Dutch national time trial champion Annemiek van Vleuten has produced a spectacular performance for ORICA-SCOTT women to take victory atop the iconic Col d’Izoard at Le Course by Le Tour de France today, ensuring pole position for Saturday’s individual time trial in Marseille.
A short 67.5kilometre opening day of racing unfolded at lightening speed as the field sped through the Alpine valley towards the Izoard.
Van Vleuten’s ORICA-SCOTT teammates held position and kept her well placed at the front until the start of the climb as the selections began to form, Van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt were both part of the leading group that went clear with 14kilometres to go.
Timing her attack to perfection Van Vleuten accelerated clear inside the final five kilometres, creating an unassailable lead of 40seconds that she held all the way to the finish line.
“To finish here with a victory at the Tour de France in front of so many people is amazing,” said Van Vleuten. “You know before I wasn’t really a climber, but since the Olympics in Rio that was the first time that I felt I was climbing really well and that inspired me to focus more on my climbing and when we saw the route for today’s race I knew I wanted to go for it.”
“I have to be honest I thought that maybe I attacked a bit too early, because I was also thinking about Saturday and the time trial and I knew I needed to gain some time, but you also have to think about the legs. In the end it turned out great and proved to be the right time to go.”
The top twenty finishers from today’s stage earn the chance to compete in Saturday’s time trial and with Spratt finishing in sixth place ORICA-SCOTT are well positioned for another good result.
“It couldn’t have gone any better for us,” said sport director Gene Bates. “We knew that we had two in form riders coming out of the Giro with Spratty and Annemiek and we wanted to give them the easiest run in possible onto the climb and from there they would have the best chance to have a go.”
“We executed our tactics really well and obviously we are very pleased with the result. Annemiek is in a great place physically and also mentally, we have a great opportunity to do well on Saturday and the whole team is imbued with positivity, it’s a great place to be at the moment.
“Today has been a wonderful spectacle for women’s cycling and a very special day with all of the TV coverage and media, it has been a great experience and I’m sure Saturday will be the same.”
How it happened:
The sun started to break through the clouds on what had been a wet morning in Briancon for today’s 67.5kilometre race up to the summit of the Col d’Izoard and a nervy start ensued.
Attacks started to spring on the wide valley roads that marked the approach to the daunting Izoard and small splits occurred throughout the peloton as Team Sunweb set a fast early pace.
Rachel Neylan was part of a five-rider move trying to go clear as the road began to rise with 40kilometres to go, but the peloton refused to acquiesce and the front of the race came back together moments later.
As the Izoard started to rise in earnest with 23kilometres remaining a solo leader, Linda Villumsen (Velo-Concept) held a 40second advantage over the peloton with Boels-Dolmans controlling the chase.
Villumsen was caught inside the final ten kilometres by a heavily reduced bunch that contained Spratt and Van Vleuten for ORICA-SCOTT, the selection had been formed and duly split again as the gradient worsened.
With four kilometres remaining a series of accelerations from Van Vleuten shattered the front group as the Dutch time trial champion sped clear and created a 40second gap almost immediately.
Van Vleuten pushed on spectacularly and held her advantage all the way to the line to take a historic victory and ensure pole position for Saturday’s concluding individual time trial.
La Course by Le Tour de France – Col d’Izoard results:
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (ORICA-SCOTT) 02:07:18
2. Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) 00:00:43
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) +00:01:23