Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) etched her name into history as the winner of the first Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, sealing the stage victory on La Super Planche des Belles Filles.
After Van Vleuten's dominant performance on stage 7 where she gained over three minutes on Demi Vollering (SD Worx), the margins were much closer in the grand finale as riders emptied their tanks on the brutally steep final ascent.
In a near repeat of Saturday's mountain showdown, Vollering was Van Vleuten's closest competitor, taking second on the stage 30 seconds behind to secure the runner-up position on the podium. Silvia Persico (Valcar Travel & Service) led Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) to the finish for third.
The Pole held onto third place in the final standings after finishing fourth on the stage at 1:52.
Van Vleuten came under pressure mid-stage, having to chase back from multiple bike changes ahead of, and on, the category-1 climb of the Ballon d'Alsace. On the descent, she struggled to withstand another downhill attack from Vollering.
But when the road tilted up into the brutally steep pitches on La Super Planche des Belles Filles, Van Vleuten's climbing prowess propelled her up and away from all of her rivals.
After nearly dropping out due to illness in the opening stages, the Dutch phenom launched her second solo attack of the Tour with 6km to go and passed all nine of the breakaway riders who had escaped midway through the 123.3-kilometre stage, with Mavi Garcia (UAE Team ADQ) the last to let go as the maillot jaune danced away to another solo victory.
"It's actually a dream that comes true - winning in yellow at the top. It was not an easy stage, it was not an easy week. It was a super big rollercoaster for me. To finish in yellow solo - the best way," Van Vleuten said.
"I'm super proud to be the first winner of the TDF for the women. To have it back on the calendar and be the first woman to win it in this new version - I hope it's a big start and we can build this into a bigger event for the women. It's a milestone to win this first one."
How it unfolded
As was the case on stage 7, it was another fast and furious start, with no breakaway managing to form on the flat opening roads. With 50km before the first climb, the peloton, led largely by FDJ SUEZ Futuroscope, barrelled along at more than 40km/h.
Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Ceratizit-WNT) nipped away to take the intermediate sprint after 47.4 kilometres, just ahead of the first categorised climb, where the race would finally break open. The Côte, d'Esmoulières was only short, at 2.3km, but the vicious 8.5% gradients helped open some cracks among the bunch.
Rachel Neylan (Cofidis) kicked off the hostilities, but Vollering soon hit out and led the race over the summit, extending her lead in the mountains classification by five points. The polka-dot jersey wearer soon settled back into the fold but the subsequent uncategorised drag uphill was the cue for others to force a breakaway.
Soon, a group of 10 riders went clear, including the Canyon-Sram duo of Elise Chabbey and Pauliena Rooijakkers (Canyon-Sram), plus Leah Thomas (Trek-Segafredo), Paula Patiño (Movistar), Grace Brown (FDJ Suez Futuroscope), Riejanne Markus (Jumbo-Visma), Liane Lippert (Team DSM), Mavi Garcia (UAE Team ADQ), Yara Kastelijn (Plantur-Pura), Coralie Demay (St Michel Auber 93). The best-placed riders on GC were Garcia, 9th overall at 12:06, and Chabbey, 10th overall at 12:26.
As the yellow jersey group eased and allowed a gruppetto containing green jersey Marianne Vos to return, more riders sensed it was now or never. Victoire Berteau (Cofidis) attacked and was joined in a. Chasing quartet by Ane Santesteban (BikeExchange-Jayco), Jeanne Korevaar (Liv Racing Xstra) and Antri Christoforou (Human Powered Health).
There were two more in Christine Majerus (SD Worx) and Mie Bjørndal Ottestad (Uno-X) but suddenly things all changed as drama struck and Van Vleuten was forced into panic mode. On the downhill following the drag, with 60km to go, Van Vleuten had a mechanical and stopped to change bikes with teammate Arlenis Sierra.
As she made her way back towards the bottom, the peloton started to split as both SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo put the hammer down. Van Vleuten stitched her way back onto a group but it was soon well behind the main bunch. At that point Majerus was called back to try and turn the screw on the yellow jersey.
Van Vleuten burned through two teammates in Sheyla Gutierrez and Aude Biannic in a panicked chase, before taking matters into her own hands and blasting her way back into the GC group on the lower slopes of the Ballon d'Alsace - all on a bike that was too big for her. Once back, she stopped again to get her own bike back, but it was an all-yellow spare, and not the one she started on. So after a few more kilometres she had to stop for a third bike change, to get back on the original bike that had apparently been repaired.
After battling her way back to the group for a fourth time, Van Vleuten calmly made her way up the cat-1 climb in the thinning GC group, where Vollering launched a volley of accelerations to reduce it to 17 riders by the summit.
At the top, Garcia, who set pace in the breakaway for much of the climb, led the race over the Ballon d'Alsace with 38.5km to go. Santesteban and Christoforou had been dropped but there was another member in Krista Doebel-Hickock (EF), who'd bridged across earlier on the climb. Vollering led the GC group over at 1:10.
Vollering continued her effort on the descent and, like on stage 7, succeeded in briefly dropping Van Vleuten, who was kept under constant pressure. With 15km in the valley, things soon settled down and the breakaway continued with a lead of 1:30 over a swelled GC group.
The breakaway games began on the flat with 13.5km to go as Doebel-Hickok attacked and split the group, with Garcia, Markus, and Rooijakkers joining her in going clear. However, Brown dragged Chabbey, Patiño, Lippert, and Kastelijn back to make it a nine-rider break with a lead of just over a minute as they hit the final climb.
As soon as the final climb reared up, Rooijakkers went on the attack, with Garcia responding, but it was soon clear it wasn't a breakaway day. After less than a kilometre, Van Vleuten made her move, accelerating out of the saddle while speaking into her radio to tell Patiño to drop and pace her. Her teammate duly provided the springboard, with no one else able to follow. As yesterday, Vollering mustered the best effort but the rest were left floundering.
Van Vleuten reached Garcia just over 5km from the summit and ripped clear with a vision acceleration. From there, she gained on everyone as she rode alone all the way to the top of the mountain, finishing with super steep ramps and gravel tracks. Vollering rode alone to take another second place and cement second overall, crossing the line 30 seconds down.
The next group on the road was soon down to Niewiadoma, Persico, Labous, Ewers, and Ludwig, although the latter started to fade 2.5km from the top. Persico had the edge on the final 24% ramp to take third place on the stage, just ahead of Niewiadoma, who sealed the final spot on the overall podium.
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