Liane Lippert has been a prolific podium finisher. A regular top-ten scorer. A reliable Ardennes classics rider. A common face at the front of the peloton on the television. But a winner? Over the last few years, not so much. The second place in La Flèche Wallonne Féminine and third place in Amstel Gold Race earlier this season were signs that the Movistar rider was on the verge of greatness, but today’s stage of the Tour de France Femmes was the final confirmation – one that perhaps Lippert herself needed the most – she has a place at the very, very top of women’s cycling.
Her victory also marks an important step in the development of the Movistar team – it serves as a clear indication that when world champion Annemiek van Vleuten retires at the end of this year, the Spanish squad will not be short of riders ready to step up to fill the big space she will leave. Liane Lippert is a winner already.
“This is her biggest victory so far. A breakthrough win for her, now maybe she will believe more in herself about finishes she can do, also after a hard race,” Van Vleuten said about her teammate’s victory after today’s stage. “I knew that she was super strong and sometimes she had to wait for the right moment.”
It’s true that Lippert played the game to perfection today, biding her time on a tough and attritional stage of the Massif Central to come to the finish with more speed in her legs than any of her rivals who remained in the peloton. After a slippery and dangerous descent from the final climb of the day, the Côte de Trébiac, Lippert positioned herself right on the tails of a storming SD Worx lead-out for yellow jersey wearer Lotte Kopecky. It was then that the patience the German rider has learnt over years of finishing so close to the win shined through: she waited. Just after 200 metres of the stage remaining, Lippert launched a strong and powerful sprint, teeth gritted, her entire body moving with the effort.
As she crossed the finish line, her white national champions jersey stained with the dirt and sweat of the day, Lippert punched the air and then covered her mouth in shock about what she had just done. Van Vleuten was the first to congratulate the German, but the exchange they shared wasn’t laced with surprise, instead it felt like Van Vleuten had known for a long time that this was coming. She grinned at her teammate and left her to continue enjoying the moment. Then came Floortje Maackaj, Lippert’s longtime close friend in the peloton, it was then that the tears flowed and the emotion that years of just missing out on victory had built up was released from the 25-year-old.
“I have been waiting really, really long to actually win a stage or just a race,” Lippert explained in her press conference after the race. “I won a National Championships but just to win a race like this means so much to me. I hope that now it explodes and that I can actually keep on winning, or at least be in the mix for the wins.”
Lippert also credited Van Vleuten for the advice and teaching that the older rider has given her through the time they have spent together on Movistar. “It’s been so great to be together this year and I think that we can combine both our cards,” Lippert said. “I'm really a different rider than her. I'm more punchy like I showed today and she's better on a long climb.”
The German’s stage win today certainly ticks one box for Movistar in this race, but their ambitions extend beyond that, too. Van Vleuten has the yellow jersey to fight for when the race hits the Tourmalet towards the end of this week, and Lippert will be crucial to help her do that. As the stage winner points out, her and Van Vleuten’s strengths go hand-in-hand; the younger rider’s punch is the perfect accompaniment to the world champion’s diesel engine. Movistar are proving to be a force to be reckoned with at this year’s Tour de France Femmes so far, and Van Vleuten herself has no doubts that there is more to come.
“When you start winning, you don’t stop,” the 40-year-old said with a grin after the race. “This is very good for our confidence.”