After Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) made her way into the Vosges Mountains, however, the GC was torn to shreds.
The 39-year-old’s 60km assault on the GC race puts her 3:14 ahead of her nearest competitor, Demi Follering (SD Worx0), who valiantly stuck out with her compatriot until she could no longer keep up with her speed climbs.
“It’s not normal,” Vollering said of Van Vleuten’s performance. “I told her what she did was not normal. She said, I have a lot of training experience and experience in general. She told me he would come to me, so let’s hope.”
Fullering kept her distance before chasing a host of candidates to finish in 5:16 ahead of Cecily Otrop Ludwig (FDJ Suez Futuroscope) who finished third on the stage. Riding Vollering puts her in a 1:19 advantage over Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) who started the day in second.
“It was brutal to be honest,” Niewiadoma said after the stage. “There was no time to recover, no time to do anything, because we started with so many attacks from different teams. So the pace was very high. And then of course we got the first climb. And it was still just crazy.
“For me personally, I knew that after the second climb, there was a long descent on the big road and the part in the valley was something you would definitely take advantage of when there are riders around as well. So when I saw [Elisa] Longo Borghini knew this was going to be a tough day for her.
“And then on the last climb I did my best because I knew I had a GC place or the top three available to me, especially the third, so I basically rode that.”
Longo Borghini’s solo efforts mean she has struggled in the latest ascent after she was eventually caught by the group that includes Niewiadoma, Juliette Labous (DSM), Uttrup Ludwig, Evita Muzic (FDJ Suez Futuroscope), Urška Žigart (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Silvia Persico (Falcar Travel & Services). The Italian eventually crossed the line 7:23 behind Van Vleuten and 2:07 behind Uttrup Ludwig put her seventh on the GC in 6:15.
“I’m totally exhausted,” Longo Borghini said after the stage. “I’ve been alone for so long. For me, what really killed me was the valley. I did my best and that’s it. In the end, if you give your best, that’s all you can do, and you really did.”
“We all know it’s [Van Vleuten] It was the strongest and I couldn’t believe for a second that it wasn’t that good.
“For me I was rock climbing on the last climb, but what can I say? It’s a bike race.”
A third place on stage for Otrop Ludwig lifted the Danish rider to fifth at 5:59. Despite his rise to GC, the 26-year-old looked uncharacteristically shrunken after the stage.
“I gave her everything I had,” she said. “I guess then you should be satisfied. I didn’t have much to give. They were stronger today,” she said. “I did everything I could, and I think the rest too. she [Van Vleuten] He was just stronger.”
Labus, who finished fourth on the stage after a three-way race with Niewiadoma and Uttrup Ludwig, climbed to fourth at 5:22 while Muzic, who was in the same group on the final climb, entered the top ten and sits in eighth with a deficit of 10:13 on Van Vleuten.
Italian multidisciplinary racer Silvia Persico beat Lungo Borghini in a sprint over the line to finish sixth on the stage but still wasted time to move up to sixth overall at 6:11. Mavi Garcia (UAE Team ADQ) in the war managed to pull out after an unfortunate few stages of crashing to reach 13th on the stage which pushed her to 10th. Behind Van Vleuten.
One of the biggest losers in GC today was Vollering’s teammate, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio. Usually one of the strongest climbers in Peloton, South Africa could only finish 18th on the stage, at 13:43: behind Van Vleuten, dropping to 12th overall.
“I’ve had a bit of a runny nose and other things, but I thought it was just an allergy, but my whole body was hurting today,” Mollman-Basio said. “I don’t know, empty today. It’s crazy how you can go from feeling happy to feeling disgusted overnight. But yeah, really good performance from Demi until we’re happy about that.”
One of the revelations that day was an igart who, after a relatively quiet race, spent the day in a group of some of the best peloton climbers. The 25-year-old Slovenian finished the stage in eighth but was more than 30 minutes behind in the GC.
“The gas was full from the start,” she said. “Already when the big break was gone. Actually when the peloton splits. Then full fuel on the full climb. Everyone knew they had to make a difference ASAP and then everyone was on their own.
“I wasn’t there – I didn’t see it [Van Vleuten’s move]. I was a little stuck and out of my post. I had to go back to my favorite group. We weren’t so lucky to have Kristen [Faulkner] But I could not pay, I could not work on the set. Of course I was a little sad. I felt a little stupid.
“I felt good [on the day]. I showed the world that I have climbing legs. I hope in the future to be even higher.”
The GC podium appears to be fully secured with a single stage, but in the words of Niewiadoma: “You never know what can happen. Cycling is unpredictable.”