The seams of modern cycling crumbled, the seventh stage of the women’s Tour de France, the first high-mountain one —127 kilometers with three first-class ports between Sélestat and Le Markstein—, presented the announced anarchy. “I expect chaos,” said Elisa Longo Borghini at the signature control, before leaving. That’s how it went. Annemiek van Vleuten and Demi Vollering, the two big favorites for the final victory, attacked at the first chance, before the first ascent, resurrecting a cycling from another era, with direct duels, without teams, breaking the race from afar.
Behind the two Dutch women, alone, Elisa Longo Borghini chased the lead showing off her power against the clock: six-time Italian champion. Determined to close an impossible gap, and pressured by the team’s radio, the Piedmontese, an excellent rider, tried to emulate what was achieved in Paris-Roubaix. But it is not spring in France. Nor does the cobblestone resemble the 3,000 meter drop of the penultimate day of the Tour.
Behind the transalpina, losing time with the head in each kilometer, the rest of the favorites: Niewiadoma, Ludwig, Moolman-Pasio and Labous. Somewhat further behind, the Spanish Mavi García, punished by the injuries of a Tour that, through falls, came out frog.
With each pedal stroke, the differences with the head of the race increased. That’s how van Vleuten wanted it, constant dancing on the bike, determined to make blood. Vollering, at her wheel, did not collaborate in the relays; a usual SD Worx tactic when chestnuts are played with the leader of Movistar.
But in the Vosges mountain range there are no wheels that are worth it. van Vleuten, 39 years old, focused on her leitmotif —”The best defense is always a good attack”—, gritted her teeth on the climb to the Platzerwasel and, 62 kilometers from the finish line, an imperious force, with her head embedded in the handlebars, she dropped Vollering, 25 seconds behind her at the top.
In the Alsatian massif, green valleys, dotted with Germanic names in each town, the trail between the two was increasingly prolonged. 30 seconds. 40. 50. One minute. One and a half. Two.
Before beginning the ascent to the Grand Ballon, the day’s great pass —13.5 kilometers at an average gradient of 6.7%—, van Vleuten, who began the Tour with doubts, weighed down by an apparent stomach virus that prevented him from eating and drinking Normally, he was already flying towards the yellow jersey, three minutes ahead of Vollering.
From the SD Worx car, Anna Van der Breggen, van Vleuten’s great rival in the great events of yesteryear -four Giros d’Italia, two World Championships and an Olympic gold medal-, retired at the age of 30 for “not being at her best level ”, now head of the powerful team Dutch, tried to cheer up Vollering, absent, looking lost.
Without Marta Cavalli, second in the Giro d’Italia, 1m52s behind van Vleuten; forced to leave the Tour after the violent attack of Nicole Frain in the second stage, Vollering, 26 years old, was presented as the great alternative in the French round. “I know that I am not as good a climber as Annemiek [Van Vleuten]”, he told EL PAÍS before the starting gun on the Champs-Élysées. He was right. The talented SD Worx runner has a great future ahead of her and she will enjoy more opportunities, rest assured.
With the yellow jersey on, from behind, in the fight for the podium, Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Sram), Juliette Labous (DSM) and Cecile Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ) hunted Elisa Longo Borghini, combative as always. Shortly after, the imposing rhythm of the trio surpassed the Italian of the Trek, exhausted after a colossal effort.
Those were the favorites when, at the finish line, Annemiek van Vleuten, smiling, shaking her head, raised her arms amid the fervor of the audience. On the hardest day of the women’s Tour de France, destined for the big favorites, the Movistar runner destroyed the established equality and once again remembered who is number one in world cycling.
3m26s from the new leader, Demi Vollering entered the finish line, empty, in need of the affection of her parents, who were present at the finish line. From behind, an explosive Ludwig scratched four bonus seconds ahead of Labous and Niewiadoma.
Losing any option in the general classification, at 10m41s the Majorcan Mavi García entered, now destined to look for the surprise in the Super Planche des Belles Filles, the finale of the Tour. Marianne Vos, the race leader for five stages, arrived at Le Markstein almost half an hour behind van Vleuten, savoring the yellow jersey every meter before handing it to her compatriot.
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