Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) claimed victory on the second stage of the Tour de France Femmes, to become the new overall leader of the race.
It had seemed written in the stars that the woman universally acknowledged as the greatest of all time would take the yellow jersey at some point, and she does so today, 24 hours after narrowly missing out to Lorena Wiebes (DSM) in the sprint on the Champs-Élysées.
Vos defeated Silvia Persico (Valvar Travel Service) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), as part of a six-woman that went clear just after the immediate sprint, 20km from the finish, after an attack instigated by Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo), and also featured Balsamo’s teammate and GC leader Elisa Longo Borghini and best young rider Maike van der Duin (Le Col-Wahoo).
This group finished 29 seconds ahead of the chasing peloton that included Lorena Wiebes (DSM) in yellow as well as GC contenders Demi Vollering (SD Worx) and Mavi García (UAE Team ADQ), and 34 seconds ahead of another group featuring overall favourite Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar).
On a dramatic day that was unfortunately marred by multiple crashes, Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope) was the biggest victim and abandoned the race after hitting the deck hard.
It was also a bad day for Cavalli’s teammate Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who finished in a group 1-38 adrift.
But above all this day belongs to Vos, who adds a Tour de France stage and the yellow jersey to her already incomparable palmares, having so narrowly missed out yesterday.
“It's not revenge, it's just a beautiful day. I can't describe what happened. We knew we had to be focused, we knew we had to be alert on the bell lap because it got narrow and the wind played a role. But I didn't expect we would break away and stay away. Like yesterday, the team did a perfect lead-out for the Champs Elysées and now they brought me perfectly into this bell lap to the sprint. Elisa Balsamo attacked and apparently that was the moment to go.”
Balsamo’s was the move that took the peloton by surprise, flying out of the peloton just as they were easing up following the intermediate sprint.
Vos was alert to the move though and joined Borghini, Persico and Niewiadoma as they marked Balsamo, and soon caught Maike van der Duin, who had escaped up the road shortly earlier, to form a leading group of six.
Despite having a quick sprint finish, Balsamo sacrificed herself for Borghini, doing the lion's share of the pace-setting and then swinging off when Borghini launched an attack in the final kilometre.
The Italian was closely marked, and Niewiadoma moved to the front 400m from the finish, before being the first to launch her sprint as the finish line approached.
With Balsamo having already dropped back, Vos was the top favourite in this situation, and she timed her move perfectly to pass Niewiadoma at the line to take the victory.
Asked whether this was the best of her many hundreds of victories, Vos said “For now it's definitely the best. It's incredible. Of course, you're here and you're trying to be focused but to take the victory today is beautiful.
“I wanted to try my best and do things right but I also knew there were some fast girls. Of course, it was very hard in the final so everybody probably had sore legs. I just had to go and see if it would be enough.”
How it unfolded
Windy conditions and exposed roads ensured that stage two of the inaugural Tour de France Femmes wasn’t going to be the straightforward sprinter stage its parcours might have suggested it’d be.
A break of four was able to go clear at the start of the stage, featuring Rotem Gafinovitz (Roland Cogeas Edelweiss Squad), Femke Gerritse (Parkhotel Valkenburg), Marit Raaijmakers (Human Powered Health), and Sabrina Stultiens (Liv Racing-Xstra).
That quartet stayed out long enough to contest the day’s only Queen of the Mountains points at the top of the category four Côte de Tigeaux, with Gerritse first over the line ahead of Raaijmakers. That wasn't quite enough to take the polka-dot jersey from her teammate Femke Markus, however, who retains the lead in the mountains classification on countback.
However, a lead that had extended up to three minutes with 100km to go quickly plummeted as the pace increased at the front of the peloton, and they were brought back with 78km still to ride.
Some riders had been ejected out the back of the peloton as a result of this increased pace, although none of the top GC favourites were caught out. But the pressure eased shortly after the catch was made, allowing those dropped to make it back — including Julie de Wilde (Plantur-Pura), who had been held up in a crash.
A lengthy lull in proceedings followed, and no new breakaway was formed. Only when the top teams started vying for position at the front of the peloton as the 30km to go mark neared did the racing pick up in intensity again.
Soon after this, a crash occurred in the peloton, with Soraya Paladin (Canyon-SRAM) among those to go down.
A new attack was at last launched 26.7km from the finish, with the leader of the young rider classification Maike van der Duin (Le Col-Wahoo) taking off in her white jersey.
However, her move was dwarfed by what was happening in the peloton, where multiple riders were hitting the deck hard in crashes.
First Gaia Masetti (AG Insurance-NXTG Team) fell going around a corner at the front of the peloton while trying to chase down Van der Duin.
Then a huge crash occurred in the middle of the peloton, with a ricochet effect taking out more riders, most significantly Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope), Amanda Spratt (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Australian champion Nicole Frain (Parkhotel Valkenburg).
And just minutes later Femke Markus (Parkhotel Valkenburg) and Laura Süßemilch (Plantur-Pura) were the next victims, also hitting the deck hard.
Meanwhile, at the front of the peloton, the sprinters’ teams were leading out their leaders for the intermediate sprint 20km from the finish, where Lorena Wiebes won the sprint ahead of Lotte Kopecky and Marianne Vos (although maximum points went to Van der Duin, who remained a few seconds ahead).
It was after the sprint that Balsamo launched the surprise move that would determine the outcome of the race.
The six riders who went clear built a gap of 25 seconds with 15km to go, and held steady for the next few kilometres.
Despite the urgency for Van Vleuten and Vollering not to lose time, and for Wiebes to defend yellow and sprint for another stage win, their respective Movistar, SD Worx and DSM teammates struggled to mount an organise chase, and the gap grew to 40 seconds in the final 10km.
It remained at around that distance up until the finishing straight, which was enough for Vos to not only sprint for the stage win but also take the yellow jersey.
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