When stage one of the Tour de France Femmes came to a close it was all smiles for Lotte Kopecky and team SD Worx-Protime as they secured themselves the yellow jersey, the green jersey, and the polka dots. However, at the other end of the spectrum, Team DSM-Firmenich’s Juliette Labous could not have been feeling further from Kopecky.
Crossing the line 38th in Clermont-Ferrand 1:36 behind the winner and 40 seconds behind some of her main GC rivals, Labous was visibly upset. Putting her head into her hands as she sat against the railings, panting after the effort she’s just put in, her lips quivered as a sense of disappointment and frustration washed over her. Consoled by her teammates, the Frenchwoman headed back for the team’s bus where she later confirmed that the stifling heat had caused her legs to blow up at the foot of the Côte de Durtol, the key moment the GC actions unravelled.
However, stage two could not have been more different, even down to the weather. As the peloton headed south to Mauriac, the rain continued to pour and the temperature was 10 degrees cooler, leaving the summer sun in the city of Clermont-Ferrand. Labous’ form was clearly reflecting this contrast, showing that stage one was just a hiccup as she made several attacks in the second half of the stage.
“I enjoyed being in the race today, instead of just following,” Labous told Rouleur outside the team bus. “I might not be happy with the result, but I am happy with the feelings.”
Sitting in the group with the favourites, Labous attacked with 24km to go, setting off alarm bells for the other teams, in particular SD Worx-Protime, who could not let a rider like Labous get away. As a result, Marleen Reusser quickly shut the attack down. But Labous was back to full strength and she later attacked again with 2.7km to go on the descent down before the final climb.
“I was playing for the stage win and then for the GC would have been good, that is why I had to try”, Labous said when asked about the reasons behind her multiple attacks. While she didn’t win the stage, she crossed the finish line in 17th place, and most importantly, with a smile on her face. She also shot herself up 15 places in the GC classification to now 23rd, 1:46 behind the leader. The yellow jersey might not be in easy reach at the moment, but after stage two, Labous’ trajectory is certainly going in the right direction.
Racing in her home country, Labous is waving the French flag as the country's GC hope. A French rider is yet to win a stage at the Tour de France Femmes, adding extra pressure to the 24-year-old rider's shoulders. “It’s really nice,” she said, speaking about the French crowds. “Especially at the start and along the roads. I hear a lot of people saying my name, so that motivates me a lot actually. It is maybe a bit of pressure, but I think it’s pushing me more than anything.”
Labous came into this Tour with the same race calendar as she did last year, riding the Giro Donne beforehand. Last year at the Tour de France Femmes she narrowly missed out on a podium spot, but this year she’ll be hoping to continue her phenomenal form that saw her take second place at the Giro Donne earlier this month just behind Annemiek van Vleuten.
“The next stage I am looking forward to is stage four with the Rodez finish because it looks really hard and like, kind of Ardennes style of racing, so I think it is going to be big fireworks out there.”
Her first two stages have proven that in racing you can never predict how a race will unfold, whether that is in how the stage plays out or how a rider will feel within themselves. Labous said in an interview before the start of stage two, “the body's not perfect science,” referring to how she dealt with the heat in stage one. Despite a knockback on the opening stage, Labous redeemed herself in Mauriac, confidently adding: “I will get better and better.”
No matter what form riders are in a week before the race, or even the day before, small, even unknowingly, factors can play a vital role. It’s just how you come back the next day that really demonstrates what a competitor you are – and Labous did just that today on stage two, proving that she's ready to fight her way up the rankings.