97 days until the Tour de France Femmes: How do the main contenders stack up?

Will Annemiek van Vleuten win once again or can her challengers pull on the yellow jersey for the first time

Tour de France Femmes contenders mashup
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's J-100 until the second edition of the Tour de France Femmes (D-100 for those who don't speak French). That is not just what the press release from the race organisers says, but that is what the numbers say that I have scrawled in front of me, which is why Marion Rousse ascended the Arc de Triomphe on Friday to celebrate the big day.

100 days is a long time, and there is a lot of racing to happen in between - the Ardennes Classics, La Vuelta Femenina and the Giro d'Italia Donne to name some - but it will pass astonishingly quickly, and one can quite easily pick out the riders who will be challenging in the south of France this summer.

On Friday, the 22 teams that will contest the second edition were announced: the 15 Women's WorldTour teams, plus Ceratizit WNT and Lifeplus Wahoo, and five wildcard teams. The wildcards are AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step, Arkéa, Cofidis, St Michel Mavic-Auber93, and Coop-Hitec Products.

Last year's Tour was dominated by Lorena Wiebes (then DSM, now SD Worx), Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), who won the final two mountainous stages and thus the overall.

This year, it could be the same, but it seems unlikely. First of all, the route is completely different, taking in the Col du Tourmalet among a challenging route, and only one of the three riders mentioned above - Wiebes - has won anything to date in 2023.

As a result, it's time to take a look at the contenders for the maillot jaune this July. Will anyone be able to wrest it out of Van Vleuten's hands this time around?

Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar)

Annemiek van Vleuten

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Age: 40
Nationality: Dutch
Tour de France overall wins: 1
Tour de France stage wins: 2
Best GC position: 1st
GC wins: 14

The defending champion will inevitably go into the second edition of the Tour de France Femmes as the overwhelming favourite again. She is currently still the best GC rider in the world, and in her final year as a professional will not want to show any signs of slowing down. Just look at the margin with which she won last year's race: 3-48.

Her 2023 to date has been underwhelming by Van Vleuten's high standards, without a win so far, although fourth place at Valenciana and Strade Bianche would be impressive for anyone else. 

It is when the road starts going upwards that the Dutchwoman's abilities will show themselves, however, and with the inclusion of the Col du Tourmalet in this year's race, all signs point to another Van Vleuten masterclass in the Pyrenees.

Add in a final day time trial - a discipline she has twice been world champion in - and it is hard to look past another Van Vleuten victory. Her performances at La Vuelta Femenina and the Giro d'Italia Donne (two races she won last year) will point to whether she is in form still.

After a disappointing 27th in her final Tour of Flanders, Van Vleuten argued she was still at the top of her game: “I did my best 60-minute power numbers ever, but that’s not much use if you’re not in the front. I really would have liked to test my legs and see if I could have followed Lotte [Kopecky, the eventual winner]."

Demi Vollering (SD Worx)

Demi Vollering at the Tour of Flanders

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Age: 26
Nationality: Dutch
Tour de France overall wins: 0
Tour de France stage wins: 0
Best GC position: 2nd
GC wins: 2

If not Van Vleuten, then who? Tour runner-up Demi Vollering is surely in the box-seat to take over the title as best Dutchwoman in the peloton, and therefore more or less the best rider in the world.

The 26-year-old has raced just five times this season, but that includes two victories (Strade Bianche and Dwars door Vlaanderen) and two second places (Tour of Flanders and Brabantse Pijl). She will hope to add to this tally in the Ardennes over the next week.

The Tour will be the perfect opportunity for Vollering to prove that her climbing has improved, especially on long drags. As the woman who finished second behind Van Vleuten on Le Markstein and La Planche des Belles Filles last summer, Vollering will be one of the big favourites this summer.

Her SD Worx team is as strong as ever, dominating the Spring Classics, but will a split-strategy between GC and sprints with Lorena Wiebes backfire? Movistar will be all-in behind Van Vleuten, comparatively. However, with the likes of Lotte Kopecky, Marlen Reusser and Christine Majerus supporting her, Vollering should have enough firepower to challenge.

"If I look at my own training, I know I grow so much every year, and at the Tour de France I set new records, because I was my best self there," Vollering explained earlier this year. "I really believe that I am good, and also I'm getting better, and I'm getting better faster than she [Van Vleuten] does at the moment. 

"Of course she's older, so it's more difficult for her to gain more. I really believe it's possible to beat her, but I try more to focus on my own race, and get everything out of myself, and then I hope I'm strong enough to beat her."

Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo)

Elisa Longo Borghini at the UAE Tour

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Age: 31
Nationality: Italian
Tour de France overall wins: 0
Tour de France stage wins: 0
Best GC position: 6th
GC wins: 6

Elisa Longo Borghini has had an interesting season to date, winning the inaugural UAE Tour Women before Covid took her out of action in the run up to the cobbled Classics. She still managed an impressive third at the Tour of Flanders, before a crash ruined her chances at Paris-Roubaix.

It is her form at the UAE Tour that is relevant to the Tour de France more than anything else, however, with the Italian being the fastest up Jebel Hafeet, something that bodes well for more climbing-heavy races later this year.

Longo Borghini competed at the Giro and the Tour last summer, a double which would not be unexpected again this season; fourth and sixth feels like a record that could be bettered, though.

The Italian will have the same problem as Vollering in having a team with a split-strategy: Elisa Balsamo will be there for the sprints. With the return of Lizzie Deignan, however, and support from the likes of Brodie Chapman and Amanda Spratt, the Trek team for the Tour will be strong.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Suez)

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig at Dwars door Vlaanderen

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Age: 27
Nationality: Danish
Tour de France overall wins: 0
Tour de France stage wins: 1
Best GC position: 7th
GC wins: 3

One of only four riders to win a stage at last year's Tour de France, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig will hope to go even better at this year's edition. The Dane is coming into the years which should mark her best, and with the support of the only French team on the Women's WorldTour, could do something special this July.

Victory at last summer's Tour of Scandinavia was the 27-year-old's first WorldTour GC win, and this should give her confidence for stage races in 2023. Third at Strade Bianche is her best result this year to date, but one feels like there is more to come.

Uttrup Ludwig is one of the best climbers in the women's peloton, so is positioned well to take advantage of the hillier stages in this year's route. Add in her strong FDJ Suez squad with the likes of Marie Le Net, Évita Muzic and Grace Brown, and she could mount a serious GC challenge.

"Annemiek last year showed that she was clearly the strongest," the Dane said in March. "To try and beat her and to beat a team like, say, SD Worx, who also have strong cards, I think we need to use our force, our strong cards." 

Juliette Labous (DSM)

Juliette Labous at the Tour of Flanders

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Age: 24
Nationality: French
Tour de France overall wins: 0
Tour de France stage wins: 0
Best GC position: 4th
GC wins: 1

France expects. No pressure, Juliette. The 24-year-old finished fourth at last year's Tour de France Femmes, 7-28 down on Van Vleuten, sure, but well within the conversation for a podium spot. Another year's development could only be a good thing for the DSM rider, who despite her youth has been around for a few years now.

A solid first experience of the Tour de France means she is ready for a second tilt at the biggest race of them all, a race which has meant she is now well-know in France.

Over the off-season, she has been working on her ability to match the attacks of those around her.

"I worked on my climbing ability for three seasons, but we changed it a bit this winter to become more complete while still keeping those resistance capabilities," Labous told Cyclingnews this month.

"I was not explosive enough to cover attacks, and so we have tried to work on that more so that I can react better while keeping the climbing level as high as possible, and I still need to make some steps to race with the best."

DSM do not appear to have been unduly impacted by the departure of Lorena Wiebes to SD Worx, having a ready-made replacement in Charlotte Kool. While the rest of the team is largely inexperienced, it could be that youthful exuberance helps Labous to glory.

The best of the rest: Niewiadoma, Persico, Brown and Moolman Pasio

Kasia Niewiadoma at the Tour of Flanders

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Third place last year, Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), cannot be discounted from the conversation. The 28-year-old has had a below-radar 2023 to date, but will surely be on top of her game come July. The Pole was 6-35 behind Van Vleuten and almost three minutes behind Vollering, but could easily be the best of the rest at the Tour.

Silvia Persico (UAE Team ADQ) has made the step up to WorldTour this year and has impressed so far, finishing third at the UAE Tour, fourth at Flanders and winning Brabantse Pijl, in front of Vollering. The Italian finished fifth at the inaugural Tour, so clearly has the legs to challenge, and is a comfortable bet for a top-ten spot, but can she go higher?

It's difficult to see Grace Brown (FDJ Suez) launching an all-in tilt at Tour glory, largely due to the preeminence of her teammate Uttrup Ludwig, but the Australian could be a GC contender in her own right. One of the two winners of a WordTour stage race this season, at the Tour Down Under, the 30-year-old would not be out of place as a stage winner, or up there on the overall.

Free of the need to work for others at SD Worx, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step) will be ready to launch her own challenge at the Tour this summer. The South African won the Tour de Romandie last year, in front of Van Vleuten, so is obviously an excellent rider. Second at Valenciana in February also showed good form, and the 37-year-old has a point to prove at her new team.

Stage hunters: Elisa Balsamo, Lorena Wiebes, Lotte Kopecky and Charlotte Kool

Lorena Wiebes and Elisa Balsamo

(Image credit: Getty Images)

SD Worx will be packed with talent at the second Tour de France Femmes, with Lotte Kopecky and Lorena Wiebes both likely to lineup. The latter is one of the fastest riders in the world, while the former has proved throughout this season to be the best puncheur in the peloton. It would not shock if the Dutch team dominated the Tour; Wiebes already has two stage wins and will be hungry for more.

Wiebes' biggest rivals in the sprints will be Charlotte Kool (DSM) and Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo), two riders that have bested her at times this season, proving that the European champion is not unbeatable. How much freedom all these riders get from working for their GC options remains to be seen.

Meanwhile Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), the green jersey winner at last year's Tour de France Femmes, after two stage wins, will surely be targeting it once more. Her slow start to 2023 should not be an issue come July.

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.