Tour de France Femmes: Who are the riders to watch?

Annemiek van Vleuten, Demi Vollering and Juliette Labous
The Tour de France Femmes returns in 2023 for another eight-stage race edition

The Tour de France Femmes returns for its second edition this weekend since it officially returned to the calendar as a stage race last year after a long absence.

The eight-stage event gets under way in Clermont-Ferrand on 23 July – the same day the men’s edition finishes across the country in Paris – and finishes in Pau on 30 July.

The route is entirely different to last year’s race and takes the peloton to new parts of France, predominantly around the south west.

The riders have to potentially contend with four flat stages for sprinters to target, two hilly stages, a queen stage finish atop the Tourmalet climb and a final-day time trial.

  • Tour de France Femmes stage-by-stage guide

BBC Sport analyses some of the riders to watch out for…

General Classification contenders: Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar)

Annemiek van Vleuten at the Giro d'Italia Donne
Defending Tour champion Annemiek van Vleuten comes to the race having just won her fourth Giro d’Italia Donne title

Last year’s winner returns to the race as the out-and-out favourite to defend her title and claim the yellow jersey for a second consecutive time.

The former Olympic and current world champion has pretty much won everything there is to in the sport and has been the dominant force in stage racing over the last decade.

After a fairly slow (by Van Vlueten’s own high standards) start to the season, the Dutchwoman comes into the race hot off the back of a fourth overall victory in the Giro d’Italia Donne last month where she led from start to finish.

The 40-year-old confirmed last year that this would be her final season in the peloton and, with retirement on the horizon, signing out with another Tour win would complete another women’s grand tour hat-trick, having already won the Giro and Vuelta a Femenina. Victory in the Tour would cap a glittering career packed with titles.

The length and steepness of the Tourmalet climb on stage 7 will play right into Van Vleuten’s climbing strengths, who is used training at high altitude in the mountains, while the inclusion of a time trial on the final day will be music to the ears of rider with 29 wins against the clock to her name – two of them world titles.

Demi Vollering (SD Worx)

Demi Vollering wins Fleche Wallonne
Demi Vollering took a clean sweep of wins in the Ardennes classics this spring, winning Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Van Vleuten’s biggest challenger comes in the form of compatriot Demi Vollering, who is the most prolific rider in the peloton in 2023 with 13 wins including a phenomenal run through the spring classics.

The 26-year-old has developed into a complete all-rounder since her breakthrough in 2019 and continues the long-line of Dutch riders who have led the way after Van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen and Marianne Vos before her.

Vollering finished runner-up to Van Vleuten at the Tour in 2022, but this season has been on top in all of their head-to-heads, finishing ahead of Van Vleuten in eight of their last 10 race days and winning five of them.

Aside from her individual credentials, Vollering also boasts the strongest team in the peloton in SD Worx. Such is the strength in depth of the squad, they have 47 wins in 2023, while their nearest challenger has 15.

Team-mate Marlen Reusser is a leading stage racer in her own right and alongside Vollering could throw the kind of tactical spanner into the works that ruffles Van Vleuten’s feathers and leaves her isolated.

Juliette Labous (Team DSM)

French cyclist Juliette Labous
Frenchwoman Juliette Labous has emerged as one of the brightest young stage racers in the peloton

Frenchwoman Labous has really given the home fans reason to get excited for the Tour, having emerged as one of the most promising stage racers in the last 12 months.

The 24-year-old fell agonisingly just under a minute shy of a space on the podium last year before backing that up with a stand-out, best-of-the-rest to Van Vleuten, second place at this year’s Giro.

Labous’ strengths lie in hard, hilly races usually found in the Ardennes and she will certainly like the look of the rolling stages through the Massif Central on the course.

How Labous handles the giddy heights of the Tourmalet will be the real test, especially only a few weeks after completing the Giro, but she finished top five on the two mountain stages last year and has enough reason to believe a podium place could be within reach this time around.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek)

Italian Elisa Longo Borghini wins at the Giro
Italian road and time trial champion Elisa Longo Borghini is one of the most versatile riders in the peloton

Longo Borghini is one of the most experienced and accomplished all-rounders in the peloton and the 31-year-old is not showing signs of slowing down.

The Italian’s palmares boast a range of major classics victories including the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Strade-Bianche that showcase her versatility on almost all terrain.

Longo Borghini won the Italian road and time trial titles this summer before taking an impressive Giro stage win, beating van Vleuten in a sprint, after a canny breakaway.

While the slopes of the Tourmalet might not be Longo Borghini’s favoured terrain, there is enough ambush territory before the Pyrenees for her to attack and gain vital seconds that could give her a noteworthy GC buffer for when the road goes upwards.

Longo Borghini shares her Lidl-Trek team bus with Britain’s Lizzie Deignan, who returns this year having taken a year off to have her second child.

Deignan remains one of the most powerful and well-respected riders in the peloton, but is playing down her chances this year as she reacclimatises.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (AG Insurance – Soudal Quick Step)

South African cyclist Ashleigh Moolman Pasio
Ashleigh Moolman Pasio initially intended to retire last season but reversed her decision and has taken three wins so far this season

Moolman Pasio was so encouraged by her performances in 2022 that she decided to postpone her announced retirement and keep going through 2023 (and 2024 after recently signing another contract).

The diminutive South African left SD Worx last year for an outright leadership role at her new Belgian team and has centred all of her training and targets around a tilt at the Tour this year, motivated by leaving last year’s race prematurely due to illness.

Moolman Pasio is a climber through and through, with her three wins this campaign all on hilly terrain. She is enjoying one of her best seasons yet and having reconned five of the eight stages of this year’s race, she comes into the Tour with a plan knowing exactly where her strengths lie.

Sprinters: Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx)

Dutch cyclist Lorena Wiebes
No sprinter has taken as many wins as Wiebes over the last four years

Dutchwoman Wiebes has undoubtedly been the fastest woman in the peloton in recent years. The 24-year-old has 62 professional wins to her name, 31 in the last three years.

Riding for Team DSM last year, Wiebes won two stages the Tour in emphatic fashion. This season she has transferred to the force of SD Worx meaning the team will be splitting their objectives between sprint stages for Wiebes and winning yellow with Vollering.

Such has been Wiebes’ and SD Worx’s dominance, all eyes will be on them to control the day when there’s a potential sprint win in the offering which might leave the team with few offers of support if others have other plans up their sleeves.

Charlotte Kool (Team DSM)

Dutch cyclist Charlotte Kool
Charlotte Kool took her first grand tour stage win at the Vuelta earlier this season

Wiebes’ biggest rival comes in the form of Charlotte Kool, who has already bested her in terms of quantity of victories so far this season, with 11 to Wiebes’ eight.

The 24-year-old switched from speed skating to cycling – like many of her compatriots – and has been thriving the last two seasons since transferring to Team DSM and working with a well-drilled lead-out train around her.

She comes to France in flying form, having taken four consecutive stage wins at the Baloise Ladies Tour in Belgium last week to put her confidence sky high.

Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma)

Dutch cyclist Marianne Vos
Dutch cyclist Marianne Vos campaigned for the return of the women’s Tour de France and fittingly wore the yellow jersey at last year’s race

There were few things more fitting than seeing the rider considered the greatest of all time wearing the yellow jersey at the Tour de France last summer, a race that Vos had played an integral part in campaigning for its return to the calendar.

Vos might have almost 250 road victories to her name and long ago won everything there is to win in cycling, but her love of the sport keeps her coming back for what is now the 36-year-old’s 18th season in the professional peloton.

Her two stage wins at the Vuelta in May – one on flat terrain, one on hilly – show Vos is not slowing down yet and she remains one of the best puncheur sprinters in the bunch.

Vos won two stages of the Tour last year as well as the green jersey, and could easily do the same again based on her credentials and the route.

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