Attack to defend: Van Vleuten on the edge of Tour de France greatness

Anything can happen, say Movistar but he team are confident Annemiek van Vleuten will ride into history on Sunday’s final Tour de France Femmes stage

Annemiek van Vleuten - Tour de France Femmes 2022
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Annemiek van Vleuten’s race winning move on stage seven on the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift was a defensive tactic accord to the Movistar DS, Jorge Sanz.

The Dutch rider attacked on the ascent of the day’s first classified climb, Petit Ballon, and never looked back, blowing the peloton to pieces. By the finish in Le Markstein she had put 3:26 into her nearest rival, SD Worx’ Demi Vollering, and looks set to win a historic yellow jersey on Sunday.

Van Vleuten launched her attack on the slopes of the day’s first climb, Petit Ballon, and such was her pace only Vollering was able to follow. The two Dutch women stayed together onto the Col de Platzerwasel but when Van Vleuten lit the after-burners, she dropped her Dutch compatriot and never saw her again.

“We wanted to attack on the first climb because we knew the downhill was really dangerous and that some riders wanted to put pressure on Annemiek,” Sanz told Cycling Weekly among the hubbub around the Movistar team bus.

Though she is unmatched going uphill, at the recent Giro Donne, which she won convincingly, Van Vleuten had seemed a little vulnerable on the descents. She crashed on one downhill, though instantly remounted and won the stage, but teams have seen her descending as the only chink in her armour, and an attack would have been obvious.

“We wanted to open a safety gap, but everything exploded and Vollering came with Annemiek so we decided to continue,” Sanz explained. “If the gap was smaller, on the second climb the plan was then just put a pace on and wait for the other riders to come then put the pressure on again. This way we were one step forward. The world is not easy but it was easier than expected.”

Van Vleuten leads Vollering by 3:14, with Sunday’s final and eighth stage suiting her perhaps even more as it features two classified climbs before the final, brutal ascent to Super Planche des Belles Filles. So, attack or defend?

“We will first enjoy the victory of today and then in the meeting we will see. We can play with her, play with some others, but the first goal is to defend the GC,” Sanz concluded rather predictably.

Around 50 metres from Movistar’s bus, SD Worx were not so jubilant, though there were no tears or recriminations. “She was just better,” lead DS Danny Stam said to no one in particular.

Vollering had had just enough energy to acknowledge the huge crowds as she rode the final 200 meters of the stage, but in reality she was a broken woman.

After visiting the podium to receive the polka dot mountains jersey, and completing the inevitable TV interview duties, she rode back to the SD Worx team bus, and after a hug and words of encouragement from Stam, turned to face the waiting press.

“I’m completely empty, I feel my whole body is hurting at this moment. I was fighting with everything that I have, now I’m completely empty,” she said, her voice full of fatigue.

“I hoped that I could hang on a bit longer and that we could stay with the big group a bit longer, and there were only two of us so soon,” she explained. “Then I knew I had to hang on as long as possible and try and focus on my breathing and trying to focus on how good I was feeling.

“Then at one moment she was setting this speed and I needed to stand up and my legs exploded completely and it was a bit too much."

Vollering shared that she had told Van Vleuten that her performance was 'not normal' and Van Vleuten was quick to offer Vollering a few words of comfort in return.  

"She said 'I have so much more training experience and training overall, it will come to you'," Volelring recalled. "So let’s hope.”

Though Vollering appears secure in second place with a 1:19 lead on Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), Vollering hoped for a good recovery overnight and plans to work hard to maintain her standing in the general classification. 

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Owen Rogers is an experienced journalist, covering professional cycling and specialising in women's road racing. He has followed races such as the Women's Tour and Giro d'Italia Donne, live-tweeting from Women's WorldTour events as well as providing race reports, interviews, analysis and news stories. He has also worked for race teams, to provide post race reports and communications.