Crashes and fame: women’s peloton gets hit by the Tour de France effect

There's good and bad that comes with the world's largest bike race.

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The Tour de France has it all. Heartbreak, glory, internet fame just for carrying some bottles. It’s not just the stage winners and jersey wearers who walk away from the race having gained something. But to win a stage at the Tour de France can change the trajectory of someone’s career. So it comes as no surprise that when the Tour rolls out the nerves in the peloton are at their peak.

For so long, it was only the men’s peloton who experienced the Tour de France, but with the introduction of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift to the women’s WorldTour calendar, now the women’s peloton gets to experience not just the high of performing on the world’s biggest stage, but the darker sides of the “Tour de France effect” as well.

“I never experienced that in my whole career,” Trek-Segafredo’s Audrey Cordon-Ragot said after the second stage. “Today was a really really stressful day.”

“I heard about the Tour effect, meaning that on the Tour it’s always more crazy than normal. The boys have been telling us many times, but I thought they exaggerated a little bit. But today I understood what is the Tour effect and it’s not nice. It’s been a really crazy day where everyone wanted to show up in the front.”

Every year, as the summer hits its peak, France turns yellow. Not just the fields of sunflowers, but every town that the Tour de France will race through, every fan of cycling who pulls out their yellow t-shirt. People travel from all over the world and camp on roadsides for days just to see a glimpse of their heroes in spandex. Even though there was a women’s Tour de France years and years ago, the race never had the opportunity to be seen live around the world. With its revival in 2022, the Tour de France Femmes is entering women’s cycling as the sport reaches a turning point.

Did Cofidis and Uno-X start their women’s programs just because of the Tour de France Femmes? Did Human Powered Health shell out the extra money to go WorldTour in order to secure that coveted invite? What about EF Education and UAE? Did they team up with existing women’s teams in order to expand their fanbase?

The answer to all three questions is yes.

Already, the Tour de France Femmes is surpassing every other race on the women’s calendar in it’s viewership. Even the First Lady of the United States of America Jill Biden tweeted in support of Lilly Williams, the American on Human Powered Health.

But the hype that accompanies the name “Tour de France” comes with a cost. We see it every year in the men’s race. If the opening stages look like they will come down to bunch sprints, if there’s a yellow jersey on the line, the risk is higher, the nerves are higher and mass pileups are more likely to happen.

For the women, the first stage saw a few minor incidents but nothing major, nothing that sent riders home. The nerves came out in full during the second stage where a potential for crosswinds had every rider scrambling to get to the front. The results were not pretty. The image of the Australian national champion hurtling into Marta Cavalli at full speed is something that will haunt the Italian’s family and friends for years to come.

“We’ve been watching all those crashes back on videos on social media and it feels like yesterday was a really horrific day,” Cordon-Ragot said at the start of stage 3. “It’s super stressful.”

The women’s peloton isn’t immune to crashes, but there has never been this much on the line before.

“I think we had less crashes in [Paris-Roubaix] than today, so I’m really a bit shocked by what happened today,” said Cordon-Ragot. “I hope everyone understands today that we are not playing cycling, actually it’s a bit different than some other sports, we are actually risking a lot.”