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Uttrup Ludwig wins in Épernay on Tour de France Femmes stage 3

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-SUEZ Futuroscope) made up for her team's disastrous opening stage in the Tour de France Femmes, taking out the uphill sprint in Épernay over none other than the maillot jaune Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma).

The win is a triumphant comeback for the Danish national champion, who lost a lot of time and lost teammate Marta Cavalli in crashes on the opening stage.

By finishing second, Vos nevertheless retains the yellow jersey. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD Worx) was third on the stage.

The pair were part of a 10-woman group of top GC contenders who went clear from the rest over the final two climbs of the day. Also in the move were Vos' breakaway companions from stage 1, Silvia Persico (Valcar) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), who remain second and third overall at 16 seconds.

Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) was present in the group, but was suffering from illness, and lost some time. She had to bridge back up to the group on the final descent having been dropped towards the top of the final climb, then was distanced in the uphill finishing sprint, losing 20 seconds to Ludwig.

For Ludwig, it was a triumphant comeback having gone down in a crash and lost a lot of time yesterday, and she was in a tearful, emotional state at the finish.

"It feels like such a good comeback after, I have to say, a fucking shit day yesterday. Losing Marta [Cavalli] and crashing and having to come back. I just love how the team kept the fighting spirit.

"We knew that today was a super good day and if I had the legs I could try and go for the win. To actually do it and be a Tour de France stage winner in this jersey? Oh my God. It just doesn't get better.

"I don't think I realise it yet. I actually didn't come into the last corner in the best position but I kept fighting. What a victory, man. This is for my team - they did such a good job yesterday and kept believing in me. I love you guys. What a year for Denmark."

Demi Vollering (SD Worx), despite crashing on the descent of the penultimate climb, recovered to return to the lead group and lead out the sprint for her teammate Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio who finished third behind Ludwig and Vos.

How it unfolded

Many riders began stage 3 nursing wounds from yesterday's many crashes, and two victims were unable to start the stage: Amanda Spratt (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Ally Wollaston (AG Insurance-NXTG).

The stage got off to a hectic start as multiple riders sought to go up the road, with even Marianne Vos in the yellow jersey getting into a move.

Her group was quickly shut down before the first climb of the day, the category four Côte de Trépail, where Femke Gerritse (Parkhotel Valkenburg) took maximum points ahead of Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM).

More attacks followed, and for a while, a two-woman group of Pauline Allin (Arkéa) and Queen of the Mountains Femke Markus (Parkhotel Valkenburg) established themselves at the front of the race. But they too were brought back, with approximately 75km still to ride.

The peloton remained together for the next climb, the category four Côte de Vertus, allowing Gerritse and Chabbey to once again sprint for the points, with the former coming out on top again.

The pair pushed on after cresting the climb, and were joined by Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Trek-Segafredo), but they only managed a gap of a handful of seconds over a peloton that several other riders were trying to break free from. With 49km left to ride, on the approach towards the Côte du Mesnil-sur-Oger, they were caught.

Both Gerritse and Chabbey still had the legs to sprint in the peloton at the top of the climb, where once again they took two and one points respectively.

Lorena Wiebes (DSM) was one of several riders to lose contact with the peloton on this climb. But the trailing group she was a part of was helped back into the peloton later by Movistar, who were helping to pace Annemiek van Vleuten back into the peloton following a comfort break, in what later transpired to be related to her stomach illness.

Chabbey's teammate Alena Amialiusik used a plateau that followed the climb to break out of the peloton, and was allowed to build a lead of over 30 seconds by the 40km to go mark.

A few riders tried to bridge up to her, with Letizia Borghesi (EF Education-Tibco-SVB), Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Ceratizit-WNT) and Mischa Bredewold (Parkhotel Valkenburg) forming a chasing group, but Amialiusik remained out alone. She extended her lead to over a minute with little more than 30km to go, making her the new virtual yellow jersey.

As the peloton upped the pace in anticipation of the crucial climb of the Côte de Mutigny ate into Amialiusik's lead. She survived to take maximum points at the intermediate sprint around 20km from the finish though, as did Bredewold behind to take second, while Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) and Vos rolled over to take third and fourth in the peloton.

Only at the foot of Côte de Mutigny was Amialiusik caught, at which point the top GC contenders came to the fore.

Seven went clear on the climb: Van Vleuten, Vollering, Moolman, Borghini, Persico, Mavi García (UAE Team ADQ) and Liane Lippert (DSM), with Vos in the yellow jersey trailing, alongside Ludwig and Juliette Labous (DSM).

While looking to press home their advantage, Vollering (who, incidentally, was first over the climb) crashed on the descent, with Lippert (DSM) also going down behind her.

Both managed to remount, and Vollering caught up to a chasing group featuring Vos, Ludwig, Labous, Kristen Faulkner (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), that were frantically chasing the leading quintet.

Their work proved to be enough, and contact was made 6.8km from the finish, meaning 11 riders were now at the front of the race, a minute ahead of the next group, featuring Lippert.

The group remained together despite several attacks, mostly from Faulkner, and Borghini claimed three bonus seconds at the top of the final climb, with Niewiadoma taking two and Moolman-Pasio one.

That trio had a small gap going over the climb, but all of the others apart from Faulkner all managed to make it back on the descent.

It took Van Vleuten longer than the rest, but she just about made contact in the final kilometre.

Vollering led the sprint out in the final kilometre, and Niewiadoma was the first to launch her sprint, 350m from the line. Vos stuck to her wheel before launching but was outpaced by Ludwig, who claimed the biggest victory of her career so far. 

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