A little further from the end, Kristen Faulkner (BikeExchange-Jayco) collapses on a fender, looking worse for wear. She tries to drink a can of Fanta but her body doesn’t contain any of it. A moment later she was lying on her side on the sidewalk, a member of the team sat on top of her intently, checking her pulse.
Elsewhere in the final chute, FDJ Suez Futuroscope pair Grace Brown and Vittoria Guazzini fell over their bikes, catching their breath. “I don’t want to climb another mountain tomorrow,” Brown says. Guazzini laughs. “I don’t think about tomorrow,” she says. “I’m thinking of making it alive to the bus.”
Within 45 minutes or so, after Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) passes the line, many moments like this appear on the road above the finish line at Le Markstein. Van Vleuten didn’t tear up the GC in the opening Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, she did the same with almost the entire peloton.
Even those who entered Stage 7 hoping to match Van Vleuten on the three ascents of the day were dispatched quickly, turning to tears in the wake of this dominant performance.
Demi Vulering (SD Worx), who set off with Van Vleuten on the first climb and managed to stay with her until the second, grabbed her cramped leg as she crossed the line, a full 3:26 behind her fellow Dutchman. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Suez Futuroscope) is next across the line, 5:16 behind Van Vleuten. Usually full of life, it is only now.
“I gave it all I had,” she says in an uncharacteristically low voice. “I think then [I] He must be satisfied. I did everything I could, and I think so did the rest. she [Van Vleuten] He was just stronger.”
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) is two more seconds behind in fifth. She’s standing on top of her bike after the finish, jersey and kicks soaked in salt, and needs help from a team helper to stay upright.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), 7th across the line after chasing valiantly alone most of the day, collapses after the finish and sits with her back against a barrier, crying. When she was dragged to her feet to speak to the press a short time later, she was alarmingly unstable.
“I’m totally exhausted,” she says, but there’s no need. “I’ve been alone for a long time. For me, what really killed me was the valley.” With Longo Borghini’s light-hearted look, the team assistant approaches.
“I did my best and that’s it,” she continues. “In the end, if you give your best, that’s all you can do, and I really did. For me I was rock climbing on the last climb, but what can I say? It’s a bike race.”
The effects of Van Vleuten’s daring raid can be felt all the way through the peloton. The high speed on the first climb put many riders in difficulty very early on, on a day that saw three big climbs. And for many, the fight will continue throughout the stage, fighting for the right to stay in the Tour.
In this seventh stage, which raced through the Vosges Mountains, the time-out was set at 18% past Van Vleuten’s time: just under 41 minutes of space for the riders to play.
Slovenian champion Eugenia Bojak (ADQ UAE team) is one of the last riders to make it home safely, 37:58 behind Van Vleuten. It is exhausting, but relieved by the shortness of time.
“That was a really difficult phase for me,” she says. “I’m not really a climber. We worked so hard all these past days and I felt it [today].
“I think racing is like another level. I think I’ve never raced at such a high level before. Everyone is so prepared and excited and I think I’ve never seen the peloton so strong.”
Another contestant who flirts with time is Francesca Koch (DSM). Like Bujak, Koch has paid for her efforts, working with Lorena Wiebes in recent days and having time to break up. She rolls across the line and immediately asks her owner if she has arrived in time. He gives her the bad news. Koch burst into tears.
Ultimately, the timeout demands six passengers a day.
Cycling can be a brutal sport, and today that brutality is an example of that. While Van Vleuten set the race on fire with apparent ease – she clearly recovered from her illness earlier in the race – few others got through the day looking very relaxed.
But the vast majority will recover. Teammate Fimki Gerritsi pulls Braidold to her feet, accepts a quick hug, wipes her eyes, and then heads to the team bus to recover. Kristen Faulkner is also awake, and turns back towards the buses, seemingly on the mend.
One day in the mountains complete, one to go.