Marianne Vos got through the gravel on stage 4 unscathed to finish fifth and maintained her lead in the overall classification at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.
The Jumbo-Visma rider is fighting to keep the yellow jersey for as long as possible but recognised that she will likely lose the overall lead when the race reaches the mountainous finale this weekend.
"Of course you have to be realistic and with the climbs coming up this weekend, normally, the GC riders are very strong and will take a lot of time. It's a different kind of racing on the weekend but I'm very happy to wear the yellow jersey now," Vos said.
Marlen Reusser (SD Worx) took a solo victory on the 126km race that included 12km of gravel and steep ascents before reaching Bar-Sur-Aube. Vos lost no time in the GC but said that it was partly luck on her side that she didn't experience crashes of mechanicals during the race like some of her rivals.
Asked about the potential challenges of including gravel sectors into stages of the Tour de France Femmes, Vos said, "it's part of cycling."
"It's always hard to tell. If you get through it nicely then you would say, 'this is quite nice'. So, for me it was OK today. We spent a lot of energy to stay in front with the team, to fight for position, especially before the gravel sections and climbs. You need a little luck," Vos said.
"I can image that for the riders that go for general classification, it was a difficult day, and for the riders it can be stressful. But, it's part of cycling as well, and I hope that everyone came through OK."
As the overall race leader, Vos has been attending the post-race press conferences, fielding press interviews several times a day, all while trying to recover from the efforts of racing.
She admitted that wearing the yellow jersey is both important and difficult at the same time. Her Jumbo-Visma teammates supported Jonas Vingegaard to win the overall title at the Tour de France last weekend, and she said they've given her some insight.
"Especially because we always hear from the guys about the Tour de France, that if you are with the yellow jersey, there is a lot going on and not much time left. That is true, but it's also true with every stage race that is important," Vos said.
"You try to stay focused for the next day, and that's the main thing we are looking at. The team behind me is very important; to get the nutrition right, massage, and especially try to sleep well is the most important."
The race heads into stage 5 on Thursday, 175.6km from Bar-le-Duc to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges. This is the longest stage of the Tour de France Femmes and reaches beyond the distance limits set for women's stage races by the UCI.
Women's one-day races have been frequently reaching the 160km plus distances, especially in the Spring Classics, while some stage race organisers, such as the Giro Donne, have occasionally been including 170km stages into their routes.
Vos doesn't see the distance as a challenge for the world-class peloton racing at the Tour de France Femmes.
"It's a very long stage but I don't think it will make much of a difference because of the length. All the riders are well trained at the highest level and they can cover this distance. After some days of racing, it is in the legs, and maybe the final it will make a difference," she said.
"It's a long race and a lot can happen. There might be sprinter teams interested in sprints and other teams interested in a breakaway. I don't expect an easy stage tomorrow."
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