On Sunday, two races will collide in Paris as the men’s Tour de France rolls into the French capital after a gruelling three weeks of racing. As that draws to a close, the excitement will continue as the first ever Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift gets underway.
The eight-stage race has been a long time coming in women’s cycling, and Tom Varney, general manager of the only British team at the race, Le Col-Wahoo, says taking part still hasn’t quite sunk in for him.
“I think it will really hit me when we’re there on Sunday,” Varney tells Cycling Weekly. He explains that whilst the magnitude of the event is huge, crucial to the team’s preparation has been to not allow themselves to get too carried away with the occasion.
"We have to try and treat it like just another race. Of course it’s huge, so I’m sure I’ll feel different when we get there, says Varney. “We’ll certainly be flying the British flag and feel like it’s a huge privilege,” he adds.
Le Col-Wahoo, a UCI Women's Continental team, were founded in 2015 as Corley Cycles-Drops RT and have undergone several changes in sponsorship before Wahoo became the team's co-title sponsor earlier this year. The outfit tasted success at the British National Championships this year when 19-year-old Alice Towers won the women's road race in style.
“I think finally getting it [the Tour de France Femmes] is huge, I think everyone knows what the Tour de France is right? Everyday people know what the race is, they know what the yellow jersey is and what you’re fighting for. Hopefully we’ll look back in five or 10 years time and we’ll see that this really kick started everything.”
He adds: “Since the team started women’s cycling has gone absolutely nuts! The progression has been crazy. The TV figures are going through the roof now so hopefully it’s good timing and I think they [the organisers] have done this well.”
Varney admits that facing high profile stars like Demi Vollering (SD Worx) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) means the British team are going into the action with modest goals. “We’ve decided to focus on it day by day. The first stage is obviously going to be the one where everyone’s fighting to be in every jersey and we want to be in that fight, we want to get in the breakaways and take any opportunities where we can,” he says.
Lizzie Holden has made the team selection for the race - alongside Eva van Agt, Maike van der Duin, Majo van't Geloof, Jesse Vandenbulcke and Gladys Verhulst - and says that stage four is one the team have flagged up to her. "It’s got some shorter, steeper climbs and then some gravel sections. I think it will be more like a classics day which is cool and will suit me,” she says.
Holden expects the fight for the yellow jersey to go down to the wire with the two final stages being decisive. La Super Planche des Belles Filles will provide a grand finale to the race on the final eighth stage, and Holden explains the racing will be intense.
“To go and finish on the Planches de Belles Filles is crazy, the finish is so steep. With it being the finish on the final stage, everyone will have that little bit of extra motivation to go all out with one final effort.”
"EVERYONE'S SPIRITS ARE REALLY HIGH, IT'S A GREAT ATMOSPHERE AT THE MOMENT"
Holden says that being surrounded by supportive team management and teammates is a good base to carry into the racing. “Everyone’s spirits are really high, everyone is super positive and it’s a great atmosphere at the moment,” she says.
As a UCI Women’s Continental team, Le Col-Wahoo will be punching well above their weight throughout the week as they face multiple Women's WorldTour squads.
Varney adds: “I won’t lie I think it’s going to be tough. We will need to be smart with what we do out there. Every team will have their best riders there. I think women’s cycling is far more exciting than men’s cycling and is raced differently. I think those stages that feature early climbs will cause some splits and it’s going to be hard. The girls all 100% race really hard all the time, so I’m very glad I’ll be in the car!”
Varney says that whatever happens, the occasion and spectacle of the inaugural edition will be celebrated. He explains that the team’s preparation has been perfect and they’re ready to hit the ground running in Paris.
He concludes: “We just want to get out there and make the most of it. We’re looking to grow as a team of course so when we say we’re in the Tour de France Femmes and we’re the only British team people listen, which is nice. I’m sure it will be game changing for the team, the riders in general and will be pivotal for the women’s cycling community.”
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