Annemiek van Vleuten’s overall victory in the first edition of the Tour de France Femmes may have come in the twilight years of her career but it was not a surprise to those who have followed her story closely.
With a second stage win in 48 hours, this time at Super Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges, the 39‑year‑old Dutch rider emphasised her superiority over a peer group still coming to terms with her demolition of the field on Saturday’s summit finish to Le Markstein.
Over three first category climbs, Van Vleuten, so depleted by a stomach bug in the first half of the race that she came close to quitting, recovered remarkably strongly to put her rivals to the sword.
She called her win on Le Markstein as a “little bit of a miracle” and it was another extraordinary exploit by the rider who won the 2019 World Road Race Championship in Yorkshire after a 100‑kilometre lone breakaway.
“I’m super proud to be the first winner of the Tour de France for women, of this new version,” Van Vleuten said. “I hope it’s a big start and we can build this into an even bigger event. It’s a milestone to win the first one of, hopefully, many more.”
But it was a testing final day for the Olympic time trial title holder, and leader of the Movistar Team, who swapped bikes half a dozen times after starting the final stage in an all yellow bike, kit and helmet combination.
Although her closest rival, her compatriot Demi Vollering (Team SD Worx), wearing the Queen of the Mountains jersey, attempted to force the pace on the descents towards the final climb to Super Planche, Van Vleuten’s lead remained intact to the foot of the 7km ascent, which has sections as steep as 24%.
Six kilometres from the finish, Van Vleuten bridged up to her Colombian teammate, Andrea Patino, and began accelerating through the remnants of the day’s nine‑rider breakaway.
Only Vollering could give chase but as the climb wore on, the race leader’s advantage grew and, although Vollering closed the gap on the final gravel ramps, Van Vleuten crossed the finish line with 30sec to spare.
Van Vleuten has already won this year’s women’s Tour of Italy, the Giro Donne and now becomes the first woman to achieve the Giro-Tour double since Joane Somarriba, of Spain, in 2000. But her decisive stage victory on Saturday, based on a 60km lone raid through the Vosges, 72 hours after – by her own admission – she had been too weak to pack her suitcase, left her peers open-mouthed.
“To be honest, yes, it’s out of the ordinary, because we all worked hard,” FDJ-Suez rider Évita Muzic, one of Van Vleuten’s pursuers on the road to Le Markstein, said.
“There were five of us in the group and we were losing time all the time. We couldn’t give more: she was on another planet.”
Vollering, too, seemed stunned by Van Vleuten’s superiority. “I said to her [Van Vleuten]: ‘It’s not normal what you did,’” she said.
“She said: ‘I have so much more training experience and overall experience.’ Then she said to me: ‘That will come to you, so let’s hope.’
“I’m a bit older than the other girls, so can do a lot of training,” Van Vleuten said after her stage win on Saturday. “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.”
Marianne Vos, who led the Tour de France Femmes for five days, took the green jersey, while Vollering claimed the King of the Mountains and Shirin van Anorrij (Trek Segafredo) won the best young rider classification. But it was Van Vleuten’s masterclass. Her rivals will be pleased that she is retiring at the end of next season.