Should there be a time trial in the Tour de France Femmes?

PARIS FRANCE JULY 24 Ellen Van Dijk of Netherlands and Team Trek Segafredo competes during the 1st Tour de France Femmes 2022 Stage 1 a 817km stage from Paris Tour Eiffel to Paris Champslyses TDFF UCIWWT on July 24 2022 in Paris France Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Ellen van Dijk of Trek-Segafredo rides in peloton on stage 1 past the Arc de Triomphe (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

So far, this Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift has had almost everything. Sprint days, punchy finishes, some gravel and mountains to come. But there’s one key discipline missing: a time trial.

For the time trial specialists in the peloton, this has been a source of disappointment in what is meant to be a race that tests riders across all disciplines, and many have called for its inclusion in future editions.

Ellen van Dijk, the time trial world champion, told Cyclingnews that whilst she personally wants to race her favourite discipline at the Tour, it’s also a key element of a stage race.

“As a time trialist, of course I want one,” she said before the race. “But also I think everyone can agree that normally big tours have a time trial, and we don’t have it - not in the Vuelta, not in the Giro, not in the Tour, not in almost any WorldTour race.”

The lack of time trials has been a cause for concern for the specialists throughout the season. There are just two ITTs in the WorldTour this year, one being a prologue at the Giro and the other a 17.8km stage at the Simac Tour.

In June, Van Dijk put out a message about this gap in the calendar, co-signed by Joss Lowden, Marlen Reusser, Lisa Brennauer and Annemiek van Vleuten.

“We started something on Twitter to ask for some attention for it, because I think it’s not really normal that there’s no WorldTour race with a real time trial,” Van Dijk said. “It would be great if organisers can put some attention into that.”

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Though some may argue that the inclusion of a time time may have a skewed effect on the GC, benefitting riders like Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) and Demi Vollering (SD Worx) more than the weaker time trialists, Van Dijk says it should be part of the overall challenge.

“I feel like if you want to have a complete GC and stage for everyone, it belongs in a Tour,” she said. “You have sprint stages, you have medium stages, you have mountain stages, and time trials normally. When you want to have a full picture, it has to be part of it.”

Former World Hour record holder Joss Lowden (Uno-X Procycling) also expressed her disappointment at the lack of an against the clock challenge at the Tour, but it’s something she hopes for in the future.

“It's disappointing, really, that there isn't one in the race,” she told Cyclingnews. “But I also really recognise that it's the first edition of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift and you can't do everything all in the first instance. So it's a good start, but hopefully next year, we'll see a TT here.”

It’s clear that there is a noticeable lack of time trials for the women’s peloton in 2022, but what is less clear are the reasons why.

“It's really hard to say,” said Lowden. “Because some years there are [more TTs]. Last year, we had a really good TT stage in the Women’s Tour, and then this year, it was missing. Apparently the stakeholders just weren’t interested in it, which is really strange, because the TT stages in the men's racing are really successful.

“I don't want to always just compare it to the men's racing, because we race differently, but there's definitely a place for them.”

It can’t be denied that the gap in both ability and equipment is particularly big from the top to the bottom when it comes to time trials. Because they’re such a rare occurrence, many teams and riders don’t - or can’t - commit significant resources to the discipline as part of their training and preparation.

The result is that riders start time trials in races with little or no experience on the TT bike, and the difference is clear: at the Tour de Suisse last month, riders were finishing outside the time limit in the TT, going more than 30% slower than the winner.

Lowden, however, doesn’t think this issue should be a reason to stop the top teams from showing their ability against the clock.

“Actually, if you look at the WorldTour teams, they’ve got TT bikes. We can race a TT, absolutely, and I think that there is a gap in the WorldTour races at the moment,” she said.

“And if we don't have TTs then all of the energy that we put in as teams, as riders and the staff, the sponsors, the equipment providers - when we get to showcase it? It’s a bit of a bit of a shame and it’s definitely a gap that needs to be filled.”

Even without a TT, a time trialist took a win on stage 4 as Olympic and World Championships silver medallist Marlen Reusser (SD Worx) won after a 23km solo attack. Was it a substitute for a time trial, though? Certainly not, said the Swiss rider.

“I still regret that there is no time trial,” Reusser said after her win. Today it was a time trial, but you can’t say it’s the same after such a long race. The legs do not feel the same compared to when you prepare specifically for a time trial, it was another discipline.”

There are plenty of goals coming up for the TT specialists in the peloton, with both European Championships and Worlds still to tackle this season, but as for winning against the clock in one of the biggest races on the calendar, that will have to wait for another year.

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Matilda Price is a freelance cycling journalist and digital producer based in the UK. She is a graduate of modern languages, and recently completed an MA in sports journalism, during which she wrote her dissertation on the lives of young cyclists. Matilda began covering cycling in 2016 whilst still at university, working mainly in the British domestic scene at first. Since then, she has covered everything from the Tour Series to the Tour de France. These days, Matilda focuses most of her attention on the women’s sport, writing for Cyclingnews and working on women’s cycling show The Bunnyhop. As well as the Women’s WorldTour, Matilda loves following cyclo-cross and is a recent convert to downhill mountain biking.