Opinion: Annemiek van Vleuten was the right winner of the first Tour de France of a new generation
By dominating both days in the high mountains, Annemiek van Vleuten might have made her Tour de France Femmes victory look simple. It could not have been less so. The Dutch great, who turns 40 in October, had to endure hell to even make it to the finish, let alone emerge victorious. This has been the most important race of the year. It was important that Van Vleuten should win it.
Highlights: Van Vleuten tames Super Planche to seal Tour de France Femmes win
Five days ago Annemiek van Vleuten was in trouble. A lot of trouble. Plagued by a stomach bug that meant she “couldn’t eat, couldn’t drink,” the Giro Donne champion was on the brink of abandoning the first women’s Tour de France in 33 years
Nor, despite her discomfort, did she lose a meaningful amount of time. The only reason, going into the mountains, she had a handful of seconds to make up on the few riders she might have considered rivals was because she finished in the second (slash third) group on Stage 2.
Then, on the following day, she again lost less than she should have, considering she had barely ingested a calorie that she had been able to keep down.
Van Vleuten goes on the attack on Super Planche des Belle Filles
The likes of SD Worx and Canyon Sram may be left wondering if they should have done more to break her, to take advantage of her. All’s fair in love and bike racing.
There will be those - plenty - who will have wished they had.
It’s okay if you were among them.
It would have been perfectly in bounds, not broken any “unwritten rules,” if they had put her to the sword. Maybe they should have. Perhaps it would have mattered little if they had.
The point of Grand Tours is not just that you are the strongest rider, the one most capable of enduring the physical loads necessary to sustain a long assault across a range of terrains, but that you are the luckiest.
You have to be lucky to never be in the wrong place at the wrong time when a rider in front of you touches the wheel of a rider in front of them.
'So sick' - Van Vleuten made her move after 'six days waiting and surviving'
If anything Van Vleuten was lucky that she was afflicted early in the week rather than late.
There’s no way she could have endured 3000m of climbing on the carbohydrate equivalent of vapours.
You also have to be beyond strong to do what she did.
There can be no doubt that Annemiek van Vleuten is the strongest of them all, and that is why she is absolutely the right winner of the first women’s Tour de France in more than a generation.
Had she succumbed to sickness, and had Demi Vollering succeeded in her stead, it would not have meaningfully devalued the event. We would have lauded and admired a Vollering win every bit as much.
'If this is her feeling terrible…' – TDF Femmes will ‘kick off’ when Van Vleuten is back to 100%
But we would have reasonably wondered “what if?”
It's right that Annemiek van Vleuten has a Tour de France victory on her palmares. It's appropriate that she crossed the line in yellow.
Van Vleuten is not Tadej Pogacar. She is not in danger of dominating stage race cycling for a decade to come.
She has already scheduled her retirement, for the end of next season. If we get one more Tour de France Femmes out of her we will have been privileged to see it.
We should not wish for less.
This has been an iconic race and it was only right that the first edition of a new generation ought to be won by an iconic racer.
‘Super proud’ – Van Vleuten hoping ‘milestone’ Tour de France Femmes heralds more
She herself seems to be looking to the future:
“I hope it’s a big start and we can build this event even bigger for the women. It’s a milestone to win the first of these.”
More stages. The Alps. The Pyrenees. Foreign grand departs. Time trials. More competitive races. Bigger audiences.
Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.
That’s what lies in store for this race.
The Tour de France Femmes 2022, won by Annemiek van Vleuten, 39 years old, of Movistar and the Netherlands, was brilliant. It is also just the beginning.