WORDS: REBECCA BLAND
IMAGES: ZAC WILLIAMS
Paris. The circuit around the Arc de Triomphe, the vast straights of the Champs-Élysées. Synonymous with the final stage of the men’s Tour de France for years, the parade as the sprinters battle it out for the final chance of victory after an arduous three weeks, it was a fitting start for the 2022 edition of the Tour de France Femmes – the first of its kind in years.
The race began under the picturesque Eiffel Tower leading onto a 12 lap circuit, taking in 81.7km. Gladys Verhulst, the team’s resident French rider, spoke of her excitement to finally begin this historic race before the stage.
“It feels so good to be here. It’s amazing. And in France! I’m so motivated to do well and yeah, it’s so cool. My preparation has gone very well since the national championships – I am ready.”
Gladys followed up on her intentions by animating the race after the only QOM of the day. While she didn’t get herself into the polka dot jersey, she was awarded the combativity prize for a brave breakaway effort that was only closed down in the final kilometres.
The team plan for the day was to put the efforts behind Maike van der Duin for the predicted sprint finale. Maike walked us through the final couple of hundred metres.
“It was hectic, but I felt so good and had confidence in myself today. I thought to myself, ‘Okay, this day can be my day’. I was together with Majo and Jesse in the beginning, then after Jesse finished her work I was together with Majo but lost her and I was on the other side. I stayed calm and believed in what we were able to do and of course, tried to come back together but I kept going and tried to stick to the plan.
“I tried to come back to her but I was in the wheels of Vos and Balsamo so I knew that if I’m here I’m in good wheels and it is alright. Then after the corners I stuck to my position, and I was able to do what I can do.
“In the sprint, I was behind Norsgaard and I had to wait because otherwise it was too long of a sprint. I was in a wheel and I waited for her but the momentum was a little bit gone but I think I did what was best to do.”
A trait of some of the best sprinters in the peloton is their ability to follow the right wheels in the moment, even if the leadout wheels are lost. Maike continued.
“So I sprinted and went fully for that and finished sixth in the end, which I think we can be happy with. Of course this week we’re going to aim for top five, and I know we are able to do this.
“But for now, we have the white jersey, first young rider and it’s a really good start for us and also with Gladys with the combative rider, the red number tomorrow. We can be happy and it’s really exciting.”
The team’s performance today was beyond the level expected of them – as one of the smallest teams in the race – and it bodes well for the remainder of the Tour. Tomorrow’s stage is 136.5km and another flat stage as the race heads out of Paris and towards Provins.
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