When the 14 rider breakaway went clear on stage five of the Tour de France Femmes, every single big GC team was represented. On paper, it was the perfect group to make it to the finish line, filled with riders who are experienced and have big engines. But, with just over five kilometres of the stage remaining, Marie Le Net – the last woman standing from the original move – was reeled in by a hungry, chasing pack, led by Team Jumbo-Visma.
So why didn’t this group of escapees which was full of potential get more of a chance at a fight for the victory? Joscelin Lowden, who was pulling long turns in the breakaway, spoke to Rouleur after the finish, explaining that there was very little cohesion between the riders.
“It's like everyone's already decided who's going to win the race, sometimes I feel it's a bit like that. There were quite a few times where me and Audrey [Cordon-Ragot], were like, come on, do you not want to win?” she explained. “This is one of the biggest bike races in the world. This is such an opportunity to win this Tour stage. And if we all work, someone there could win, but instead, it's favourites that win so sometimes it's little frustrating.”
Lowden went on to explain that riders from FDJ Suez Futuroscope and Jumbo-Visma who were represented in the breakaway weren’t pulling turns on the front or contributing to the workload. “Anna was playing a pretty smart game to be honest, chilling at the back. I would say she's really good at that,” said the British rider. “I know Anna well, she is smart in that respect. But a lot of the teams weren’t committed to pushing on, so at times it really lacked energy.”
Henderson defended her actions after the finish “They didn't want me to pull because Marianne was behind. We’re here to win with Marianne and that’s what we did.”
It’s true that riders like Henderson have a fair reason to refuse to work as much as the teams who don’t have sprinters in the group behind, but more cohesion in the front group in stage six could have given some riders a realistic chance of winning. The same two riders will have won half of the eight stages in this year’s Tour de France Femmes by the time the race is up – is this a sign to the other teams that it could be time to think differently?
To beat the likes of two-time stage winners Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) and Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) fresh tactics are needed to ensure that the race doesn’t come down to a bunch sprint for the line. If Wiebes hadn’t crashed today in the final 20 kilometres of the race, she would have likely been in the group which contested the bunch, and she would have had a good chance of taking the stage win.
With this in mind, is there any point in teams being resigned to taking the peloton to the line if it contains Lorena Wiebes? She’s proven multiple times that she’s unbeatable in bunch kicks, and Vos has repeatedly proved she’s the second fastest in the race behind the Team DSM rider. Perhaps more attacking, opportunistic racing is required if the smaller teams ever want a chance at beating these riders in the bunch sprints.
In stage five – the Tour de France’s longest stage – Team DSM only had four riders to control the race and ensure it came down to a bunch finish. They were outnumbered, with Franziska Koch, their German rider, left on the front of the race for almost one hundred kilometres to ensure the breakaway didn’t get too much leeway.
This meant there was ample opportunity for teams to go for attacks, making it so the race was too hard and intense for Team DSM to keep things together. Yet things remained stagnant and Wiebes predictably won in the sprint to the line. If the breakaway today had committed more to the move, they could have had a bigger gap and perhaps tasted victory.
Like Lowden herself mentions, a stage win at the Tour de France is arguably as big as it gets for professional cyclists, so it’s worth going for attacks whenever you can. Trying and failing is better than failing to try.