Marlen Reuser helped ease the pressure on SD Worx with a solo win at stage four of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift on Wednesday.
The European time trial champion attacked the peloton with just over 23km remaining just ahead of the final of four gravel sectors, quickly gaining an unassailable lead. she then time trialed her way to victory, winning by 1:24.
The victory is the first in the Tour de France for SD Worx, who have consistently been the world’s best team in recent years. While they are vying to win the overall at Planche des Belles Filles on Sunday, the success will allow them to concentrate on the coming mountain stages.
Up to now the team’s best result had been third places, and while that is no disaster, they lost time on day two, and the Swiss rider’s victory will add winning confidence in the team’s plan.
“It was the plan to really make the race hard,” said Reusser in the post-race press conference, flitting seamlessly between French, German and English.
“It was very difficult, especially when the race entered the first sector when we were not so well positioned, but then we slowly rode to the front and created the situation we wanted, with our GC riders up there in company with as many as possible."
“We had quite a small group and we were with five riders, so if we don’t try then we never try. I wasn’t the only one to attack, we all attacked multiple times and it was this attack that went clear. But it is also a bit of luck, it is the decision of the remaining bunch if they let you go or not, it’s not only up to you. It’s nice in a stage race that they have this interest in the GC, it’s not like a one-day race.”
A European time trial champion and Olympic and World silver medalist against the clock, Reusser had criticised the Tour de France Femmes route for lacking a time trial, and has not changed her mind, despite Wednesday’s effort.
“You can’t say that it was the same after such a long race, the legs do not feel the same compared to when you prepare specifically for a time trial, it was another discipline,” she added.
Both Wednesday’s stage and Tuesday’s third day had been specific targets for SD Worx, and the victory in Bar-Sur-Aube came after Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio’s third on stage three, so while things are looking up, Monday’s losses mean they are still behind on GC.
“We made a mistake on Monday and we lost seconds that we didn’t expect, now we have to find a balance of how long we protect our GC rider [each stage ],” said team manger Danny Stam.
"Today we wanted to make the race hard and try to keep the pressure on the rest of the GC riders and I think we succeeded with a stage win. It’s cool.”
One of the GC riders they will be concerned with in Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar). After the Movistar rider’s dominant win at the Giro Donne she began in Paris as the clear favourite for overall victory, with SD Worx’s Demi Vollering somewhat of an unknown quantity, having chosen training instead of racing to prepare for the Tour.
However, Van Vleuten has been unwell, losing time on Tuesday, and looking vulnerable on the climbs and gravel sectors of stage four. That presented the conundrum of whether to attack the stage or attack the main rival before her health is restored.
“At this moment we are not in the first group, so we first look forward and then look backward. If somebody is begging us they need to pass us, but we need to take time back in the front and I think both are the same importance for us.”
Though Thursday’s fifth stage between Bar-le-Duc and St Dié is the longest in WorldTour history, at 175.6km, it is not likely to affect the GC too much. The main challenges will come at the weekend when the race heads to the Vosges Mountains for two days, finishing at Planche des Belles Filles, and more gravel at the top of the brutal climb.
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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.
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