Van Vleuten goes on mountain rampage to win stage 7 of Tour de France Femmes

Annemiek Van Vleuten stunned her rivals as she stormed to a thrilling solo victory and claimed the yellow jersey for the first time in Saturday's penultimate stage of Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.

The 39-year-old Dutch woman's attack came on the first climb of the day with 70km remaining and she shook off chaser Demi Vollering (SD Worx), who finished second.

Vollering had a superb ride with Van Vleuten, pushing the pace on to keep the chase group at bay, but Van Vleuten attacked again and dropped Vollering to win the stage by 3:26.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-SUEZ Futuroscope) sprinted for third from the chase group, while Marianne Vos (Jumbo Visma), who spent her fifth day in the yellow jersey, suffered a brutal ride in the mountains as she slipped 24 minutes behind and sacrificed her reign.

In what was a searing hot, 27°C mountain stage from Sélestat to the ski resort of Le Markstein Fellering - the first resort in the Vosges to be equipped with a ski lift in 1947 – Van Vleuten took command early on making her attack at the foot of the Petit Ballon and blew apart the large lead group.

Van Vleuten's lead never faltered and, after suffering from illness earlier in the week and dropping back in the general classification, she threw everything at the 127km mountain stage she felt was suited to her strengths.

In her post-race interview, Van Vleuten was asked if she realised what she had done. "Not really," she said. "It's been such a rollercoaster after being sick, I was so sick and then to win here with this is unbelievable and beautiful to finish here solo.

"For sure I had to try because I was behind, I lost some time, seconds, and my style is always attacking and not waiting until the final. I did recon the stage [before] and I saw already the was a hard one… and after six days waiting, surviving, recovering, I wanted to make the biggest time gaps and that means going on the first climb.

"I am older than the other girls so I can do a lot of training and this was suited to me."

She clarified that "it's not that my colleagues don't train hard, it's training years and competitiveness" as well as fitness style and racecraft. "If my colleagues continue for some more years they can also do it. It was so hard that I knew if I was fit enough after being sick, I knew it was my day.

"Before I said that the yellow for me, something for the guys, I didn't think a lot of it, but then I saw Marianne Vos riding with it and I have to say it's a nice one. It's a beautiful extra present for the victory."

Van Vleuten goes into the final day with a 3:14 lead in the yellow jersey. Meanwhile, Vollering moves up to second, and Niewiadoma remains in third.

Silvia Persico (Valcar-Travel & Service), who was third in the overall standings after being relegated for a dangerous sprint on stage 6, dropped to fourth.

Meanwhile, Lorena Wiebes abandoned the stage early on, despite being cleared to continue after requiring stitches from a heavy crash sustained on Friday.

How it unfolded

A large early breakaway formed early on just 27km into the 127km day, with Trek-Segafredo heavyweights Elisa Balsamo, Ellen van Dijk, and Elisa Longo Borghini included. They gained around 45 seconds ahead of the day's first categorised climb, Petit Ballon.

However, as the ascent began with 76km to go, drama ensued as the peloton split the group and Vos was dropped and over seven minutes down as Van Vleuten and Vollering attacked.

Elisa Longo Borghini tried to bridge the gap alone, chasing ahead of a small group including Persico, Evita Muzic, Mavi Garcia, Uttrup Ludwig and Kasia Niewiadoma, 1:25 behind the Dutch duo at the summit.

Vollering collected the 25 points toward the mountains classification on the Petit Ballon, but, straight into the second mountain of the day, Van Vleuten had more to give.

Just ahead of the summit of Col du Platzerwasel, Van Vleuten attacked again, and, confident in her fierce descending skills, she dropped Vollering and gained a stunning lead as she threw herself down the descent with 60km to go.

The two leaders put further time into their rivals with Longo Borghini and the Niewiadoma group falling at least four minutes down.

With the kilometres ticking down, the gaps widened further with Vollering cooked in the heat. Van Vleuten dug in to increase her lead with only one final climb up the Grand Ballon, which sits at over 1300m above sea level, separating her from her first stage win and the yellow jersey.

The gaps blew out on the final ascent, with Vollering over three minutes adrift, the Niewiadoma group and the peloton well over six minutes back.

The only remaining battle was for third as Vollering comfortably secured second and Uttrup Ludwig sprinted for third.

The final stage will cover the remaining mountains and promises to be punchy with the finale of the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift finishing atop of La Super Planche des Belle Filles. 

Results powered by FirstCycling.

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