other riders on the stage managed to come over the line within ten minutes of the new race leader. That of course meant the pressure was on not just for those riders who wanted to stay in touch for the overall, but also for those at the back of the field.
The last rider to make it within the cut was an exhausted Kim de Baat (Plantur-Pura), coming through to finish 38:20 behind Van Vleuten. It was, however a heartbreaking outcome for the next group, with Ukrainian rider Yuliia Biriukova (Arkéa-Samsic) leading over the line with a small gap to Franziska Koch (Team DSM), Margaux Vigie (Valcar-Travel & Service), and Anais Morichon, also from French team Arkéa-Samsic. At just a little over 41 minutes back, they all missed out by the slimmest of margins.
“Yuliia Biriukova and Anaïs Morichon arrive 14 seconds behind the deadlines. They are therefore leaving us tonight at the end of the penultimate stage,” said Arkéa-Samsic on Twitter, who were appreciative of the effort the riders put in to trying to make it through.
“Thank you girls, what you have done is extraordinary.”
Dans la souffrance 🥵#TDFF pic.twitter.com/T5E58KVWWwJuly 30, 2022
Battling on more than ten minutes further back was 22-year-old French rider India Grangier (Stade Rochelais Charente-Maritime) and the very last recorded over the line was Emily Newsom (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB). The American rode through to the end even though at 56:42 behind the stage winner the cut was clearly well beyond reach.
The toll of stage 7, combined with the six tough days of racing before-hand, has whittled the field down to 111 for the final stage to the top of La Super Planche des Belles Filles and while some teams still have a full complement of riders – like Trek-Segafredo, Canyon-SRAM and Jumbo-Visma – others are severely depleted.
Of those teams with riders in the top ranks of the GC it is Team DSM, who has Juliette Labous in fourth overall, that has been the hardest hit. The abandonment of Wiebes and failure of Koch to make it within the time cut means Labous has just Liane Lippert and Georgi Pfeiffer for support in the crucial final stage. Sixth-placed Silvia Persico is just a little better off, with three Valcar-Travel & Service teammates remaining.
A number of teams, like Valcar-Travel & Service, are down to four but there is just one rider flying solo, having lost five of her teammates along the way. The hopes of the French team Stade Rochelais Charente-Maritime in stage 8 will rest squarely on the shoulders of 27 year-old Séverine Eraud, who came 23rd on Saturday.