Photo by Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

‘You can’t not have fun’ – Anya Louw’s big day out at the Tour

The 21-year-old Australian is taking the Tour de France Femmes in her stride.

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You’d forgive Anya Louw (AG Insurance-NXTG) for being overwhelmed by the occasion. She’s just 21 years old, in her first season in the pro ranks, racing in just her second European stage race, and that stage race just happens to be the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.

But Louw is a picture of composure. In interviews she appears very relaxed – a rarity for someone her age – and on Thursday’s stage 5, in a breakaway that lasted almost 140 km, the young Australian even seemed to be having fun.

On the second climb of the day, the Côte de Gripport, Louw made several gestures to the crowd to encourage more cheering as the break rode past.

“I’m only 21 years old and yeah, we’re the youngest team in this Tour de France,” she said at the finish in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges. “So when we’re out there and there’s so many spectators coming out to watch women’s cycling, you can’t not have fun. I was trying to cheer everyone on a little bit and crack a few jokes.”

Louw has been one of the most exciting young prospects in Australian cycling for a few years now, but it was in early 2022 that the Tasmanian really started to make a name for herself.

In the Australian summer she won U23 national time trial and criterium titles, followed by the U23 Oceania time trial title – results that helped earn a ride on a European team.

Louw after winning the U23 women’s criterium title at the 2022 Australian Road National Championships. (Photo by Con Chronis/Getty Images)

“I had a pretty strong performance at Nationals in Australia and in the summer of cycling last year,” she told CyclingTips at the start of stage 2 earlier this week. “So basically at the beginning of the year I was in contact with the team and then after I arrived in Europe, the communication grew and yeah, it worked out well.”

In May and June Louw raced in Europe with her Australian domestic team, Pro Racing Sunshine Coast, taking part in six one-day races. And then, on July 1, she transferred to Dutch Continental team AG Insurance-NXTG. Before she knew it, she was being added to the team’s Tour de France Femmes squad. 

Louw came to the Tour with two goals: supporting Kiwi sprinter Ally Wollaston on the flatter stages early in the race, before targeting breakaways in the second half of the Tour.

The stage 1 sprint finish on the Champs-Élysées didn’t go as well as planned. “We formed as a team a little bit too early into the final and then ran out of legs basically into the finish,” Louw said a day later. Wollaston finished 39th. The next day would be even worse.

On a day marred by crashes, Wollaston fell heavily and fractured her wrist. She finished the stage but left the race that evening. Gaia Masetti also crashed but wasn’t able to finish the stage. Louw herself lost nearly 12 minutes after stopping to help Wollaston.

But losing time would work in Louw’s favour by the time stage 5 rolled around. At the start of the 175 km stage – the longest-ever Women’s WorldTour race – Louw was more than half an hour down on GC – perfect for getting in the breakaway.

“Today was a stage where there were a lot of opportunities and that was to get in the breakaway early and stay away,” she said at the end of stage 5. “We knew that a lot of people would be down already on GC, including myself, and it was a possibility that a lot of the big teams would let something go up the road.”

That’s exactly what happened, not that it was easy getting in the break.

“It was pretty hectic,” Louw said of the opening kilometres. “There were a lot of attacks in the first 20 kilometers and at about the 20 km mark there was a little gap on the left and I decided to just go with a bit of speed.

“I’m a long way down on GC so I knew that if I was up the road with a few other people like me, they weren’t going to have an immediate reaction, the big teams. So I tried to gamble with that a little bit.”

Louw was ultimately joined by three other riders and the quartet worked well to build a lead that peaked at more than three and a half minutes.

“Everyone was doing really even turns,” Louw said. “I was secretly trying to do a little bit less than everyone else. I think everyone was thinking the same, though, because there’s always that chance that we stay away. And then how you’ve spent your energy kind of pays off in those moments.”

Louw (left) with Emily Newsom (EF Education-Tibco) en route to forming the day’s break. (Photo by Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

Louw won the intermediate sprint with around 60 km to go but was ultimately dropped from the break with 20 km remaining as the peloton closed in. A little while after Lorena Wiebes (DSM) claimed her second stage win of the week, Louw rolled across the finish too, nearly seven minutes down. Job done.

Back at the team campervan, Louw was measured and relaxed in reflecting on the day. She’s keenly aware of the significance of the occasion, but that doesn’t change anything about what she’s here to do.

“I definitely feel like [the Tour] is bigger [than other races], like all the people, and there was such a big build-up for this race,” she said. “It’s the biggest race that women’s cycling possibly has ever had. But at the same time, I’ve got my very specific roles every day and I just try and execute those roles for my teammates to the best of my ability. That’s all I’m thinking about.”

Louw said she’ll likely need a day or two to recover from her exertions today. That leaves Sunday’s final stage in the Vosges mountains, finishing atop La Super Planche des Belles Filles. Perhaps we’ll see Louw up the road again there, representing her team, and having fun while doing it.

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