The Tour is the Tour. And the Tour is huge.
Men's race or women's race those red and white polka-dot Leclerc sponsored tee-shirts are everywhere, every kid wears one like an oversized dress, and the pattern adorns has the heads in the huge crowds.
There are no tricky camera angles duping TV viewers into thinking there are more fans at the TouTour de France Femmes avec Zwift than there really are, they’re everywhere. They wander through the start area, ferociously bang the boards along the finish line and their cheering for every rider and group, however far down they finish is deeply passionate.
And even in the middle of nowhere they are along the route. Along a long flat straight you’ll see a camper parked on the verge, an old couple, the man wearing a polka-dot hat, sat eating at a table by the road, looking up to wave at any vehicle with race accreditation stickers.
“Les femmes, les femmes!” the fans scream when the riders pass. “We know we’re les femmes, but they chant it a lot, it’s so cool,” says Olivia Baril (Valcar Travel and Service).
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), who finished the race third overall, agrees
“It’s very special because you see people from different ranges of age, young kids and my peers to older people, everyone is interested and it’s very beautiful. Because we don’t race very much in France normally I would never they have a culture for bicycles, I would always think of Holland or Belgium first, so it’s really nice to see that here.”
Fourth overall, DSM’s Juliette Labous was France’s top placed rider on GC and has been surprised by the reception.
“I didn’t expect this much, I knew there would be a lot of people but I didn’t expect as much as this,” she told us. “It’s really amazing and I have the feeling every day there’s more people cheering. I hear a my name a lot so I’m always proud and I feel my legs a bit less when I hear the crowd.”
It’s not just the French who are at the roadside, you hear all sort of languages, with plenty of Dutch being spoken, whether they be from the Netherlands or Flanders. There are families with their children. And a lot of girls, some wearing club jerseys from all over Europe.
Demi Vollering’s (SD Worx) fiancé and family stayed at Le Markstein in camper vans, and even Kristen Faulkner’s parents were over the from Alaska. At the bus, SDWorx DS, and former world and Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen signs autographs for awestruck fans - male and female.
And it’s not just on the road where the French public have joined the party. The final of Saturday’s seventh stage, where Annemiek van Vleuten rode to a huge, GC winning victory was watched live by 3.7 million people on France TV3 alone, 2.7million watched the entire stage. That’s huge.
But it’s not just the crowds and viewers which mark the Tour out from other races. Other than the 175km fifth day, the balanced parcours, which built to a mountain climax at the weekend, has been praised too.
It’s nice how they laid it out so Marianne [Vos, Jumbo-Visma] can wear the jersey for a few days and it gives a chance to a lot of different riders before the mountain stages,” added Baril.
“We have some sprint stages, we have hilly stages, I liked the gravel and the two last days that’s for the real climbers,”explained Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SDWorx).
And according to Veronica Ewers (EF Education-Tibco-SVB) the organisation is next level. “The organisation of it all has been quite amazing. Just even just the logistics of the start, and the safety of it all having everything marked and having. Yeah, having people out there to make sure that we're safe as safe as possible."
Now retired after a glittering career and working as DS at SD Worx Anna van der Breggen sees a a shift in the sport. “It’s a big step, it’s really big step. The media attention is something we’ve never seen before. There are still a lot of things we see that are different from men’s cycling, but this is a highlight in the development of women’s cycling.”
And by and large the French fans understand the differences between men’s and women’s pelotons and they like what they see.
“We had never been to a women’s race before but this is the Tour so we came, and now maybe we will go to another women’s race,” said Mathieu Noir from Strasbourg, a cyclist who rode up to Le Markstein with friends to watch stage seven.
“The density of the talent is not as great as with the men, but hopefully this Tour will help change the level, just look at all the young girls here, they can be inspired.”
Merci La France. Vive La Tour de France Femmes.
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