Over the past few weeks, Lotte Kopecky has had a running joke with her best friend.
“It started like three or four weeks ago,” she told the press after stage one of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. “We were joking that I would take on this final climb, and then do a solo for 10km."
Every day, Kopecky explained, she and her friend would wake up and send a text to the other’s phone. “We just said, ‘10 kilometres’,” she smiled, “with a yellow heart beside it.”
The joke, of course, came with a heavy dose of seriousness. Not only was there a possibility Kopecky would win, some said it was likely. The first stage suited the Belgian, with its punchy final climb and fast run-in to the line, and the bookmakers had her as the favourite for the first yellow jersey.
They weren’t wrong.
On Sunday in Clermont-Ferrand, Kopecky's texts became a reality. She broke loose over the third-category Côte de Durtol, and soloed to victory, having drawn out a 40-second gap on the descent. Taking nothing for granted, she waited until the very last moment to sit up, when she raised her fists in a cross, and brought them together to deliver a thunderous clap.
“Sport is an emotional thing,” the 27-year-old said afterwards. “When you cross the finish line, there’s so much pressure falling off your shoulders, and so much relief. This is the Tour de France, and winning this first stage, wearing yellow tomorrow, and being able to do this in one of the best women’s teams, for me is special.”
Going into the stage, SD Worx had planned two cards to play. First they’d try with Kopecky over the climb, and if that strategy failed, they’d sprint with Lorena Wiebes. In the end, plan B was never needed.
“When I saw [the climb] on VeloViewer a few months ago, I thought this first stage was for sprinters,” Kopecky explained. “But then the team director went for a recon of this race, and he texted me, ‘this first stage suits you very well.’ When we did the recon two days ago, I was really happy to see this final climb.”
Kopecky's victory now sets a different tone for her to last year’s Tour de France Femmes, which grew evermore frustrating with each day's racing. Third on the first stage was followed by three further top 10s, with a win ultimately eluding her.
“I just had the worst week on the bike,” she said. “But, just because last year didn’t go as I wanted, doesn’t mean this year would be the same. I really did not look back to last year, and I was convinced that my preparation this year had been better.
“I just had to believe in the team and myself.”
In Clermont-Ferrand, with the yellow jersey on the line, that belief was there. It had always been there, of course, whether she knew it or not. For in every text she sent to her friend, and every yellow heart that punctuated them, there was a belief that the jersey was destined to be hers.
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