“More exciting when it’s shorter” riders question Tour’s longest stage

Longer is not better as riders choose a "recovery day" on Tour's 175km fifth day

The Tour de France Femmes peloton ride through the French countryside during stage five of the 2022 race
The Tour de France Femmes peloton ride through the French countryside during stage five of the 2022 race
(Image credit: Dario Belingheri/Getty)

Tour de France Femmes riders have criticised the length of Thursday’s fifth stage of the Tour de France Femmes, saying it makes racing boring. 

At 175.6km the fifth stage of the race was the longest in modern day women’s racing, and certainly the longest race since the Women’s WorldTour was created in 2016. 

Unsurprisingly the race concluded in a bunch sprint, won by Lorena Wiebes (DSM) but the distance made for tedious viewing, as the race transitioned from Bar-le-Duc to St-Dié-des-Vosges, in eastern France.

“Boring,” was Kasia Niewiadoma’s single word answer when asked how the stage went. “Boring, but I’m happy that we all stayed safe on the bike. The final was fun but I wish the stage was shorter and we could do fun things more that just the final.”

That 119 of the 128 finishers crossed the line within 1-36 of the winner is proof women can easily ride the distance, but the women’s sport is known more for its dynamic, aggressive nature and that simply is not possible for four and a half hours.

“To be honest there’s nothing in my eyes good in long stages because they’re not exciting to watch and they are boring for us,” the Canyon-SRAM rider continued. “Also they are dangerous, people lose their concentration because after riding three or four hours very easy it’s hard to get the sharpness in your head so because of that we see quite a lot of unnecessary crashes,” she said referring to the huge pile up which happened with just over 40kms remaining.

“It’s not like we race 80km, we still race 130 for example which is very dynamic exciting and I feel like that’s more than enough.”

Niewiadoma also rebutted the argument longer stages are deliberately placed to increase fatigue head of the race’s key stages.

“But we go slow! The longer the slower, I’ve never done more than 140km of full action, maybe at Strade Bianche, but in a stage race whenever a stage is long everyone takes it as a recovery day.”

Even Strade Bianche is only 136km.

“I’m not so sure,” said former world champion Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SDWorx) when asked about the accumulation of fatigue. “Today was just a boring race, of course it makes you tired but when you have an aggressive race of three hours then it makes you even more tired.

“It makes no sense to make it longer in my opinion. Yesterday was around 130 and the day before as well, I think that’s the perfect distance to race aggressive. Maybe for the classics it’s fine, but you see today it was a boring race and that happens when you make it longer. It’s the same for the men.”

None of the riders Cycling Week;y spoke with felt the race distance made for exciting racing.

"The crash made it more exciting, that's for sure," said Olivia Baril (Valcar Travel and Service).

Though women’s one day classics regularly exceed 150km, the 160 mark is rarely broken. The 2019 Ronde van Drenthe was 165.7km, while the previous WorldTour stage race record was the 165.1km fourth stage of the 2020 Giro Rosa between Assisi and Tivoli. Won by Lizzy Banks that stage was passive, two women getting up the road and Lizzy Banks (now riding with EF Education Tibco-SVB) taking the win.

While that day in Italy had a 10km neutral roll out it was still short of Thursday’s Tour stage, which totalled 179.6km with four kilometres of neutral.

UCI regulations allow for a maximum race length of 160km for both one day races individual stages, so race organisers, ASO were obliged to apply to the governing body for special dispensation to run such a long day.

Race lengths can often be a by-product of which towns are suitable to host the race, and both Bar-le-Duc and St Dié-les-Vosges are historic towns with a history in the men’s Tour de France and sufficient infrastructure to handle such an event.

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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.