It was a historic moment when the women’s peloton rolled out of Paris last year and began the first ever edition of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. After eight gruelling stages around France which saw crashes, chaos and nail-biting racing, it was Annemiek van Vleuten who eventually stood on the top step of the podium, taking a commanding victory ahead of Demi Vollering in second. In 2023, the race’s second edition takes place from July 23 to 30 and, with Vollering’s current form so far this season, the fight for the yellow jersey is going to be closer than ever.
There are also some outsiders who could challenge in the general classification battle such as Kasia Niewiadoma who finished third in last year’s race, and young gun Juliette Labous who will want to impress in front of a home crowd. Of course, the race is about far more than just the overall victory too – sprinters and puncheurs will be eyeing up the best opportunities to go for stage wins whenever they can.
So who should you have your eye on when the peloton rolls out of Clermont-Ferrand on Sunday? Here are our picks of the favourites for the general classification and individual stage wins.
Tour de France Femmes 2023 general classification contenders
Annemiek van Vleuten
Defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten, once again, sits at the very top of the list of favourites for the second ever edition of the Tour de France Femmes. In last year’s race, Van Vleuten won stages seven and eight in dominant fashion, dropping all of her rivals on the fierce slopes of Le Markstein and La Super Planche des Belles Filles to take the yellow jersey with a huge lead – simply no one could come close to her in the mountains.
So far this season, the Movistar rider looked to be returning to her best over the last couple of races after a slower start by her own high standards. She won the recent Giro d’Italia Donne by close to four minutes, proving to be the strongest by far on the toughest climbs. Before that, she also won La Vuelta Femenina, meaning she only has the Tour left on her hit list to complete the Grand Tour triple once again this year. With it being the Dutchwoman’s last season in the peloton before retirement, Van Vleuten will be motivated to win another yellow jersey.
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This year’s Tour de France Femmes route includes an individual time trial on the final stage, which should play into Van Vleuten’s strengths too. However, the only truly mountainous stage is on the penultimate day of the race as the women’s peloton take on the Tourmalet, meaning there are opportunities for her rivals to gain time earlier in the race in the more punchy stages. Strong teams like SD Worx will be hoping to put her under pressure in the opening days so that the likes of Demi Vollering can have a buffer going into the Tourmalet and final time trial. Van Vleuten will need to have her wits about her and cope with the pressure of being defending champion.
Second in last year’s Tour de France Femmes, Demi Vollering is the only other rider in the race who looks like she could pose a real challenge to Van Vleuten at the Tour this year. Vollering has had a spectacular season so far, completing the Ardennes Triple when she won Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège this spring, not to mention her Strade Bianche and Dwars door Vlaanderen victories before that. The SD Worx rider has firmly asserted herself as likely the best all-rounder in the women’s peloton this season, and this could really play to her advantage in the varied route of the Tour de France Femmes.
Image: A.S.O/Thomas Maheux
Interestingly, SD Worx will not bring a team of climbers to the Tour, opting instead to fill its roster with punchier riders who will be able to shine in the earlier, flatter stages of the race. This could give us a clue about their strategy – perhaps they are planning to attack Van Vleuten in the earlier stages before she gets to the terrain she likes best in the mountains. It will be on the Tourmalet and in the final time trial that Vollering could find she struggles against Van Vleuten, the Movistar rider is more experienced and has historically been better than her younger rivals on the long climbs. However, there is no denying that Vollering this year is a much improved rider to the one we saw during the Tour last year and she seems more motivated than ever to pull on the first yellow jersey of her career.
While her name might not be as established as the likes of Van Vleuten or Vollering, Juliette Labous has proven over the last two years that she is an extremely talented stage racer who thrives when the terrain gets difficult. At the Tour de France Femmes last year, Labous delighted French fans with her fourth place finish overall, riding impressively consistently on the race’s two final mountain stages to manage her effort to perfection. Labous has since proven that those results were no fluke, finishing second at the recent Giro d’Italia Donne behind Van Vleuten, the best result in a stage race of the Team dsm-firmenich rider’s career. Labous is also a strong time trialist and is rumoured to have been working specifically on this aspect of her performance in preparation for the final stage of the Tour de France Femmes.
Image: A.S.O/Thomas Maheux
The general classification contenders for this year’s Tour have taken varying approaches to their preparation for the race. Some, like Labous, opted to race the Giro Donne which finished just over two weeks before the start of the Tour de France Femmes, while others, like Vollering, opted to skip the Giro to focus solely on preparing for the Tour. How Labous responds to the accumulation of fatigue that two tough week-long stage races will have on the body is yet to be determined, but it is certainly a lot of race days for a young rider. The Frenchwoman will need to get herself safely through the punchier opening stages for a chance to shine on the Tourmalet, which is where expect her to have the strongest showing, but she will have a strong Team dsm-firmenich squad supporting her.
Canyon//SRAM’s Kasia Niewiadoma was the other rider to infiltrate the podium in last year’s Tour de France, finishing in third place behind Van Vleuten and Vollering. This was a strong result for the Polish rider who has been a big player in the Women’s WorldTour for almost a decade. As usual, Niewiadoma’s form has been good this season, she has consistently secured top-10 finishes at WorldTour races, including fourth place at the Amstel Gold race and fifth place in the Tour of Flanders. However, the 28-year-old has been missing the top step of the podium since 2019 and will be keen to prove to everyone that she can win again. Since the likes of Chloe Dygert and Antonia Niedermaier have been able to win for Canyon//SRAM, the pressure has been eased slightly on Niewiadoma’s shoulders, which may play to her strengths at the Tour.
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Niewiadoma’s biggest obstacle on her way to success at the 2023 Tour de France Femmes is the time trial on the final stage of the race. She has stated publicly that the lack of time trial events on the women’s calendar makes it hard to train for the discipline and has historically struggled to perform well here. Niewiadoma will need to hope she can gain some time on the Tourmalet in order to give herself a buffer going into the race against the clock. However, if the general classification isn’t looking doable for the Polish rider, she could be one to watch challenging for stage wins in the earlier, punchier stages of the race through the Massif Central.
Elisa Longo Borghini
At the recent Giro d’Italia Donne, Lidl-Trek’s Elisa Longo Borghini looked to be one rider who might be able to pose a challenge to Van Vleuten in the fight for the pink jersey. That was until she crashed out of the race dramatically on stage six descending to the line in Canelli. While she was able to ride to the finish, Longo Borghini abandoned the Giro the following day due to her injuries, meaning that her fight for pink was over. Although it wasn’t a happy ending to the race, Longo Borghini’s form in the days leading up to her crash was proof that she has the form to compete with Van Vleuten and she will be hoping to do the same at the Tour de France Femmes. Supported by the likes of Lucinda Brand and Lizzie Deignan, Longo Borghini has a strong team around her who will be looking to race aggressively in order to challenge teams like SD Worx. Their eyes will be on the first half of the race to put Van Vleuten and Vollering under pressure.
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Lidl-Trek will need to go into the Tourmalet stage with some time on Van Vleuten and Vollering already if they are really hoping to challenge for yellow. Longo Borghini is not as well-suited to the long mountains as her rivals and will need to limit her losses here. The Italian rider can do a strong time trial when she needs to – proven by her third place in the recent Tour de Suisse ITT – so she could gain some time back on the final stage, but she will need to have performed well on the Tourmalet. Longo Borghini may also want to challenge for stage wins earlier in the race, something that may play better into the hands of her flamboyant and attacking racing style.
Outside bets for the general classification
The FDJ-Suez trio of Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Marta Cavalli and Évita Muzic should also be ones to watch when it comes to the hillier stages. While none of them would be classed as the best climber in the peloton alone, they have a strong collective strength which could be used to their advantage. Ashleigh Moolman of AG Insurance - Soudal Quick-Step should never be counted out and will relish the tough Tourmalet stage. Riejanne Markus of Team Jumbo-Visma is a good climber and time trialist who could go for a high placing overall if she is given the freedom to do so by her team, as is Ricarda Bauernfeind of Canyon//SRAM. Liane Lippert is one to keep in mind from Movistar, though her main role will likely be helping Van Vleuten in the fight for yellow. Veronica Ewers performed well at the Tour de France Femmes last year for EF Education-Tibco-SVB and will hope to do the same in 2023, as will Silvia Persico of UAE Team-ADQ.
Tour de France Femmes 2023 sprinters to watch
Stage races are about far more than just the fight for the overall winner as individual stages give an opportunity for a new rider to take victory every single day. This means the sprinters often have their eyes on some of the flatter stages for a chance to shine. In the 2023 edition of the Tour de France Femmes, stages three, five and six look to be the most straightforward opportunities for those with the fastest legs in the peloton, though there is always a chance that some brave attackers may spoil the party. One team that will be on high alert to ensure that doesn’t happen, though, is SD Worx. They bring European champion Lorena Wiebes in their line-up, and the Dutch rider will be wanting every chance at a stage win she can get.
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Last year riding for Team DSM, Wiebes took two stage wins and proved herself to be the most dominant sprinter in the race. In 2023, Wiebes has had seven victories so far as part of SD Worx and she will hope to add to that number in the Tour. However, one rider who has stood in her way this season is Charlotte Kool (Team dsm-firmenich). Kool managed to out sprint Wiebes at the UAE Tour earlier this year and has a stellar lead-out train, so she is likely to be the strongest challenger to Wiebes at the Tour de France Femmes.
Elisa Balsamo of Lidl-Trek is a rider who will be hoping to come in between the Wiebes versus Kool rivalry. The Italian rider is a former world champion who, although missing a victory so far this year, is consistently up there in bunch sprints. Balsamo did crash out of the recent Women’s Tour, though, so her competitiveness in the Tour will depend on how she has recovered from the injuries she sustained there. Another rider in a similar category to Balsamo when it comes to sprints is Movistar’s Emma Norsgaard. Although not a pure sprinter, Norsgaard consistently places well in reduced bunch kicks and will relish some of the more complicated and difficult finishes at this year’s Tour de France Femmes.
Marianne Vos of Team Jumbo-Visma is someone else who will undoubtedly be in the mix for stage victories at this year’s Tour. The experienced Dutch rider had a breathtaking run of form during last year’s race, winning two stages and finishing second in two others. She will be hoping to repeat that in a few days’ time when the 2023 Tour de France Femmes kicks off, likely with her eye on the more difficult sprint stages where she can launch some of her trademark punchy attacks.
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Lotta Henttala (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step) has had an impressive comeback to the sport after taking some time away to give birth. She secured two second places at the Setmana Ciclista-Volta Comunitat Valenciana Fèmines earlier this season and could be up there in the sprints at this year’s Tour de France too. Chiara Consonni’s recent win in the final stage of the Giro d’Italia Donne also makes her a contender to watch for the sprint stages, as is Maike van der Duin of Canyon//SRAM. Van der Duin impressed with two top-5 finishes in sprints at the Tour last year and only seems to have improved since then.
Coryn Labecki of Jumbo-Visma is another rider who can excel in some of the more difficult bunch sprints and the American rider proved she is on good form by winning the recent US Pro Criterium Nationals. Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) could go for her own chances in some sprint stages, though it is likely she will be resigned to lead-out duties for Lorena Wiebes. Clara Copponi of FDJ-Suez could also perform well in some individual stages and will be extremely motivated in front of a home crowd.
Cover image: A.S.O/Thomas Maheux