After the dust has settled 

Observations from the final finish line of the Tour de France Femmes.

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The road to the top of the Super Planche des Belles Filles is lined with crowds decked out in their freebies from the publicity caravan. There isn’t a single free spot along the barriers. Beyond them, after the finish line, in a cordoned-off gravel area stand assorted soigneurs, media, race organisers and gendarmes.

There is no TV screen at the top and no phone signal meaning that it’s impossible to watch the race anywhere apart from on a tiny television set inside a tent to the side of the barriers. A group of us gather but as the 5 km-to-go klaxon sounds we are ushered away by race officials, consigned to refreshing live updates on our phones and hoping the page will load, or else relying on patchy French to interpret the announcer’s calls. 

As Annemiek van Vleuten reaches 1 km to go, he starts to list her achievements: “world champion, Olympic champion, Giro d’Italia winner, and soon-to-be Tour de France champion.” 

The increasingly loud banging of the barriers announces Van Vleuten’s imminent arrival at the top of the climb. We are about to see history in the making: the first woman to win the Tour de France for 33 years, winning the stage solo and taking home the overall.

As Van Vleuten crosses the line she does not post up; she can only muster the energy to feebly punch the air. But by the time she reaches her soigneur she is elated, smiling, and celebrating. 

But aside from Van Vleuten, her team staff, and the chasing media, the rest of the top of the Planche goes quiet in anticipation of the next arrival. 

Demi Vollering is next over the line, wearing the polka-dot jersey she earned on the previous stage and secured by placing second. After sitting up to point to her sponsors she almost loses her front wheel and is assisted by a helper. 

She finds a spot next to a barrier and slumps down, first onto all fours and then sitting. Her emotions are spilling out as she is greeted by her parents. 

Having no idea what happened on the climb after 5 km to go means the next rider to cross the line, Silvia Persico, comes as a surprise. After battling with Kasia Niewiadoma for third place Persico all but collapses onto the ground after finishing the climb. Some minutes later she is still sat on the ground, staring with the vacant expression of someone who has wrestled with gravity and their body to put in the performance of her life. 

Niewiadoma comes next. Heading to the end of the straight she also climbs straight off her bike having completely emptied herself to defend her third place overall. 

The top of the climb soon becomes a teeming mass of spent riders interspersed with staff, photographers, and TV crews. Veronica Ewers, having turned herself inside out to place seventh and move up two places on GC, collapses to the ground in the middle of the road, forcing her incoming colleagues to pick their way around her as they creep towards their soigneurs. 

There is an air of celebration not just from those who will walk away from this race with jerseys and prizes, but from everyone. Yara Kastelijn grins broadly as she poses for a selfie with two of her team staff – having finished amongst some of the best climbers in the world and placed 13th overall she has plenty to celebrate. 

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Evita Muzic find each other amongst the chaos and stop to share a hug, congratulating each other on finishing what has been a tumultuous but ultimately successful race for their FDJ Suez Futuroscope team. 

Having been in the day’s break, their teammate Grace Brown comes across the line after nearly seven minutes and can barely unclip from her pedals. She gives her assessment of the climb and the race to an expectant TV crew: “brutal”.   

Her compatriot, Anya Louw (AG Insurance-NXTG), one of the youngest riders in the race at 21, was dead last on GC going into stage eight. She is looking bright for someone who just finished eight stages of brutal racing.  

“It’s unbelievable,” she tells me. “I’ve been a great fan of the Tour … Back in Australia I’d stay up super late each night for three weeks and watch the Tour. But now we have the women’s race, which is super special. And to be honest, I’ve never even dreamed about it because it was never an option. So now it is for a lot of young girls to dream and to aspire to be part of the Tour.” 

Nearly 20 minutes later, a beaten-up Kristen Faulkner ( BikeExchange-Jayco) is wheeled towards her soigneur by an official. Her face is ashen and she has tears in her eyes. Upon greeting the soigneur she breaks down in tears. “I’m so happy” she says, of finishing the race – something that at one point seemed an impossible task for the American who suffered multiple crashes.

By now, plenty of riders have already donned warm clothes and begun their descent back down the climb, towards the team buses.

The last two riders cross the finish line of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift 34 minutes and 31 seconds after the yellow jersey. No rider is over the time limit. It is every bit as special for those who crawled to last place as it is for the Van Vleutens and the Vollerings. It is their Tour de France, finally.