'Try it and see': How a call from the car led Ricarda Bauernfeind to victory at the Tour de France Femmes

With Magnus Bäckstedt in her ear, the German rode away to win stage five

Ricarda Bauernfeind on the podium of the Tour de France Femmes 2023
(Image credit: Getty)

“What a machine!” shouts Kasia Niewiadoma as she warms down outside the Canyon-Sram bus. The Polish rider is elated. She looks around for her team-mates, anyone to celebrate with, desperate to share in the joy of what she just witnessed. She turns to a soigneur beside her, and holds her tight in a hug. 

What Niewiadoma had seen was a remarkable show of dominance. On the road into Albi, on day five of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, her 23-year-old team-mate Ricarda Bauernfeind took the biggest win of her career to date. All the teams expected a sprint. Canyon-Sram had other ideas, before Plan A fell apart. 

“The start of the race was very fast and very hard,” Bauernfeind said afterwards. “We missed the first group, so it wasn’t the best moment for us. Then my team-mates chased back and the tricky part started and we were three in the group. Then I got the plan.” 

Plan B came from directeur sportif Magnus Bäckstedt. When he pulled into the team paddock after the stage, he stepped out of the car, looked up to the sky, and blew out a mouthful of air.

With around 36km to go, Bäckstedt made a call from the driver's seat. It was instinctive, forged from years of tactical prowess, the kind of thought that comes naturally to a storied Classics racer.

“I saw a moment,” he told Cycling Weekly. "I spoke to Rica on the radio, and said, ‘Look, try on this part. It flattens out and then kicks back up a kilometre and a half to the top. Try it and see what we can do with it.’

“Everyone looked tired in the bunch, and I thought, ‘Why not try with her?’ She’s, until now, maybe flying a little bit under the radar. I think we changed that today. I thought she was the perfect rider to try something like this with.”

Bauernfeind, of course, couldn’t say no. “I was already tired, and I thought, ‘Ok, if I go for this attack, then on the next climb, maybe I will get dropped’,” she said. “But I trusted in the DS, and I went.” 

The German rode solo up to the peak at Castelfadèze, claimed six bonus seconds over the top, and then descended alone towards Albi. Behind, her team-mates marshalled the peloton, and Bauernfeind’s gap grew to over a minute and a half. 

In her ear, Bäckstedt kept spurring her on. “I was just encouraging her to keep on believing, keep on pushing,” he said. “100% commitment to the line, and whatever will be, will be. That’s the only thing you can do at that point. There’s very little you can do apart from make sure you stay focused and concentrate, not coming off the power because your thoughts are starting to drift. That’s the key thing in these moments.”

As Bäckstedt spoke outside the bus, he was interrupted by the team’s manager, Ronny Lauke, who pulled him into a hearty hug. “We did it, man,” the Swede said, his eyes welling up. 

From the start of the day, Canyon-Sram had their eyes set on a stage win. Their hearts, too. When the moment came, it fell to Bauernfeind to deliver, and fending off the chasers, deliver she did.  

“She out time-trialled [Marlen] Reusser," smiled Bäckstedt. "You know, what can you say? I take my hat off to Ricarda. That’s one phenomenal ride.” 

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Tom Davidson
News and Features Writer

Tom joined Cycling Weekly as a news and features writer in the summer of 2022, having previously contributed as a freelancer. He is the host of The TT Podcast, which covers both the men's and women's pelotons and has featured a number of prominent British riders. 

An enthusiastic cyclist himself, Tom likes it most when the road goes uphill and actively seeks out double-figure gradients on his rides. 

He's also fluent in French and Spanish and holds a master's degree in International Journalism.