Tour de France Femmes: Demi Vollering draws first blood, Annemiek van Vleuten unfazed

Vollering mistakenly celebrates but takes eight seconds on her rival, who kicks off the mind games

Clock17:00, Thursday 27th July 2023
Demi Vollering and Annemiek van Vleuten went toe-to-toe for the first time on stage 4 of the Tour de France Femmes

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Demi Vollering and Annemiek van Vleuten went toe-to-toe for the first time on stage 4 of the Tour de France Femmes

In what has widely been billed as a two-horse race for the yellow jersey, the first gaps between Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) and Demi Vollering (SD Worx) emerged on stage 4 of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.

It was Vollering who drew first blood on the punchy stage to Rodez, grinding clear of her compatriot on the final kick to the line to open a two-second gap that jumped to eight due to the bonus seconds on offer for second place.

Vollering thought she might have won the stage, so offered a tentative celebration before realising that Yara Kastelijn (Fenix-Deceuninck), the solo survivor from the day’s large break, had long since crossed the line.

“I didn’t know, I had no clue what was happening in front, so I celebrated anyway,” Vollering told GCN. “It was a crazy day.”

The Dutchwoman managed to prise open several seconds on her rivals in sight of the line, but she had shot for a greater margin earlier on. She accelerated on the Côte de Moyrazès, where teammate and yellow jersey Lotte Kopecky ended up sneaking off the front, and then attacked from a select GC group on the subsequent climb of the Côte de Lavernhe inside the final 10km.

That time, she briefly gapped Van Vleuten and then responded to a counter-attack as the pair went clear, but the GC group would reform ahead of the final scramble for the line.

“I couldn’t make the difference,” Vollering said. “Everyone was in my wheel. When we let Lotte go, they already knew probably that this was probably the plan. That was a bit shit but we tried our best.

“Because we don’t have such long races, you really feel in the bunch everyone is really tired and no one has that real explosive attack anymore to go away, but everyone can follow. That makes it even harder. Normally multiple riders can make a difference on the climbs, but now everyone was a bit the same level.”

Van Vleuten shrugs off time loss

Vollering did end up making a difference by the finish line, albeit a small one. Whether it’s a significant one seems doubtful in the mind of her chief rival Van Vleuten, who appeared to view her cup as very much half full.

The world champion, who beat Vollering to the Tour de France Femmes title last year and came out on top in a much fiercer battle at the Vuelta Femenina a couple of months ago, was keen to point out that this stage didn’t play to her strengths.

As such, her fourth-place finish, separated from Vollering by two seconds and one final breakaway survivor, only seemed to inspire confidence.

“This was quite a punchy day, so normally a little bit less good for me,” she said. “I look forward to Saturday a little bit more after today because I think ‘yeah, I have good legs’.”

There was a mischievous twinkle in the eye as Van Vleuten upped the mind games in an open interview with GCN’s Iris Slappendel.

“I expected more [to see] Demi attacking from the bottom,” she said of the late climbs. “If you want to take seconds, then it’s better to go from the bottom. Maybe that’s why she was not so confident.”

Van Vleuten also noted the work Vollering’s SD Worx teammates had done up to that point, with a rider in the break and the yellow jersey on the back of Kopecky, who was on the attack again. But that was only cause for another subtle dig.

“Maybe also they had to work, so were outnumbered, or had less numbers there,” she said, before adding with a smile: “My team… I was still with six in the front, so we had everyone there.”

The first blow between ‘the big two’ has been landed, and it only raises the promise of bigger ones to come, on and perhaps off the bike.

We’ll be showing live and on-demand coverage of all eight stages of this year’s Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift from Sunday, July 23 to Sunday, July 30. Head over to GCN+ now to check the start times of each broadcast so that you don’t miss out on a moment of the action! As always, territory restrictions will apply.

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