Following a successful inauguration last October, the Tour de Romandie Féminin returns in 2023 for a second edition. Brought forward a few weeks from its October slot to the third weekend of September, the stage race will be the final European leg of the WorldTour, prior to a couple of final races in China next month.
Ashleigh Moolman (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step) is the defending champion having got the better of Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) in last year’s decisive mountain top finish at Thyon 2000, while on either side of that, Arlenis Sierra (Movistar) was a sprint from a select group in the opening stage while Marta Lach (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling) was triumphant in the final day bunch finish. Once again, the 2023 race will consist of three stages, and the mountainous terrain of Switzerland has been capitalised on with a big summit finish on stage two.
2023 Tour de Romandie Féminin route
Stage one: Yverndone-Les-Bains - Yverndone-Les-Bains (144.1km)
Starting and finishing in the town of Yverdon-les-Bains, stage one weaves around the local rolling terrain, which might be hard enough to prevent a bunch sprint. The category three Niédens (1.9km at 5.5%) is tackled twice during the first half of the stage, while there are also numerous unofficial hills to test the rider's legs. The hardest climb of the day, the category three Arrissoules (2.5km at 6.9%) is crested 41.5km from the finish, but the best springboard for stage-winning attacks might be an unofficial rise about 20km later that is followed by a flat run-in to the finish.
Stage two: Romont - Torgon (110.8km)
This is the queen stage, the one where the climbers will come to the fore and fight it out for overall victory. After a lengthy trek south from the start town of Romont, the riders will face not one but two huge mountains in the Swiss Alps. First up is Les Mosses, which will wear the rider's legs down and thin the bunch out for 13.9 testing kilometres, albeit at a not too daunting gradient of 4%. Then, after a long descent, they will take on the 10.6km climb to the finish at Torgon, which, at a steeper incline of 6.6%, will likely split the race to pieces and see the pure climbers gain lots of time.
Stage three: Vernier - Nyon (131.9km)
The climactic stage of the Tour de Romandie features rolling terrain in the manner of the opening day rather than the mountains of stage two, but could still cause late changes in the general classification. It’s an undulating stage, centred around two consecutive climbs that will be tacked twice during a circuit from the finishing town of Nyon: Mont-sur-Rolle (2.4km at 6.5%), and Le Molard (3.3km at 6.8%). They’re hard enough for attacks, but a 30km, and mostly, downhill run-in to the finish may see them neutralised in time.
2023 Tour de Romandie Féminin contenders:
Demi Vollering (SD Worx)
The overwhelming favourite to take overall victory in Romandie is Demi Vollering, as she rounds off a season in which she has superseded Annemiek van Vleuten as the best stage racer in the world. Her record this year speaks for itself: she has not finished outside of the top two in any of the five stage races she’s completed this year, including, of course, the much sought-after Tour de France Femmes title. Better yet, two of those runner-up finishes were still victories for her SD Worx team as they were behind Marlen Reusser; Resusser will again accompany her in Romandie, but the severity of stage two’s summit finish means Vollering will likely be team leader.
There is some concern about her fitness after illness forced her to abandon the Simac Ladies Tour. Incidentally, it was the lingering after-effects of a Covid infection that saw her flounder to a lowly sixteenth-place overall last year. But in full health, she’ll be difficult for anyone to stop.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-SUEZ)
One of the most in-form riders in the peloton, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig goes into the Tour de Romandie not, as is usually the case, as an outside favourite, but one of the best bets to take overall victory.
The Danish rider is enjoying one of the best run of results of her career, following up bronze at the World Championship road race in Glasgow with two stages and second overall at the Tour of Scandinavia. And while the time trial was why she lost out to Annemiek van Vleuten there, there is no stage against the clock in this race for her to worry about losing time.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek)
Normally, Elisa Longo Borghini (who was third overall last year) would be an undisputed top favourite for a stage race like this, but the Italian has been hampered by fitness problems recently. A skin infection on her left leg forced her to pull out of the Tour de France Femmes while still well in the GC mix and went on to cause her to miss the World Championships, while she also crashed out of the Giro d’Italia Donne. In fact, she hasn’t managed to finish a stage race since the Tour de Suisse in June, where she was third.
Even if Borghini does rediscover her best form, it might be that Gaia Realini turns out to be Lidl-Trek’s best option for GC. The 22-year-old also hasn’t raced much recently, only returning to racing a few weeks ago at the Tour de l’Avenir (where she finished third), but is improving all the time and will enjoy stage two’s parcours.
Juliette Labous (Team DSM-Firmench)
As one of the best climbers in the peloton, Juliette Labous ought to enjoy the mountainous terrain here in Switzerland. The Frenchwoman has been one of the stars of the Grand Tours this season, placing fifth overall at the Tour de France Femmes after excelling on the Col du Tourmalet, and finishing runner-up at the Giro d’Italia Donne as the only rider within four minutes of Van Vleuten.
Despite these strong performances, she’s yet to win a race in 2023, however, prolonging a winless streak that stretches all the way back to the previous year’s Giro last July. Defeating the likes of Vollering will be no easy task, but she’s one of the few riders capable of putting the Dutchwoman under pressure in the climbs.
Liane Lippert (Movistar)
The Tour de Romandie marks the beginning of the challenging post-Annemiek van Vleuten era for Movistar, and Liane Lippert is the rider tasked with filling the void. The Dutch great bowed out of professional cycling at the Simac Ladies Tour last week, meaning Lippert will take on the role of outright leader in Romandie.
A lot of pressure comes with having to fill Van Vleuten’s boots, but it could also be liberating for the German, and she was, after all, signed to be her long-term successor. The German has enjoyed considerable success in her debut season for the team, too, most notably triumphing at the second stage of the Tour de France Femmes, and looked good a few weeks ago when she placed fourth behind Van Veuten at the Tour of Scandinavia. The punchy stages should be to her liking, but she’ll need to have her best climbing legs on stage two if she’s to challenge for overall victory.
Defending champion Ashleigh Moolman (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step) hasn’t quite been in the form that saw her claim the title last year, finishing out of the top ten at the recent Tour of Scandinavia, but will certainly be a contender if she can rediscover her best legs. Similarly, Mavi García (Liv Racing TeqFind) has struggled to find her top condition lately, pulling out of the Tour de France Femmes on the penultimate stage, but will look for a successful send-off from her Liv Racing team before she joins Jayco Alula next season.
UAE Team ADQ have multiple options in the shape of Erica Magnaldi, who has just finished second overall behind Marta Cavalli at the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l'Ardèche, and Silvia Persico, who still poses a threat despite having been found lacking in the biggest mountains test this year. Fenix-Deceuninck also has notable strength-in-depth through Tour de France Femmes stage winner Yara Kastelijn, young local Swiss rider Petra Stiasny, and Greta Marturano, who impressed by joining Van Vleuten and Ludwig in the four-woman selection at the Tour of Scandinavia’s key GC stage.
As one of the top Swiss stars, Elise Chabbey (Canyon//SRAM) will surely want to have an impact, perhaps by targeting the mountains classification, as she so often does, while her teammate Kasia Niewiaoma should be a top contender as one of the best climbers in the world. And Chabbey’s compatriot and Olympic Mountain Biking champion Jolanda Neff (Switzerland National Team) will command attention as she makes a rare outing on the road.
2023 Tour de Romandie Féminin prediction:
A parcours as tough as stage two’s will ensure the cream rises to the top and keep tactical racing at a minimum, and in a race that is a straightforward test of who has the best climbing legs, it’s impossible to look past Demi Vollering as overall victor.