The day the Tour was blown apart

While Van Vleuten made it look easy, the rest of the bunch suffered.

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Mischa Bredewold (Parkhotel Valkenburg) lies face down on the tarmac just past the finish line, her head on her hands, sobbing. Her soigneur crouches beside her, his hand on her back, making sure she’s alright.

A little further past the finish, Kristen Faulkner (BikeExchange-Jayco) is slumped against a barrier, looking even worse for wear. She’s trying to drink a can of Fanta but her body’s having none of it. A moment later she’s lying on her side on the pavement, a team staff member perched attentively above her, checking her pulse.

Elsewhere in the finishing chute, FDJ Suez Futuroscope pair Grace Brown and Vittoria Guazzini are slumped over their bikes, catching their breath. “I don’t want to climb another mountain tomorrow,” Brown says. Guazzini laughs. “I don’t think about tomorrow,” she says. “I think about making it alive to the bus.”

In the 45 minutes or so after Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) comes across the line, many moments like this play out on the road above the finish line at Le Markstein. Van Vleuten hasn’t just torn apart the GC at the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, she’s done the same to virtually the entire peloton.

Even those who came into stage 7 with hopes of matching Van Vleuten on the day’s three climbs have been summarily dispatched, reduced to tears in the wake of such a dominant performance.

Demi Vollering (SD Worx), who rode away with Van Vleuten on the first climb and managed to stay with her until the second, clutches a cramping leg as she crosses the line, a full 3:26 behind her fellow Dutchwoman. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Suez Futuroscope) is next across the line, 5:16 behind Van Vleuten. Normally full of life, she’s anything but right now.

“I just gave it my all,” she says, her voice uncharacteristically flat. “I guess then [I] should be satisfied. I did everything that I could, and I think the rest also. She [Van Vleuten] was just stronger.”

Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) is a further two seconds behind in fifth. Standing over her bike past the finish, jersey and knicks caked in salt, she needs help from a team helper to stay upright.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), seventh across the line after chasing gallantly alone for most of the day, collapses after the finish and sits with her back against a barrier, crying. When she is hauled to her feet to speak to the press a short time later, she worryingly unsteady.

“I’m completely exhausted,” she says, but doesn’t need to. “I’ve been alone for a long time. For me, what really killed me was the valley.” With Longo Borghini looking light-headed, a team helper steps closer.

“I gave my best and that’s it,” she continues. “In the end, if you give your best, it’s all you can do, and I really did it. For me I was rockclimbing the last climb, but what can I say? It’s bike racing.”

The effects of Van Vleuten’s audacious raid can be felt all the way through the peloton. The high pace on the first climb put many riders in difficulty very early on, on a day that featured three considerable climbs. And for many, the fight would continue for the entire stage, battling for the right to stay in the Tour.

On this seventh stage, raced through the Vosges Mountains, the time cut is set at 18% beyond Van Vleuten’s finishing time: a buffer of just under 41 minutes for riders to play with. 

Slovenian champion Eugenia Bujak (UAE Team ADQ) is one of the last riders to make it home safely, 37:58 behind Van Vleuten. She’s exhausted, but relieved to have made the time cut.

“That was a really hard stage for me,” she says. “I’m not really a climber. We worked hard all these last days and I could feel it [today].

“I think the race is like another level. I think I never raced in such a high level. Everybody is so prepared and motivated I think I’ve never seen the peloton so strong.”

Another rider flirting with the time cut is Franziska Koch (DSM). Like Bujak, Koch has paid for her exertions, having worked for Lorena Wiebes in recent days and spent time in the breakaway. She rolls across the line and promptly asks her soigneur whether she’s made it in time. He gives her the bad news. Koch bursts into tears.

Ultimately, the time limit claims six riders on the day. 

Cycling can be a brutal sport, and today was that brutality exemplified. While Van Vleuten set fire to the race with apparent ease – clearly recovered from her illness earlier in the race – few others got through the day looking so comfortable.

But the vast majority will bounce back. Bredewold is dragged to her feet by teammate Femke Gerritse, accepts a quick hug, wipes her eyes, then heads down to the team bus to recover. Kristen Faulkner is up and about too, and walks back towards the buses, seemingly on the mend.

One day in the mountains complete, one to go.

Gerritse gives Bredewold a hug after helping her teammate to her feet.

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