Julie Van de Velde had never contemplated winning a stage of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift until Tuesday afternoon.
With 60km to go on day three, the Belgian peeled off the front of the peloton in search of mountains classification points, and almost lasted to the line. She rode alone under the flamme rouge, spurred on by the crowds down the finishing straight, before she was caught with 200m to go by a roaring SD Worx lead-out.
"I didn't expect to come so close," the Fenix-Deceuninck rider said after the race. “The plan was to take points for the jersey, the polka dot jersey, to keep it in the team. It wasn’t the goal to go full gas to the line on my own. But I was there on my own, so I couldn’t turn back. I just went for it.”
Victory in Montignac-Lascaux went to SD Worx’s Lorena Wiebes, who won from a bunch sprint. Van de Velde, having come inches from victory, crossed the line 36th.
“It was a double feeling,” she said of the moment she was tagged. “I saw them coming in the last few hundred meters, so that was of course a disappointment, but I’m really proud that I came so close.
“In my radio, they were really believing in it, so I also believed in it. Unfortunately, it was not the case.”
One of the voices in Van de Velde’s ear was that of Michel Cornelisse, her directeur sportif.
“I’m still sweating,” he told Cycling Weekly by the Fenix-Deceuninck bus. “[I was telling her] that she’s unbelievably strong, and she must believe in it. You can see also the other girls from our team, everybody was in the front, trying to block it. I can only say that I am very proud of the team.
“If you lose like this, then you can only be proud. I feel very sorry for her because she’s not winning much, and she was just so close, maybe the best chance of her life. But she gave everything, it was a long solo.”
A win for Van de Velde would have doubled her palmarès, adding to her sole victory from 2019 in a small Belgian race.
Fortunately for the 30-year-old, there was a consolation prize waiting for her at the finish line. Her polka dot jersey raid had paid off, and she leapfrogged her team-mate Yara Kastelijn to top the mountains classification.
“Normally you say we have to try to keep it to Paris, but we don’t go to Paris, we go to the Tourmalet,” said Cornelisse. “We’ve tried every day to keep it, and for sure one day maybe we’ll lose it, but we won’t give it away for free.”
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