The route revealed for the Tour de France Femmes promises a balance of flat and punchy stages, sectors of gravel, and two mountain finishes all packed into the eight days of racing set to take place from July 24-31.
There is, notably, no individual time trial, and so separations could happen throughout the earlier puncheur-style stage, and even on the gravel stage 4 that includes six climbs and four sections of unpaved roads in the last 60km of the 126km race from Troyes to Bar-sur-Aube. Stage 5 will also be decisive as it is the longest day of the event at 170km, reaching beyond the maximum 160km limit set by the UCI for the Women's WorldTour.
The decisive battle for the overall classification, however, will likely happen in the mountains positioned in the later in the race. The race does not travel to the iconic ascents of the Alps or the Pyrenees, as it did in the ASO-run editions held in 1984-89 with the Col du Galibier, Mont Ventoux, Tourmalet, l'Alpe d'Huez or Col de Joux Plane. At this edition of the Tour de France Femmes it will be the north-eastern Vosges that hosts the GC challenges.
The route of the Tour de France Femmes will include 26 categorised ascents, and while the majority of those are short and punchy, the women’s peloton will contest the bigger and more decisive climbs on the final two days of racing. Cyclingnews highlights 5 key climbs that could impact how the race unfolds at the Tour de France Femmes.
Côte de Mutigny
Côte de Mutigny is only 900 metres but has an average gradient of 12 per cent and pitches as steep as 15 per cent, making it one of the first locations for separations in the overall classification.
The opening two stages will cater to the sprinters but stage 3, and particularly the Côte de Mutigny, which is comparable to the Mur de Huy, is the first big test for the puncheurs and climbers. It is an early opportunity to create gaps as the race heads further in toward the more decisive mountain stages in the Vosges.
Stage 3 is 133km from Reims to Épernay and although there are five categorised climbs, all between 700-1,600 metres, the race is primarily flat until it hits the final half of the race. Most of the other climbs average a more shallow five to seven per cent, but Côte de Mutigny, with its 12 per cent slopes, will be a key point for the GC contenders to attack.
After the climb, there is one more categorised climb over the Mont Bernon, but gaps will be hard to close before the slow rise to the finish line in Épernay.
Col du Platzerwasel
Stage 7 marks the beginning of the mountain stages at the Tour de France, in fact the two final stages will take the peloton on challenging parcours through the Vosges of north-eastern France.
The Col du Platzerwasel is sandwiched between the Petit Ballon and the Grand Ballon on stage 7's 127km route between Sélestat and Le Markstein. It will be one of the toughest stages of the event and that is largely due to the three back-to-back ascents.
The middle climb, Col du Platzerwasel, is 7.1km and while it has an average gradient of 8.3 per cent, it is quite deceiving. The riders will face pitches above 9 per cent in the first, third and fifth kilometre, and while it eases off to 6 per cent, the road ramps back up to 10 per cent for the final kilometre before reaching its peak at roughly the half-way mark of the race.
It is a tough climb, but what makes it even harder is that it is not a standalone ascent with the Petit Ballon ahead of it and the Grand Ballon to follow.
Petit Ballon and Grand Ballon
During that first mountain stage in the Vosges, stage 7, the day will begin with an undulating run-in straight toward the base of the Petit Ballon.
Petit Ballon is a 9km ascent with an average gradient of 8.1 per cent. The climb starts out with a 10 per cent ramp for the first kilometre, and while it eases off to 7.7 per cent for the next 2km, it reaches over 9 per cent mid-climb. The gradient then remains between 6 and 8 per cent for the last 5km. It could mark the first attacks of the stage or it could be warm-up for the mid-race Col du Platzerwasel or the finale up the Grand Ballon.
The Grand Ballon is not as steep as the other two, but it is the longest ascent at the Tour de France Femmes, and comes at the end of a hard stage. The climbs averages a more moderate 6.7 per cent with the shallowest sections at the bottom. The final 6km, however, will be a true test of climbing ability with a steady 8.5 per cent all the way over the top.
There will be little reprieve for the riders as they crest the Grand Ballon because the route will follow the ridge for an undulating 8km to the finish line in Le Markstein.
Col du Ballon d'Alsace
An historical reference places the Ballon d’Alsace as the first official mountain pass of the Tour de France in 1905, and it was included in the 2005 edition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first passage.
For the Tour de France Femmes, it will mark the second of three ascents on the finale of stage 8, a 123km race from Lure to Super Planche des Belles Filles.
Ballon d’Alsace is nearly 9km at 6.9 per cent. It starts and finishes at 5 per cent gradient but the kilometres in between are upwards of 7 and 8 per cent. If riders gain time on this ascent, there is a good chance they could hold a gap along the nearly 25km of descending into the base of the La Planche des Belles Filles.
This climb could mark the launching pad for fireworks that will surely take place on the 26th and final climb of the Tour de France Femmes.
La Super Planche des Belles Filles
The Tour de France Femmes will close out in the most spectacular way atop the La Super Planche des Belles Filles.
The ascent is most recently known for being the location of the stage 20 time trial that saw Tadej Pogačar take the overall victory at the 2020 Tour de France, but prior to that, it has offered a decisive finale to four other road stages of the men’s edition since 2012.
La Planche des Belles Filles will host the grand finale and likely reveal a showdown between the best climbers in the world who will be in pursuit of the coveted maillot jaune.
The climb is 7km and the first 5.9km tops out at a 20 per cent gradient, however, the ascent goes beyond the traditional finish line, and continues up a steep gravel ascent, hence the name 'Super Planche', and this is where one rider will be crowned the winner of the Tour de France Femmes.
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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.
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