There was a sense of impending doom in the air at the start of stage two of the women’s Tour de France. The air was thick, muggy and grey clouds lingered ominously in the sky above. Rumours swirled around the team buses about the potential of crosswinds wreaking havoc. Ronny Lauke, team manager at Canyon//SRAM described the day as a “trap.” He said that the flat parcours indicated an easy sprint stage, but the narrow, twisty roads and their poor conditions could throw up surprises.
Lauke, it transpired, was on the money with his prediction. Stage two was one of complete and utter chaos. “It was hectic from the start, everyone was nervous,” said Anna Henderson of Jumbo-Visma after the stage. “Riders need to start respecting each other, being willing to put each other on the floor to move up a few places is a bit sh*t, to be honest.”
It was on the local laps that the drama really began. The first crash came with around 30 kilometres of the stage remaining and it was the trigger of a series of serious pile-ups. One after the other they came, as more and more riders hauled themselves out of the ditches in the suburbs of Provins, cradled collarbones and shouted for spare bikes.
The French team FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope were the worst affected as both their leaders, Cecile Uttrup Ludwig and Marta Cavalli, were unable to navigate through the pandemonium of broken bikes, bodies and race vehicles that littered the road. Today had serious GC implications and many dreams of yellow were shattered. Riders spoke of not knowing where their teammates were as groups were scattered across the finish circuit, riders scrambling everywhere to regain position.
But among all the havoc, turmoil and disarray, there was one thing about today’s stage that restored a sense of order to the world of women’s cycling, and that was Marianne Vos crossing the finish line in first place.
Image: A.S.O./Fabien Boukla
The Dutch rider escaped the nervous bunch by following the attack of Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) which was launched with just under 20km of the race remaining. “Elisa went and apparently that was the time to go,” she said after the stage, emotional and shocked by her historic win.
Images that emerged after the stage of Vos wearing the yellow jersey almost look like something we have seen before. It looks natural, normal and to be expected. She has been the greatest cyclist in the women’s peloton for well over a decade, and the best rider in cycling normally wears a yellow jersey at least once in their career. For it to be in 2022 that Vos finally dons the maillot jaune on her shoulders is almost unfathomable. It was the only thing missing from her palmarès – through no fault of her own – so today was the day that Marianne Vos was able to, fundamentally, complete cycling.
She did it with a style and panache that has become synonymous with the three-time world champion. It was her experience and instinctive talent for racing that got her in the break in the first place, and it was her bike handling, skill and impeccable timing that secured her the stage win 20 kilometres later. As the lead group of six approached the line, Vos found herself in third position. Aware it was an uphill sprint she waited until the moment was right to pounce on her rivals, unleashing the power that we have become accustomed to seeing on our screens: sharp, punchy and, most importantly, unstoppable.
“This is something really special,” she said after the race. “I will enjoy wearing this yellow jersey tomorrow and suffer as well.”
Image: A.S.O./Thomas Maheux
Having the opportunity to wear yellow is especially poignant for Vos given her history in the sport. In 2013, she became a founding member of Le Tour Entier, an activist group which called for the introduction of a women’s Tour de France. One year later, Vos won the first edition of the ASO one-day race La Course, she won the same race again five years later, in 2019, then went on to finish second and third in the 2020 and 2021 editions.
“Nine years ago, we were talking with ASO about an opportunity to race,” she explained after the stage. “It went really fast to get La Course going and when we raced the first time, it felt like a milestone. And now to be here back for a stage race for a real Tour de France where you have all the emotion of the stage race, that's another milestone."
It’s this journey that makes Vos winning today feel so right. She’s been a figurehead of the sport for years, with rivals and teammates alike in awe of her brilliance on the bicycle. “Today, Marianne just did Marianne things,” said her teammate Henderson after the race. It’s widely acknowledged that Vos has a breathtaking talent – she admits herself that riding a bike has been her life since she was just nine years old.
Vos has been fighting for this Tour de France every step of her career, and the women’s peloton are aware that they have riders like her to thank for its inception. It’s only fitting that Vos is rewarded for her efforts with yellow. In interviews after the race, media asked Vos about her age and her plans for retirement, and she responded with just one, simple answer:
“I couldn’t stop until this race happened.”
Cover image: Getty images