The star of the first ever Tour de France Femmes was always likely to be Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma). In many ways, this is the race she has waited for her whole career, and it seemed inevitable that the greatest of all-time would put on a show.
By holding off Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ) and Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) in the bunch sprint at Rosheim, Vos claimed her second stage win of the race, following her first victory four days ago in Provins. And this time, she celebrated crossing the line while adorned in the yellow jersey, an iconic image that will surely be prominent in her highlights reel when she, at last, decides to bring her illustrious career to an end.
Even aside from her two wins, Vos has been at front and centre of the action this whole week. Remarkably, she’s yet to place lower than fifth-place at the race so far, and has only once finished off the podium. Much was expected of her going into the Tour, and she’s more than delivered.
It wasn’t always guaranteed that she would arrive here in such form, however. It’s easy to forget just what a difficult run-in to the race she had earlier in the season. A classics campaign that had already been hampered by illness was brought to a premature halt when she tested positive for Covid on the morning of one of primary targets, Paris-Roubaix, and it took her until the Giro Donne earlier this month to claim her first wins of the season. Image: ASO/Thomas Maheux
But far from failing to be at her best, if anything Vos has exceeded expectations this week. And now, as the race enters its final weekend, we’re even left wondering: is there a chance she might actually win the yellow jersey?
It’s been a very long time since she climbed with the very best in the mountains, while in the eight years that have passed since the last of her three Giro Donne overall titles, she hasn’t even made the top ten on GC. She’s no longer the GC specialist she once was, and the high climactic summits at Grand Ballon on Saturday and La Super Planche des Belles Filles on Sunday would normally she her dropped.
Yet now she has the famous yellow jersey to defend, you can be sure she’ll want to cling on to it for dear life. And though the hills that have been tackled in the race so far have been punchy rather than big, with none coming close to the length and height of the weekend’s mountains, she has been climbing very comfortably, and was one of the first to the top of final climb of the most difficult stage so far, stage four.
With seven elite climbers all within 1-30 of her on GC, among them Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), who now seems recovered from illness and all set to explode the race in the mountains, it will nonetheless be a tall order for Vos to do so.
It may well be that she swaps the yellow jersey for the green jersey instead. Today saw her take a great leap forward in that classification, extending her lead from 26 points to 76 over Loreno Wiebes (DSM) in second place, who failed to register any points after crashing on a descent earlier in the stage. As lethal as her finishing kick has been, Wiebes has been neither as versatile nor consistent as her compatriot — whereas Vos has yet to finish outside the top five of any stage, Wiebes’ highest finish aside from her two wins has been sixth.
Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
Lotte Kopecky (DS Worx) also went down in the same incident as Wiebes, but did not seem to be as badly hurt, and made it back into the peloton in time to place third in the finishing sprint. She too has been consistent, and lies third in the points classification, but with only mountainous stages to come she’s set to end the Tour winless.
As will Elisa Balsamo, who at the start of the sprint seemed she might be able to push Vos close. The Italian was clearly up for it today, and took a risk by squeezing through a narrow gap in the road to position herself better, consequently finding herself well-placed to launch her sprint on the left-hand side of the road just as Vos was starting hers on the right. Yet despite receiving more shelter from the wind by her lead-out rider Elisa Longo Borghini than Vos, who was exposed to the wind prior to sprinting, Balsamo still didn’t have the same kick as her rival, and was overtaken by Marta Bastianelli (in what was her best ride of the Tour so far) and Kopecky at the line.
It was another exciting sprint, and a good send off for the fast-finishers just before the mountain goats and final battle for the yellow jersey takes centre stage tomorrow.