Wiebes. Wiebes. Wiebes. It’s all anyone was talking about in the lead into the opening stage of this year’s Tour de France Femmes. It’s no wonder, really. The Team DSM rider has had a staggering 53 wins so far in her career – and she’s only 23-years-old. In the last race she competed in before la grande boucle, the Baloise Ladies Tour, Wiebes won every single road stage. A few weeks before that, she won three stages at the Women’s Tour, and a few weeks before that, she won every stage of the three-day Women’s WorldTour race, RideLondon Classique. A sprinter couldn’t wish for a better record.
The thing is, Wiebes is unstoppable when she gets a sniff at the line. She sprints like she was born to do it. Her body is rock solid as her legs do the talking, producing powerful, fluid pedal strokes that just make it impossible to stay on her wheel. She’s fearless as she weaves through the bunch and nails the apex of every single corner. On the bike, Wiebes exhibits the ruthless determination that’s necessary to become as prolific a winner as she is. “I have pure focus on the finish line” she said after today’s race.
Off it, Wiebes is a bit of an enigma. She is smiley, friendly and modest, and you can barely match her up to the rider who raced so furiously a few minutes before, masked by her helmet and glasses. After securing the first yellow jersey of the Tour de France Femmes, she walked into the press room wide-eyed, almost surprised that this wealth of journalists were there for her, to ask her questions. She spoke candidly about how she’d wanted each of her nails painted in the pattern of a different jersey colour in honour of racing the Tour for the first time, but her “nail artist didn’t have enough time so we decided to do just the two colours that were important to my Tour, yellow and green.”
Image: James Startt
In fact, Wiebes answers in interviews give little away in helping us understand how this 23-year-old has taken the cycling world by storm in recent years. While her rivals have been left scratching their heads trying to work out how they could possibly beat the Wiebes, she’s been getting a manicure, and, as she admitted, has not been getting caught up in the attention that comes with being the favourite to win the first stage of the women’s Tour de France. “I was fine with pressure. I was relaxed at the start, we did everything as normal,” she explained after the race.
There is something striking about Wiebes’ answers though. While they’re short and to the point, they are minute in their detail. In an almost sterile fashion, she can recount the final metres of her winning sprint in the opening stage down to her gear changes. It’s a trait she shares with 34-time-Tour de France winner Mark Cavendish, who has always famously been able to recall every metre of the sprint straight after he crosses the line. “The lead out was chaos. I'd stayed in Pfieffer Georgi's wheel and Charlotte Kool was still behind me,” explained Wiebes after the race. “Our plan was to swap positions after the tunnel, but there was so much chaos that I had to stay in Pfieffer's wheel and she put me in perfect position.”
“When I started the sprint, or at least when Marianne [Vos] started the sprint, I reacted. I was able to shift up one gear and then continue my sprint with full focus on the finish line.”
These answers also highlight the teamwork that goes into each and every one of Wiebes’ victories. Team DSM’s leadout train is unmatched by any other in the peloton. The black and blue jerseys are at the forefront of every big bunch kick in the Women’s WorldTour, well-drilled, well-practised and perhaps most importantly, full of unwavering confidence.
Image: ASO/Fabian Boukla
“We’ve shown the whole year that we are the best in the sprints. We have a sprinting team and we love to sprint,” explains Charlotte Kool, a key ingredient in the perfect concoction that is the Team DSM lead out train. “I think we are really smart and we know what to do. Today was not perfect, but that’s also what I think we are good at. We came from far back but still we came. It didn’t go exactly to plan, but in the end we came to a good spot,” she continued, speaking on the Champs-Élysées a few minutes after crossing the finish line on stage one.
So what’s it like to lead out the fastest sprinter in the world? “Pretty easy,” says Kool. “She is confident, in the final you can hear her if she’s stressed, she will shout, but we need that, it’s not a problem.”
As the Tour de France continues, perhaps the best thing for Wiebes is that there are a plethora of stages she could still win. She proved at the Dutch National Championships where she finished third atop the brutal VAMberg that she can do more than produce a few powerful pedal strokes to the finish line. Wiebes versatile and punchy, and that’s exactly the type of rider that the route of this Tour de France Femmes suits.
While Wiebes may be licking her lips at the chances ahead, she poses a serious threat to the chance other teams have at stage victories. The Team DSM rider has become the best sprinter in the peloton through the confidence she has in her ability, and today’s win will only have boosted that further. Speaking to sports directors ahead of stage one, they seemed almost resigned to the fact that Wiebes couldn’t be beaten on the Champs-Élysées. “We will try, but it’s going to be really difficult,” admitted Team SD Worx’s DS Anna van der Breggen.
So could this Tour be dominated by the 23-year-old Dutchwoman with the green and yellow nails? “There are a lot of chances to sprint and we will go for it,” said Kool.
For Wiebes, though, taking yellow and the first stage win of this year’s Tour de France is a box ticked on one of her season goals already. “It feels so special to ride here around Paris and even more to be wearing the yellow jersey.” Her result at the Tour de France also is bigger to Wiebes than just adding another victory to her palmarès: “I hope we inspire a lot of young girls.”
Cover image: ASO/Fabian Boukla