The longest stage in the modern history of women’s World Tour racing climaxed with a victory for the winner of the shortest stage in the 2022 Tour de France Femmes, Lorena Wiebes of Team DSM.
The Dutch sprinter, winner of the Tour’s opening 81km circuit race on the Champs Élysées last Sunday, powered past race leader Marianne Vos to take her second win on the eve of a trio of mountain stages.
“That was the last opportunity for the sprinters I think,” Wiebes said, adding that she felt pressure. “I’m very happy I took the win. The team showed how strong we are, and it was a real team effort.”
The 175.6km stage, which was almost 180km long if you include the four-kilometre neutralised zone at the start, was animated by a four rider breakaway that was eventually closed down on the rolling roads leading to the foot of the Vosges mountains, in eastern France.
“For me, it was the longest race I ever did,” Wiebes said. “I’ve never done 180km, even in training. It was a long stage, hectic until the final, but the whole team did a great job.”
The four-rider escape, which took shape with 142km to race, was composed of Victoire Berteau, Antri Christoforou, Emily Newsom and Anya Louw.
As they rode the rolling roads of the Meurthe-et-Moselle, past camper vans, sound systems, giant flags and picnicking roadside crowds, the stage had a festival vibe that was typical of any edition of the men’s Tour de France.
But with 50km to race, a mass crash saw half the field entangled on the tarmac on a stretch of straight road and the quartet of leaders increasingly optimistic of staying clear to the finish in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges. With so many riders on the ground, some injured and many struggling to move off again, it took several minutes for most of them to get going again.
“It’s really horrible seeing so many girls on the floor,” the Isle of Man cyclist Lizzie Holden, riding for Le Col-Wahoo, said after the stage. “You see some that don’t move for ages. It’s crazy and it’s really not nice to see. It’s part of bike racing, but we still come back every day. I’m a bit scared in the peloton at times so after things like that, I tend to hold back a bit more,” Holden admitted.
When the dust settled, Denmark’s Emma Norsgaard had abandoned with a suspected broken collarbone, while Silvia Persico, who had started the stage second overall, to Vos, had required a bike change and only rejoined the main peloton after a prolonged chase.
Another faller was the former Italian national champion, Marta Bastianelli, who battled on through tears to rejoin the main peloton.
But as they approached the final climb of the day, the Col du Haut Bois, the peloton picked up speed leaving Berteau and Christoforou alone with the main field now regrouped and in pursuit. Although the pair worked hard to keep their lead, with the peloton riding at speeds of around 60km/h, the catch took place inside the last three kilometres, ending their 140km escape and setting up the inevitable sprint finish.
“The last three stages were pretty hard,” Wiebes said. “Everyone feels the legs a bit. Last year in the Giro, I felt more fresh after a couple days. It has been full-gas racing.
“I think it’s exciting to watch. I’m excited to see what happens tomorrow. Maybe a break will win, and then we head into the mountains and we’ll see the battle for the GC.”