The other victory salute: Femke Markus’ Tour de France triumph

Even minor victories can be a big deal for the small teams in the race.

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When Lorena Wiebes punched the air in delight on Sunday afternoon – having won the opening stage of the Tour de France Femmes – she wasn’t the first rider to have offered a victory salute on the Champs-Élysées that day.

Twenty-five minutes earlier, a little further down cycling’s most famous boulevard, former speedskater Femke Markus (Parkhotel Valkenburg) was also punching the air in celebration. The 25-year-old Dutchwoman had just won the sprint to take two QOM points in the shadow of the Arch de Triomph, earning her the first polka-dot jersey of the first Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. 

The long, gradual climb up the Champs-Élysées to the Arch de Triomphe is hardly a Tour de France climb in the traditional sense, but with race organisers keen to award the first polka-dot jersey on the opening stage of the Tour de France Femmes, the tough, cobbled drag would get the nod.

Several teams spotted the opportunity for an early stint in the polka dots, not least Parkhotel Valkenburg. In the team meeting the night before the stage, the plan was made for Markus to go for the second intermediate sprint. She suggested a slightly different plan.

“She asked if it was [OK] that she will do [a] break just after the finish of the green sprint,” said Parkhotel Valkenburg sports director Bart Faes. “Try a break and go for the mountain classification.”

It went exactly as the team drew it up.

Markus made her move about 7 km before the QOM, sprinting away from the bunch after the second intermediate sprint, dragging Anne Ysland (Uno-X) with her. The pair would be joined by Marta Lach (Ceratizit) on approach to the QOM sprint.

Ysland surged from the break long before the QOM line, but was easily overhauled by Markus who had time to celebrate before drifting back to the peloton.

“We were in [the] attack and I was like, [for] the last kilometre, ‘Just keep it easy and don’t go too early,’” Markus told CyclingTips. “And I was happy that the girl from Uno-X went first and I was in the last wheel. I’m really good in a long sprint. So I was happy it was a long sprint.

“I’m so happy with this jersey.”

Photo by Jeff Pachoud/AFP via Getty Images

The biggest teams at the Tour de France Femmes have loftier goals than the race’s first QOM jersey, but for second-division team Parkhotel Valkenburg, being on the podium on the Champs-Élysées, and having a rider in the polka-dot jersey for stage 2 – that’s a significant win. Great exposure for the team and its sponsors.

And the team is realistic about the way it’s going to get that exposure.

“Honestly, it will be difficult to be on a podium in a stage,” Maes said. “So everything what we can take, we try to take and that’s what we do today.

“It’s incredible,” he added. “We both were with tears in our eyes in the [team] car. We are a real small team and we are happy we are here [at the race]. We deserve it I think.”

Will the team aim to defend the jersey on stage 2, another day with a single Cat 4 climb? “We are going to try it out, for sure,” Faes said.

Long after the stage had ended, and after her podium duties were complete, Markus rode her way back down the Champs-Élysées to the team parking area. Surrounded by the giant tour buses of the bigger teams, Parkhotel Valkenburg’s small campervan serves as a clear reminder of the team’s place within the hierarchy of the sport.

As she approached the campervan, Markus sat up and offered her second victory salute of the day. This one wasn’t captured by TV cameras and beamed out across the world. This one was just for the benefit of her teammates and team staff who were waiting to take photos and celebrate with the first QOM leader of the first Tour de France Femmes. A big moment for a small team on cycling’s biggest stage.

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