In the opening stage of the Tour de France Femmes, Cédrine Kerbaol of Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling stormed into the white jersey, establishing herself as the young rider to watch over the upcoming eight days. She was on home soil and ready to fly the French flag.
After that stage, there were only two other riders who threatened her chances of keeping hold of the precious jersey, and they were Silke Smulders (Liv Racing TeqFind) and Ella Wyllie (Lifeplus-Wahoo), both of whom were sitting within a minute of the 22-year-old rider after stage one. However, as the days went on, Kerbaol managed to shake Smulders, but she still had Wyllie hot on her heels, eyeing up her young rider's jersey.
The gap remained consistent at 1:21 for two stages and on stage four, Kerbaol even managed to gain some time on the Kiwi rider after the 177km-long stage. This was something Kerbaol needed going into stage seven, which would see them take on the hallowed Col du Tourmalet. With Wyllie being a pure climber, she was expected to thrive on the Tour's one and only mountain stage.
“Today, the first goal was to secure the white jersey,” Kerbaol said shortly after stage seven atop the Tourmalet. “So we fought it together all day long and she looked at me and I was looking at her, so today was more of a fight against each other. She attacked a few times and I came back in TT mode, and she attacked at 3km and she was stronger than me."
In the end, Wyllie came 11th and Kerbaol come 14th with the Lifeplus-Wahoo rider managing to gain 44 seconds on Kerbaol, but still leaving the French rider in white and leading by 2:01 ahead of the grand finale tomorrow in Pau. Even with Wyllie being suited to those long mountain passes, Kerboal managed to limit any losses. She also had whole country behind her, and they had come out en-masse to paint her name all over the roads and boost her up the climb. “It was really crazy,” Kerbaol added, speaking about the fans. “I was listening to people shouting my name everywhere. Sometimes I could see things on the floor. It was really crazy.”
Kerbaol is the first-ever French rider to wear a jersey in the Tour de France Femmes – a remarkable achievement for such a young talent. She’s been showcasing her excitement and prowess as a rider this season so far, securing first place at the Tour de Normandie in March this year, as well as third place at CIC-Tour Féminin International, RideLondon Classique, and Bretagne Ladies Tour. She was hopeful going into her first Tour de France Femmes, but you can never hedge your bets on how someone will perform each day. Yet, she seems only to have improved with each stage, remaining in white for the entire race so far.
Despite the weight of the country on such a young rider’s shoulders who is also making their race debut, Kerbaol has taken it all in her stride, embracing every moment in the limelight. “This week has been OK. Like with the media, I’m just saying what I think and with people, they just support me so naturally it doesn’t give me too much pressure,” she said.
It's no wonder she has garnered numerous supporters, giving French fans a reason to cheer with the white jersey at the Tour and her recent victory at the French National ITT Championships – a title that will put her in good stead for the race against the clock in Pau tomorrow. Kerbaol herself is confident ahead of the time trial and mentioned that two minutes on her rivals is a good gap. So, time will not be an issue for this time trial specialist, however, her outfit has been a cause of concern all week.
Kerbaol had made a comment earlier in the race that she was disappointed she would not be able to wear her tricolour national champion's skinsuit in the closing TT – confident in knowing she’d still be the leader for the whole eight days. “I am negotiating for a white suit with the tricolours,” she laughed when asked about her conundrum. While representing her national title in her home country at the Tour de France is of paramount importance to Kerbaol, the white jersey is a worthy replacement.