Start location: Cahors
Finish location: Rodez
Stage type: Hilly
Start time: 12:25 EST
Finish time (approx): 17:12 EST
Cahors is a picturesque ancient town nestled within the meandering path of the Lot river, surrounded by steep hills, and characterised by its narrow streets and breathtaking architecture. The town's identity is epitomised by two Unesco World Heritage Sites: the Valentré bridge and Cathédrale Saint-Étienne. Built in the 14th century, the Valentré Bridge is a unique marvel with its three towers, making it the only bridge of its kind in the world. It is also widely acclaimed as one of the most photographed monuments in France. The Tour de France Femmes takes the riders over this hallowed bridge, as they head out of Cahors for the fourth stage.
The town has also gained recognition for its distinctive "black" wine, which is crafted primarily from Malbec grapes, complemented by Merlot and Tannat grapes grown in and around the town. With the vineyards creating a spectacular vista for those visiting Cahors, the town created a 160km cycling route that from Cahors to Aiguillon. The well-marked path winds through expansive vineyards, orchards, and preserved landscapes, accompanied by the serene presence of the Lot River, providing cyclists an opportunity to immerse in the region's natural beauty.
Stage four profile sourced via ASO
While the Tour de France Femmes won’t be indulging in any wine tasting, they will have the opportunity to ride alongside the scenic Lot river. Fortunately, the first half of the stage offers a relatively smooth ride. There is only one categorised climb after 16 kilometres of racing, the Col de Crayssac, spanning 2.3km with a gradient of 4.8%. It's only when the route veers away from the Lot River and heads towards Rodez that the climbs start to become more frequent. The Côte de Falgeyras, Côte de Colombiès, Côte de Moyrazès, and Côte de Lavernhe await the riders in quick succession, making the last 20km of the stage particularly intense.
These short yet steep climbs in the second half will favour the punchy riders within the peloton. If a breakaway has managed to stay away, the final battle will be fiercely contested, as the climb to the finish lines delivers a punch with its 10% gradient. The rider who claims the stage victory will not only secure a prestigious stage win but also be crowned the champion of the Women's WorldTour's longest-ever stage, covering an impressive distance of 177.1km, marking a significant milestone in the realm of women's racing.
Stage four of the Tour de France Femmes, outside of the Col du Tourmalet summit finish on stage seven, features the hardest parcours in the race with numerous tough climbs in the Massif Central. Give its unprecedented length as well, it looks as though it could be a crucial day for the general classification contenders.
Unlike the men's race, where such a profile could suit the breakaway, there's fewer opportunities in this eight-stage for GC advantages to be gained, so it seems unlikely a large escape group will stay away.
The race's two favourites, defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) and last year's runner-up Demi Vollering (SD Worx), are in pole position for victory on this attritional terrain. Both of them are dynamic all-round riders, able to make devastating long-range attacks and ride solo to the finish. We could even see the pair arrive to the finish together, in which case Vollering should have the advantage to take the stage win and bonus seconds given her superior sprint.
Yellow jersey Lotte Kopecky is exceptional on the shorter, punchier climbs, but the stacked climbing in the final 40km is possibly just beyond her. She may also be asked to work in service of teammate Vollering's GC bid and forego her chance of a second stage win.
The same could be said for stage two winner Liane Lippert, who, like Kopecky, could be a contender if a reduced bunch makes it to the uphill finish, but she may also be charged with serving teammate Van Vleuten.
Lidl-Trek's Elisa Longo Borghini looked in excellent form before crashing out of the Giro Donne earlier this month, and this stage perhaps looks like her best chance at victory out of the remaining stages.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-Suez) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), who both struggle to regularly convert high place finishes into victories, like Longo Borghini may see this as their best chance at a victory in this race. They are both extremely capable climbers, but will need a lot to go their way in order to extricate themselves from both Vollering and Van Vleuten.
Silvia Persico (UAE Team ADQ) is a strong climber with a punchy finish, and she could be in contention for victory if the climbers reach the finish together – she already beat Vollering in a sprint at De Brabantse Pijl earlier this year.
Veteran Ashleigh Moolman (AG Insurance - Soudal Quick-Step) has showed no signs of slowing down, impressing consistently this season so far. The South African is perhaps more suited to the long effort on the Tourmalet, but with two top five finishes in this Tour already, she could be a contender for stage four.
Elsewhere, Évita Muzik (FDJ-Suez), Juliette Labous (DSM-Firmenich), Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM), and Mavi García (Liv Racing TeqFind) are other possible outsides for victory.
We think Demi Vollering will stamp her authority on the race for the first time with a victory on stage four.