Alice Towers is on a whirlwind ride to the very top of professional cycling. In the space of just two short seasons, she’s gone from an inexperienced junior rider to a WorldTour team, and now she’s riding her first ever Tour de France Femmes. The British rider’s talent was clear when she won the National Championships last season at just 19 years old and then went on to represent the stripes admirably by securing top-10 finishes in challenging UCI stage races like the Lotto Belgium Tour. The attention came quickly then, and an offer for Towers to move up from Continental team Le Col-Wahoo to WorldTour outfit Canyon//SRAM was well-deserved at the end of a breakthrough season.
Securing a contract from in the WorldTour is one thing, but keeping a team happy when you are on the squad is another challenge altogether. Canyon//SRAM is one of the most well-established women’s teams in the peloton, and there are plenty of riders vying for a spot – elite sport is cut-throat, and the reality is that riders need to keep impressing if they are to keep their place at the top. While Towers hasn’t necessarily been securing victories this season, she has impressed with her solid work as a domestique in big races for her team leaders – this is what earned her a place on Canyon//SRAM’s Tour de France Femmes roster, ahead of some far more-experienced riders who the team could have picked.
“I was put in the team a couple of months ago after I did a good job at the Vuelta Femenina,” Towers says. “Maggie [Magnus Backstedt, Canyon//SRAM sports director] wanted to send me to the Tour even though I was originally supposed to do the Giro because it’s a bit of a step down from the level of the Tour. But then, I got a promotion. I was really happy as I wasn’t aiming for it but it was a nice surprise.”
In 2022, when she was riding for Le Col-Wahoo, Towers missed out on selection for the Tour, explaining at the time that the team was decided before she’d put her name on the map with her National Championship victory. This means that the 2023 edition is her first experience of riding the Grande Boucle and she explains she has seen a clear shift in the racing compared to other stage races on the calendar.
“The first stage, oh my gosh, it was so stressful,” she says. “I did enjoy the race but it was such a mess. I think on TV, it looked a bit boring, but in the bunch there was just this feeling of everyone being so stressed. I had a little crash towards the end of that stage as well. I'm glad that one is out of the way and then today I already felt like it was more relaxed,” she adds, speaking after the hilly and rain-soaked stage two.
“I guess you can complain about it being stressful but that’s what all the men say as well, the first day of the Tour is just like that.”
Towers has a crucial job in this year’s Tour, protecting Canyon//SRAM's general classification hopeful, Kasia Niewiadoma, who finished in third place last year. Much of the talk going into the 2023 edition of the Tour de France Femmes was surrounding the rivalry between Demi Vollering of SD Worx and Annemiek van Vleuten of Movistar, but Towers is quick to say that her team leader should not be counted out.
“I don't think we should ever be underestimated. I think the good thing with our team is that when we have numbers, we're really strong. If we can arrive at the bottom of a climb with numbers then we have a good shot,” Towers says. “But we don’t want to be waiting for people to do things, we want to make the race.”
The 20-year-old also notes that being on a team with an experienced rider like Niewiadoma is an asset to her personal development. The relationship between the two riders is not simply one of Towers doing a job for the Polish rider, but a dynamic whereby Niewiadoma will help others as much as they help her.
“Kasia is super chilled but she also likes to help you learn. I'm trying to help her but she's trying to help me as well,” Towers says. “It's nice because sometimes she's like, let's get to the front! And I’m like, okay, I’m coming! But I think sometimes you need that, to have someone constantly giving you the reminders to move up and stay alert. She’s a good mentor but also she’s a really cool person, she is very down to earth and humble.”
As she was speaking to me, Towers was warming down on the turbo trainer after a wet, windy and tough stage two around the Massif Central, downing a recovery shake and wrapped in a hoodie to try and keep the warmth in her rain-soaked kit. The British rider seems to be coping with her debut Tour de France with a kind of admirable maturity for someone so young so far, but she is still acutely aware of the difficulty of what lies ahead in the form of the famed Tourmalet stage at the end of the week. “There’s a long, long way to go,” Towers says with a nervous smile.