- Dutchwoman recovers from sickness to blow competition away with long-range rampage in the mountains
- Vollering gets closest but still loses three minutes to new yellow jersey
Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of stage 7 of the Tour de France Femmes
It's been an action-packed Tour de France Femmes so far, but things only intensify from here. It's the final weekend, and we're heading into the mountains.
Sunday's final stage summit finish on La Planche des Belles Filles is sure to be a spectacular finale but today's stage stands alongside it in stature, and is being dubbed by many as the 'queen stage' of the race. There are three major category-1 climbs on the menu today, finishing with the Grand Ballon and a dip to the line.
The riders are on the start line and we'll be underway any minute.
After sprints, gravel, crosswinds, and kickers, these mountains signal the true general classification battleground. The climbs are so severe that we should see big gaps between the title contenders, with Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) the heavy favourite, even if she had a stomach bug earlier in the week.
The riders are on the move. A short neutral zone and the race proper will be waved underway in just under 10 minutes' time.
Before we get going, now's the time to catch up on yesterday's action. Stage 6 report, plus all the results and standings, and a photo gallery, all in here.
A slight delay to proceedings as two riders puncture in the neutral zone and we wait for them to get back in before kicking off.
The stage is waved underway.
No breakaway forming just yet.
The stage starts out with 25km on the flat, then starts to tilt up towards the day's first climb, the Petit Ballon, which starts after just under 40km. It's the Petit Ballon, as opposed to the Grand Ballon later on, but it's probably the harder climb, a few kilometres shorter at 9.3km but with a vicious average gradient of more than 8%.
Lots of Ballons as we enter the Vosges mountains this weekend. The Petit Ballon and Grand Ballon are on the menu today, and tomorrow we have the Ballon d'Alsace, which has symbolic significance in that it was the first official mountain pass of the men's Tour de France in 1905.
It's a fast start. A few riders have dropped out the back of the bunch but no one's going clear off the front of it so far.
The average speed is over 40km/h so far
Lorena Wiebes is among those dropped already. She started the day heavily bandaged after her crash yesterday. There were doubts about her continued participation and she looks to be struggling.
We've finally got a breakaway move as a group of a dozen clip off the front. It's not settled just yet though.
Only a slight advantage for these riders as the bunch is strung out at high pace.
World champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) is in this swelling front group.
100km to go
27km on the clock and into the final 100, and it's been a blistering start, run off at an average speed of nearly 45km/h so far. We have a massive front group of around 30 riders but the gaps are tight.
The green jersey wearer - on loan from Vos - has been struggling with the effects of her crash yesterday and has had to stop. A disappointing end but the Dutch sprinter leaves her first Tour de France with two stage wins.
Letizia Borghesi (EF Education-Tibco SVB) has also abandoned.
Grace Brown and Ellen Van Dijk are among the big names in this large breakaway but we'll wait to see if they can establish a proper advantage ahead of the first climb. They have 35 seconds at the moment.
Van Dijk is the second best-placed rider on GC in this move. The best is Ruby Roseman-Gannon (BikeExchange-Jayco), who started the day 15th overall at 3:25.
90km to go
The front group has 45 seconds over the bunch as we approach the Petit Ballon.
Here are the riders in the break
Trek-Segafredo: Balsamo, Van Dijk
SD Worx: Majerus, Van den Broek-Blaak
FDJ Suez Futuroscope: Brown, Guazzini, Le Net
Jumbo-Visma: Henderson, Swinkels
Team DSM: Georgi
Canyon//Sram: Cromwell, Paladin
UAE Team ADQ: Boogaard
BikeExchange-Jayco: Manly, Rosemann-Gannon, Santesteban
Valcar-Travel & Service: Arzuffi, Sanguineti
Cofidis: Neylan, Berteau
Liv Racing Xstra: De Jong, Demey, Smulders
Plantur-Pura: Cant, Schweinberger
Le Col-Wahoo: Van der Duin, Vandenbulcke
Parkhotel Valkenburg: Gerritse
St Michel Auber 93: Bideau, Pompanon
Roland Cogeas Edelweiss: Dronova
But the peloton is coming back ahead of the climb, where we'll get a first real sort-out.
88km to go
Here we go, the climbing begins!
First up is the Petit Ballon. It's 9.3km at 8.1%
It's all change again on the lower slopes of the climb as the big breakaway is caught by the bunch, which in turn begins to shatter on these steep gradients.
Vos dropped! The yellow jersey is in trouble already as the peloton explodes on the climb. What a stage so far.
Van Vleuten and Vollering on the move!
The Dutch pair are away as a duo at the head of the race. Wow.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) goes on the counter-attack.
Van Vleuten and Vollering have a 20-second lead over a chasing group that includes Longo Borghini, Silvia Persico, Evita Muzic, and Mavi Garcia.
Uttrup Ludwig is in that chase group too, so that's three FDJ riders in there with Muzic and also Grace Brown. It's a seven-woman group and the other riders is Juliette Labous (DSM).
Onto the top half of the Petit Ballon and Longo Borghini is now alone just ahead of the rest of that small chase group. With a bigger group nearly a minute behind that.
Van Vleuten is setting the pace on the Petit Ballon and Vollering is just trying to stay with it at this point.
Vollering's co-leader at SD Worx, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, is in a group 2:20 down already. This stage is going to see GC carnage.
Vos is already five minutes down. Any feint notion she could hang onto the yellow jersey have evaporated.
Van Vleuten and Vollering are nearing the top of the Petit Ballon. At the top we'll get some proper time gaps for all these riders who are scattered across the mountain.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) has made her way into the main chase group of eight or so riders, behind Longo Borghini and of course the two leaders.
Urska Zigart (BikeExchange) has also made it in there now, with Yara Kastelijn (Plantur-Pura) another rider in contention.
78km to go
Van Vleuten and Vollering lead the Tour de France Femmes over the Petit Ballon. They've opened this mountain stage early and there's huge damage behind.
Longo Borghini follows over at 1:25.
The next group over the climb is 2:30 down on the two leaders.
Ludwig, Brown, Muzic, Persico, Labous, Niewiadoma, Zigart.
Moolman-Pasio is in a group at more than five minutes.
Vos crests more than seven minutes down.
We have a fast descent now but we'll soon be climbing again on the Platzerwasel.
Vollering is doing turns on the descent. She was basically a passenger behind Van Vleuten on the Petit Ballon.
KOM points on Petit Ballon
1. Vollering, 10 pts
2. Van Vleuten, 8 pts
3. Longo Borghini, 6 pts
4. Brown, 4 pts
5. Uttrup Ludwig, 2 pts
6. Niewiadoma, 1 pt
Vollering isn't just doing turns, she's forcing the issue on this descent. She has distanced Van Vleuten and is clearly the better downhill.
The descent comes to an end and Van Vleuten gets back to Vollering to make it two our front once again.
68km to go
Here we go, time for the second climb. It's another steep one.
Here's the shot of the day so far, Van Vleuten and Vollering tearing away on Petit Ballon.
Van Vleuten is setting the pace once again on this second climb. Longo Borghini is losing ground, slipping to 2 minutes now.
The chase group with Niewiadoma, Persico, Ludwig, Muzic, Brown, Zigart, and Labous has also lost another minute. They're 3:30 down.
The next main group on the road contains Moolman-Pasio and polka-dot jersey Femke Gerritse but it's at nearly seven minutes down already.
With Moolman-Pasio out of the frame, Vollering is SD Worx's leader and she's doing a great ride so far. She's the only one able to follow Van Vleuten, even if that's all she's really doing at this point.
However, a couple of causes for optimism. She dropped Van Vleuten on the descent. Also, she pipped her to the mountains points at the top of the Petit Ballon, where Van Vleuten was definitely trying to get there first.
Van Vleuten came into this stage with doubts over her form, given the stomach problems she had earlier in the week. She lost a little ground and started the day 8th overall but weathered some dangerous moments to remain in contention. Her rivals may well live to regret not trying to do more damage when she was under the weather. She's come out swinging today.
64km to go
2.5km to the top of the Platzerwasel and Van Vleuten is still setting the pace with Vollering in her wheel. All other riders in the race are bleeding more and more time to this leading duo.
Longo Borghini has slipped to 2:45. She's still doing a good ride, solo and still 90 seconds up on the chase group.
That chase group is splitting now. Brown is dropped as Niewiadoma ups the pace. Persico tracks it, followed by Ludwig, Labous, Muzic, and Zigart.
Zigart and Muzic are now struggling in that group.
Van Vleuten attacks!
Big acceleration 1km from the summit of the Platzerwasel.
Vollering cannot respond.
Double-digit gradients here and Van Vleuten is ripping out of the saddle. Vollering is digging in and if she can limit the damage by the summit then she'll be hopeful of getting back in on the descent.
61.4km to go
Van Vleuten reaches the top of the Platzerwasel. She's alone at the head of the race. Incredible ride so far.
Vollering reaches the summit 25 seconds in arrears.
It'll be another three minutes by the time Longo Borghini reaches the summit in third place. Crazy gaps.
Longo Borghini crests four minutes down.
There is a plateau at the top of this climb that will take the riders through the finish line with a glimpse down the final climb of the Grand Ballon they'll be tackling later. Van Vleuten is pressing on with this attack before the descent starts, taking her lead to 45 seconds on Vollering who is now the only other contender in this stage.
Zigart and Muzic got back into the chase group, so along with Niewiadoma, Ludwig, and Labous, they're pressing on at 5:30. An elite group reduced to also-rans.
A bit more about the route from here. The first passage of the finish line comes with 54km to go. What follows is a 15km descent, then a 15km false-flat-downhill run through the valley, then the final climb of the Grand Ballon, and finally the run-in to the line.
Vollering is at 55 seconds now. She can't wait for this descent to start. She dropped Van Vleuten on the previous one.
54km to go
Van Vleuten comes through the crowds at the Markstein, great to see so many people out. She crosses the finish line for the first time with a lead of one minute over Vollering. Longo Borghini is the next rider on the road at almost five minutes!
The Niewiadoma chase group is closing in on Longo Borghini on the plateau. One minute is the gap now. The Canyon rider is asking Zigart why she's not contributing. It falls to FDJ to sue their numbers with Muzic doing the work for Ludwig.
Longo Borghini crosses the finish line for the first time and she's now 5:10 down.
The yellow jersey of Vos is more than quarter of an hour down, by the way.
Van Vleuten is heading downhill and the gap back to Vollering has now stabilised. It's 1:25. That was a well-timed attack near the summit of the Paltzerwasel, getting the gap and driving it home on the plateau to give Vollering no chance of returning on the descent.
This isn't even a fast or particularly technical descent. Plenty of pedalling and that should allow Van Vleuten to take this lead into the valley.
38km to go
Van Vleuten comes off the main part of this descent. It continues gently downhill for 15km yet. The gaps stabilised on that descent, with Vollering at 1:20, Longo Borghini at 5:30, and the Niewiadoma group at 6:30.
A few kilometres from our intermediate sprint in Oderen, which is a bit of an irrelevance at this point.
34km to go
Van Vleuten wins the intermediate sprint in Oderen, by one minute and 40 seconds...
Anna van der Breggen in the SD Worx team car tells Vollering she's gaining on Van Vleuten on the downhills. I hope it makes her feel better, but it's a fib. The Dutch chaser is now at 1:45 down.
As Vollering continues to slip, Longo Borghini is holding strong at 5:15 now. She's keeping the six-rider chasing group (Niewiadoma, Ludwig, Muzic, Labous, Persico, Zigart) at one minute.
25km to go
Van Vleuten continues to plough on alone. Vollering is suffering now, slipping to 2:07. Meanwhile, Longo Borghini holds firm at 5:20 and the six-rider chase moves a little closer at 6:05.
We're coming towards the foot of the final climb, the Grand Ballon. This is what's in store.
Here's a shot of Longo Borghini, third on the road
And here's the chase group, fourth group on the road and the last of any real relevance now.
Longo Borghini is fading. She's drifting back towards the Niewiadoma group.
20km to go
Van Vleuten is on the lower slopes of the Grand Ballon, riding a race of her own. The only question now is what will be her yellow jersey lead at the end of the day. At the moment, it looks like she's killing the race stone dead with a day to go.
Vollering starts the climb 2:30 down and it's only going to get harder for her. What a ride, but is she starting to pay for her earlier efforts of following Van Vleuten? She still has a three-minute buffer to what would be third place.
This is one of those stages that's amazing and jaw-dropping and historic, but, on the other hand, will effectively end this race as a contest and could drain some of the life out of tomorrow's much-anticipated finale on the Planche des Belles Filles.
Vollering is now at three minutes and slipping. The suspense now lies in the podium places. Longo Borghini is looking strong once again on this climb, moving clear again of that chase group and making steady gains on Vollering.
The chase group (the fourth on the road) loses a member as Muzic is dropped. She did a lot of work for Ludwig in the valley.
We've got a bonus sprint on this climb. Van Vleuten picks up three seconds, not that she needs them. Her lead will be measured in minutes.
Longo Borghini could be fading here. She's now just 25 seconds ahead of the Niewiadoma group.
13.5km to go
Van Vleuten springs out of the saddle, mouth agape but still looking fresh. Just over 6km to the top of this final climb.
Vollering, meanwhile, has steadied the ship. She's at 3:25 now, but still almost three minutes up on Longo Borghini, so she should be riding into a pretty solid second place overall.
The Italian has been really impressive and started the day third overall, but she can't hold the pace of the Niewiadoma group.
And now Niewiadoma is dragging the remains of that group across to Longo Borghini.
They make contact, so the situation is as follows
- Van Vleuten
- Vollering - at 3:30
- Longo Borghini, Niewiadoma, Ludwig, Labous, Zigart - at 6:20
Here's Vollering, who's slipping back towards the four-minute mark but is today's best of the rest.
And here's a brilliant shot, of the scarcely believable time gaps being displayed in black and white.
Persico is digging it at 10 seconds down on the group she's been in for much of the day.
Persico is back! Gritty ride.
But now Niewiadoma attacks!
Labous tracks it, cracks emerge but no one dropped.
Persico, who just got back in, is dropped again.
Labous and Ludwig follow Niewiadoma but the rest start to lose contact.
Longo Borghini is distanced and Niewiadoma turns the screw. As it stands, she's riding into third place and Longo Borghini would be a close rival so she'll take all the time she can get.
Yellow jersey Marianne Vos is now at 20 minutes. We'll wait to see the time cut today but surely some won't be making it.
Niewiadoma continues to drive on what's now a group of three. They're now at 6:15 behind Van Vleuten, so actually climbing slightly quicker than the solo leader at the moment.
8km to go
Into the final kilometre of the Grand Ballon for Van Vleuten. She's no longer climbing quicker than everyone else, but nor is she really fading. She has 3:40 on Vollering.
Longo Borghini is slipping further and further back. She's with Persico and Zigart and they're losing a minute to Niewiadoma, Ludwig, and Labous.
7.2km to go
Van Vleuten crests the Grand Ballon. 7.2 largely downhill kilometres to seal a truly remarkable victory.
Vollering crests the Grand Ballon 3:35 in arrears. On the top part of that climb, she matched and even started to claw back a few seconds on Van Vleuten. She looked at one point like she could crack but she's on her way to second overall.
Meanwhile Niewiadoma is doing all the work in the next group. Labous and Ludwig have just been sat in the wheel.
Niewiadoma leads that trio over the top of the Grand Ballon at 5:50. They made some good inroads there.
2km to go
Van Vleuten is 2km from the line now.
She's smiling! The celebrations are starting already.
What a ride. Historic stuff. Van Vleuten, in a race of her own, enters the final kilometre and prepares to celebrate.
Labous and Ludwig start turning on the run-in. They could get a little closer to Vollering, and then there'll be third place to sprint for.
A final short kick up to the line, Van Vleuten springs out of the saddle, she's beaming from ear to ear. She sits up, raises her arms wide, and crosses the line.
Van Vleuten attacked on the first climb of the day, the Petit Ballon, and ripped the race to shreds immediately. Only Vollering could follow, but she dispatched with her towards the top of the Paltzerwasel, extending her lead on the plateau, down the descent, through the valley, and up the final climb of the Grand Ballon. She started to slow slightly near the top, but by that point she'd put nearly four minutes into anyone else. The battle for third is taking place at six minutes down. The yellow jersey is 25 minutes down. Incredible day.
Vollering comes to the line now for second place. What's the damage?
And now for third place. Niewiadoma leads them into the final kicker.
But Uttrup Ludwig sprints clear, and takes third place.
Labous is fourth, Niewiadoma fifth. They finished at 5:19 down on Van Vleuten.
Let's hear from the winner
"It was such a rollercoaster, after being sick. I was so sick. And then to win here like this, it's unbelievable. It's beautiful to finish solo.
"For sure I had to try, because I'd lost some seconds. My style is always attacking and not waiting for the final. I reconned the stage and saw the Petit Ballon was a hard one, and after six days of waiting and surviving and recovering, I wanted to make the biggest time gaps and that means going on the first climb."
Van Vleuten addresses the question of the gaping gulf in level between herself and the others.
"I'm a bit older than the other girls so can do a lot of training," she says, before clarifying: "I want to make something clear; it's not that my colleagues don't train as much as I do. It has something to do with training years. I have a lot of capacity, then it comes down to fitness, and that's something I'm really good in. This stage suited that really well. If my colleagues continue for some more years they for sure can do it. The stage was so hard I knew if i would be fit enough after being sick, it would be my day."
Here's our report page, where you can find the day's write-up, full results, and photos
The new maillot jaune
Latest on Cyclingnews
Jake Stewart sprints to victory on stage 1 of Tour de l'AinAlaphilippe goes on the attack on opening stage
Cannondale launches new, lighter-weight Cannondale SuperSix EvoNew 'Leichtbau' edition drops 90 grams, but it's not the bike that many Cannondale fans wanted to see
Mohoric suggests Epstein Barr Virus and COVID-19 held him back at Tour de FranceSlovenian to take period of rest after struggling to recover from the Tour
Tim Wellens joins UAE Team Emirates after decade at Lotto SoudalBelgian agrees two-year deal to strengthen UAE Classics squad
Bob Jungels signs for Bora-HansgroheLuxembourg rider leaves AG2R after two rollercoaster seasons
Sina Frei makes switch from MTB to road with SD Worx at Tour of ScandinaviaSwiss Specialized Factory rider to line up at six-day tour alongside Demi Vollering and Niamh Fisher-Black
Tiesj Benoot fractures neck in training crashJumbo-Visma rider reveals he is stable and avoided life-threatening injuries
US track champions to celebrate matrimony at Pan Am ChampionshipsMarquardt-Alvord 'kitted up for honeymoon' in Peru
Matias outsprints McGill on stage 4 of the Volta a PortugalSprinter takes over green jersey lead as Moreira continues in yellow into Tuesday's rest day