The female peloton joined the big family of the Tour 40 years ago, in June 1984. Six Dutch riders clad in "Oranje" flexed their muscles and claimed six of the top eight spots in the opening stage, with Mieke Havik leading the charge. The insatiable "Oranje" pioneers would go on to take fifteen stage wins in that historic edition. Several generations have since had their day in the sun, but Dutch talent has always remained a sight to behold. Looking back on this epic saga in the run-up to the Grand Départ of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in Rotterdam, the official website has sat down to talk with some of the stars —past, present and future— of this tale.

Annemiek van Vleuten recently hung up her bike, at the end of the 2023 season, after an extraordinary career that saw her triumph in about every major cycling race: the Worlds, the Olympics, major classics and Grand Tours, including the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift 2022, when the event returned almost a quarter of century after Oranje trailblazers shined in the 1980s. The Dutch icon opened new horizons for female cyclists, with her groundbreaking rides and training camps to reach the level that saw her fly over the mountains and her rivals in the Tour. As she enjoys her new life, she remains an active observer of the sport. She just discovered the ascent up Mont Ventoux with her friends from the cycling club Toerclub Wageningen and she gets ready to follow the 2024 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift from Rotterdam to Alpe d'Huez, as a pundit for television on NOS Sport in the Netherlands.

29/07/2023 - Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift 2023 - Etape 7 - Lannemezan / Tourmalet (89,8 km) - VAN VLEUTEN Annemiek (MOVISTAR TEAM WOMEN)
29/07/2023 - Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift 2023 - Etape 7 - Lannemezan / Tourmalet (89,8 km) - VAN VLEUTEN Annemiek (MOVISTAR TEAM WOMEN) © A.S.O./Charly Lopez

How much has your life changed compared to last year?

A lot! Many cyclists struggle when they stop competing but I don’t have that problem at all. I love to ride my bike but I do it once or twice a week and I’m fine with that. I'm also fine with not pushing myself. I don’t need to be fast anymore; I don’t need to do what I’ve been doing for 16 years in professional cycling! Now I just use the bike to enjoy myself, to see more of the world, to seek adventures… So that trip to Mont Ventoux with friends perfectly fitted! I have so much more time in my life. I’ve spent time with my boyfriend, I’ve been to Uganda for a couple weeks with my mother and I just enjoy life without the bike. I don’t need the bike; I don’t need the competition. I still enjoy watching it but I think I stopped at a good moment.  

You’ve also done some race analysis on TV…

I don’t do full commentary, I feel like it’s a bit too long, but I still follow the competitions a lot. I will do some stages in the Tour de France and the whole Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, and also the Olympics! So I have quite a busy sporting Summer. And I enjoy following the sport. I listen to podcasts, I check how everyone is doing, the transfer news… I’m still invested, not only with the women racing, also the men.  

How big a mark did the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift leave on your career?

The start of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift gave me the feeling that the sport had really reached a professional level. From a commercial point of view, it was really interesting to have this event and that makes me proud and happy. And the amount of people who watch the race… Some people feel like the Olympics are bigger but when I returned home after the Tour, I felt like much more people had watched me than when I won the Olympic gold. It had a bigger impact than I expected. With the Tour, you can reach an audience that doesn’t necessarily follow the rest of cycling. It’s the same for the men. More people follow the Tour than anything else.  

« At first, I wasnt really into the Maillot Jaune. I felt like it was something for the guys »   You’ve won about everything… How hard was it to conquer the Tour?

I was sick in the first few days so it was a really hard challenge to overcome sickness in the Tour and win it! I had stomach problems, especially in the first two days. And the last day I had mechanicals and all the teams started racing against me… You have to manage these moments and that’s part of the Tour. Because it’s such a big event, there is so much pressure. I think that was the highest pressure I felt in my career. As a GC contender, you need to be there every day. And knowing that everyone was watching it also added extra pressure. If you make a mistake, everyone will have an opinion. You try not to think about that but it’s in the back of your mind, you know you’re live on television. The beauty of such a victory also comes from doing it together with the team, the riders and the staff. Everyone has a part. I would say that I’ve been able to win one day races on my own, but you can’t win the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift without a team.  

What have you done with the Maillot Jaune?

First, I rode a lot of criteriums in the Netherlands because winning the Tour got me invited to many of them. So I didn’t take off the bib numbers from the jersey to ride with it. I thought it would be very nice to keep the jersey with the numbers… And now it’s hanging in my home, in the corridor. I see it a lot. It has nice company with other jerseys I won. I also got two lions. I gave one to the team, Movistar, and I keep the other one at home. It’s nice memories.  

When you conquered the Maillot Jaune, you also spoke about how Marianne Vos wearing it was an inspiration for you…

I have a good memory from this. At first, I wasn’t really into the jersey. I felt like it was something for the guys, it didn’t resonate for the women, I don’t know. Marianne is a good friend and seeing her wearing it made me realise we’re really fighting for this jersey. And it made me even more hungry: ‘I also want that!’  

In the last two editions, Lorena Wiebes, Marianne Vos, Demi Vollering and yourself wore the Maillot Jaune. Should we expect more Dutch success with the Grand Départ in the Netherlands?

I have no expectations about this but I have hopes to see more and more nationalities come into the game and fight for the yellow jersey. This year, we’ve already seen a variety of champions winning in the WorldTour and I hope we can also see that in the Tour Femmes. I look forward to it. Having different teams, different nationalities fighting makes it even more exciting. And I believe the minimum salary in the WorldTour also helps so that women outside of Europe can earn the money to develop and fully dedicate themselves to the sport. Dutch riders are very strong, no doubt, but I hope to see more and more nationalities.  

What are your plans for the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift?

I’ll be working with television, so you’ll see me every day. I will follow it from the beginning until the end and I hope to see an exciting fight for the yellow jersey. I love this sport; I love seeing it grow and it’s great to already hear from so many people excited by the Tour. And the finish at Alpe d’Huez also gets me very excited.

28/07/2023 - Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift 2023 - Etape 6 - Albi / Blagnac (122,1 km) - VAN VLEUTEN Annemiek (MOVISTAR TEAM WOMEN)
28/07/2023 - Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift 2023 - Etape 6 - Albi / Blagnac (122,1 km) - VAN VLEUTEN Annemiek (MOVISTAR TEAM WOMEN) © A.S.O./Charly Lopez