On the day after Julie Van de Velde’s heartbreak in Montignac-Lascaux, attackers ruled the longest stage of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift 2023. An impressive breakaway surged at the front early in the day, built a gap of more than 10 minutes and eventually battled not only for the stage win but also the Maillot Jaune. Yara Kastelijn, a teammate of Van de Velde in the ranks of Fenix-Deceuninck, tamed the final ascents of the day to power her first professional victory on the road (she’s also a cyclo-cross European champion). After an explosive finale, Demi Vollering (SD Worx) surged to the 2nd position, ahead of another early attacker, Anouska Koster (Uno X). It took an impressive effort from Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) to retain the overall lead, 43’’ ahead of Vollering, while Kastelijn moves up the rankings (7th, +1’).
After Julie Van de Velde (Fenix-Deceuninck) came agonisingly close to the upset on day 3, attackers are inspired by the length and the uphill challenges of stage 4. Henrietta Christie (Human Powered Health) leads the way early in the stage but she’s caught on the first ascent, the cat-4 climb to Col de Crayssac (summit at km 16.5).
Anouska Koster (Uno-X) takes the 2 QOM points at the summit and a flurry of attacks follows, with 14 riders rapidly opening a gap: Sheyla Gutierrez (Movistar), Christine Majerus (SD Worx), Coryn Labecki (Jumbo-Visma), Lucinda Brand (Lidl-Trek), Kathrin Hammes (EF Education-Tibco-SVB), Thalita De Jong and Jeanne Korevaar (Liv Racing Teqfind), Yara Kastelijn et Marthe Truyen (Fenix-Deceuninck), Anouska Koster (Uno-X), Célia Le Mouel (St-Michel-Mavic-Auber93), Romy Kasper (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step), Alice Arzuffi (Ceratizit-WNT) and Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Human Powered Health).
More riders try to join this strong group, unsuccessfully. On the longest stage in the young history of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, the gap reaches heights never seen before in the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift: up to 10’35’’ at km 100 (the largest gap a group of attackers had managed to open so far was 3’45’’ on day 5 of the 2022 edition, a 175.6km stage).
Kastelijn and Kopecky drop the hammer
SD Worx, Canyon//Sram and UAE Team ADQ eventually react. And the gap is down to 7 minutes at the bottom of the third climb of the day, the cat-3 Côte de Colombiès, to be summited with 34.4km to go to Rodez. Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) attacks on the ascent. Lidl-Trek and then FDJ-Suez restore order in the bunch. The gap drops down to 4’ at the summit. Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) also tries to get away on tricky roads, laying the groundwork for an intense finale.
On the main ascent of the day, the cat-2 Côte de Moyrazès (4.6km at 5.5%), Yara Kastelijn drops her breakaway companions inside the last 20 kilometres. Kopecky enjoys the same ascent to power away from the GC group. At the summit, Kastelijn’s chasers trail by 42’’, Kopecky by 3’03’’ and the bunch by 3’25’’.
Vollering surges behind Kastelijn
Kastelijn tames the final ascent of the day and flies towards the stage win. Can she also take the Maillot Jaune? She was trailing by 2’41’’ in GC at the start and she took 4 bonus seconds through the stage, with 10 more seconds up for grabs on the line. Behind her, Annemiek van Vleuten and Demi Vollering attack and a group of leaders get back together with Kopecky.
Kastelijn maintains a strong pace on the run-in to Rodez, where the road rises again for the last 600 metres. At the summit, she takes her first professional victory on the road, 1’11’’ ahead of Demi Vollering. Early attacker Anouska Koster rounds out the stage top 3. Kopecky finishes with a gap of 1’27’’ and saves her Maillot Jaune.