With the hills of the French Champagne region as the testing ground for the later, more mountainous stages, stage three of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift would see the climbers and GC hopefuls come forward and shine for the first time this tour.
Of course, all eyes were on outright favorite Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) who thus far hadn’t made much of an appearance this tour. In fact, she’d even lost time on the second stage.
Today again, the Dutch climber didn’t show her dominant self, not even at the start of the Côte de Mutigny where a select group of eight leaders started to form.
Instead it was Demi Vollering (SD Worx) who led the group over the summit, but then crash on a tight bend at the top, Liana Lippert (DSM) alongside her.
Stage favorite Elisa Longo-Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) didn’t hesitate and tried to make the most of the opportunity to whittle the group down further before the uphill finish in Épernay.
In doing so, Longo-Borhini managed to distance the yellow jersey of Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), and after Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) put in another big effort, the duo even managed to distance Van Vleuten — a huge surprise.
Van Vleuten, it appeared, simply wasn’t herself these past two days. But as the fray of riders regrouped, the 39-year-old clawed her way back. She didn’t attack though, and wasn’t part of the finale either. She eventually finished in tenth place, rolling across the line with a hoard of journalists waiting for her — all with the same question on their lips: what’s going on?
“Today it was quite obvious I could not play poker anymore,” Van Vleuten said.
Turns out, the climbing phenom got struck down by a stomach bug earlier in the week.
“I got sick two hours after the finish of the first stage. I was really, really, really sick — a stomach infection. Yesterday, I could not eat, couldn’t drink and was super tired,” she revealed.
Van Vleuten said she had doubt about even being able to finish yesterday’s stage two, which had ended in a sprint finish with Vos riding herself into the GC lead and yellow jersey.
“The last thing I was thinking about was racing,” she admitted. “So losing only less than a minute was a big achievement.”
Today, the Dutchwoman woke up much improved. She managed to keep her breakfast down and started the race with optimism. When the roads and pace turned up however, the body was still too weak to engage at her normal level.
“Today I already feel a hundred thousand times better than the day before. I’m on the way up,” she assured, hoping to return to full strength for the weekend’s mountain stages where she’s set to make her mark.
“I have confidence that this is a stomach thing so I’m just going to take it day by day,” she said.
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