With its long distance, the small teams represented in three-rider breakaway – which was predictably reeled in just under five kilometres before the finish – and the peloton’s steady cruise to the finish line, stage five of the Tour de France Femmes had the feel of a classic Tour sprint stage that we’ve watched in the men’s event for decades. Apart from a few splashes of drama with crashes and intermediate sprints, until the final 10 kilometres it was, quite frankly, a bit of a snoozefest.
Sure, it gave the women’s peloton a chance to test themselves on a distance well over what they’re used to racing, but it fundamentally didn’t make much difference to the overall outcome. Lorena Wiebes from Team DSM won and Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) finished first and second. These are the exact same results that we saw on the opening stage of the race on the Champs-Élysées, except then, the riders had done almost one hundred kilometres less racing than they did today.
It begs the question: what did a 175.6 kilometre stage really bring to the Tour de France Femmes? Riders at the finish line commented that it was “boring” in the bunch, with the main drama of the day coming from the 50 plus rider pile-up that happened with 45 kilometres of the stage remaining. Maike van der Duin of Le Col Wahoo, who finished fifth in the final sprint, told Rouleur that she thought the crash happened “because the bunch was chill and relaxed, nothing was happening, girls were too relaxed and not sharp enough.”
If the only thing we get out of adding one hundred kilometres to a sprint stage is big crashes, why do it? Spectators at home don’t enjoy watching it on TV and the general consensus at the finish line was that riders didn’t have much fun on this stage either.
Maybe the point is that the long distance adds to the challenge of a stage race, and that we’ll see the effects of these extra kilometres as the race gets hilly in the final two days. But, Van der Duin described the day as “recovery”, which makes it hard to see how it could seriously fatigue the big GC contenders.
If the eventual aim is to completely mirror the men’s Tour de France, then longer days for the riders and more stages in the race is the way forward. But is this really what needs to happen?
Long, sprint stages which follow the usual, dull formula of a small break made up of wildcard teams are boring in the men’s Tour too, and most people don’t watch them from start to finish without a nap in the middle. Women’s cycling has a blank canvas and the chance to do something different at the Tour de France. To put their own spin on a legendary race which could actually make the Tour de France Femmes far more exciting to watch.
The short, punchy, explosive and exciting stages that we’ve seen in the race so far have been pure entertainment. One of the things that makes women’s racing attractive is the lack of a routine, predictable structure when it comes to racing, and route organisers should capitalise on this.
Women’s cycling can stand on its own and has the rare and exciting opportunity to create something fresh in a largely traditional sport. Copying aspects from the men’s Tour de France isn’t necessary to make the Tour de France Femmes a great race. For the route planners, perhaps it’s time to think outside of the box.