Lorena Wiebes of Team DSM took a spectacular second win at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, beating Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) into second place and yellow jersey Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) into third.
The sprint was initiated by Ceratizit–WNT rider Maria Giulia Confalonieri - who finished in fifth position - within the final 300 metres. Wiebes then followed the wheel of Rachel Barbieri of Liv Racing Xstra, before she launched herself ahead of Vos and Balsamo to take a decisive victory.
It came after a mild confusion into the final corner, which saw Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) take a wrong turn and leave the field of play, marginally damaging teammate Balsamo’s sprint lead-out.
The stage saw a long breakaway effort from Victoire Berteau (Cofidis), Antri Christoforou (Human Powered Health), Emily Newsom (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) and Anya Louw (AG Insurance-NXTG) established early in the race.
What seemed like an orderly flat stage went undisturbed until a major crash with just over 45km remaining split the field considerably and saw Emma Norsgaard (Movistar team) abandon the race. Several medical car visits alongside multiple chases back to the main field followed.
The field came together over the next 10km or so, and the race then took on a more focussed chase when Berteau and Christoforou attacked their breakaway companions just outside the final 20km and led the field by a margin of 40 seconds into the final 10km, and held a margin of 25 seconds in the final 5km.
A heroic effort from the two breakaway riders held off the main field until the final 3km, followed by a last gasp attack by Berteau, at which point the major teams began to orchestrate their lead-out trains and Wiebes took her win.
“I'm really happy,” Wiebes said after the race finish, “especially because Franzisk [Koch] did such a strong effort with controlling the race from the beginning on, when the four went away. Franszisk kept the gap the same and she did an amazing effort so I'm happy to finish it off.”
When the interviewer asked if Wiebes’ 17 wins this season made her the best sprinter in the women’s peloton, she replied, "You're saying it, I don't like to say it myself. I felt strong in the sprint and I'm happy to deliver the sprint after a long stage."
The win pushes Wiebes ahead in the green jersey competition. "It's still a goal to get the green jersey and also to keep going on the GC with Juliette [Labous]. She's also riding really strong. And today was really a team effort and that's the most important [thing]."
How it unfolded
The longest stage in the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift had sparked a debate about women’s stage distances, but everyone in the 130-rider peloton was ready to race for another day, despite the intensity of the previous four stages.
The 175.6km stage took the race east from Bar-le-Duc to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, with the Vosges mountains of the final weekend coming into view. The French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne was at the start and followed part of the stage with Race Director Marion Rousse, confirming the importance of the Tour de France Femmes.
As expected the stage distance and the intense racing on the dirt roads from stage 4 made the peloton cautious early on. The speed was high but attacks were few.
Emily Newsom (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) and Anya Louw (AG Insurance-NXTG) were the first to get away after 10km and fought to establish a gap on the fast-moving peloton. Soon after, Victoire Berteau (Cofidis), Antri Christoforou (Human Powered Health) joined forces to jump across after Human Powered Health had ridden to reduce the gap.
The peloton seemed happy to let them go and the gap rose to 3:30 after a fast opening 50km. Team DSM soon took over on the front of the peloton to protect Lorena Wiebes’ chances in the sprint.
Berteau scored two queen of the mountain points at the top of the Côte de Pagny-la-Blanche-Côtec after 61km and Antri Christoforou scored a point as the four worked well together.
After 105km, Berteau was also the first to top the Côte de Gripport climb to score 2 points on the second climb of the day but she did not gather enough QOM points to take the polka-dot jersey from Femke Gerritse (Parkhotel Valkenburg).
Team DSM placed a second rider on the front of the peloton for the final 60km and the breakaway’s lead fell gradually to 2:00.
Louw jumped away to win the intermediate sprint with 55km to race. However the break quickly reformed to try and stay away as long as possible. In the peloton, Vos accelerated to try to score the minor points but Wiebes came past her to finish fifth and score 13 points, while Vos scored 11. They will perhaps fight for the green jersey in the final stages.
The race seemed calm and controlled and all set for a sprint finish but a huge crash in the peloton with 45km raised the tension. At least 30 riders were involved, with Emma Norsgaard (Movistar) forced out of the race.
The peloton was at 1:30 while Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) who was also caught in the crash, was a further 1:00 behind. Others riders were further behind but the peloton eased to allow their teammates return to the group.
Meanwhile the four in the break continued to race on, with the lead dropping to under a minute as they reached the lower slopes of the final climb of the day, the Col du Haut du Bois. Berteau and Christoforou managed to open up a gap on their two companions, Newsom and Louw on the gently sweeping upward climb, but it seemed all but certain that the two would quickly be caught by a peloton that had almost fully regained its pre-crash size.
When European Champion Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) put her shoulder to the wheel at the front of the peloton, the pace behind went even higher. Yet even if at 11 kilometres to go, the gap had yet to fall beneath 30 seconds, it became increasingly clear Trek-Segafredo, SD Worx and DSM were playing cat and mouse with the two ahead, wanting to catch them as late as possible so as to discourage further moves.
So for, all Cofidis team car told Berteau that her chances were intact on roads that were far more technical late on than the broad, straight rural highways of much of the second half of the stage and for all Berteau continued to struggle to stay clear right up the moment she was reeled in.
The bunch had the two well in their sights as they sped into the finish town of Saint-Dié-Des-Vosges and the end was never really in doubt. Then at 2.4 kilometres to go, the break finally ended and a bunch sprint beckoned.
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