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The 2022 Tour de France Femmes: A week of brutal climbs and gravel beckons

Taking a closer look at the route, coverage, prize money and early favourites of the inaugural Tour de France Femmes

Robyn Davidson
20 Oct 2021

Fresh off the back of the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes, the route reveal of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes marks an exciting time in cycling. Things are finally progressing for women, giving them the chance to make history at their own iconic events.

Former French national champion Marion Rousse was announced as the race director in early October and revealed the route alongside Tour de France organiser Christian Prudhomme with Zwift as a title sponsor.

Tour de [North East of] France

The inaugural edition of the Tour de France Femmes will take place from July 24th to July 31st 2022. Stage 1 unfolds from the Eiffel Tower to the Champs-Élysées for a quick 82km opener.

Usually I disagree with attaching women’s races to the men’s equivalent – it can appear almost like a sideshow (some editions of La Course spring to mind) – but this feels perfect.

To experience the iconic Champs-Élysées backdrop and set off after the finale of the men’s Tour de France allows it to stand in its own right and carry the momentum from one Tour to another.

It was on the Champs-Élysées that the first three editions of La Course unfolded, with Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen and Chloe Hosking taking one win apiece.

The Champagne region is a name that evokes more pleasure than pain, but it might prove the opposite on the fourth stage of the Tour de France Femmes. Six categorised climbs and four gravel road sectors await the peloton in the final 60km from Troyes to Bar-sur-Aube.

Commenting on the inclusion of the gravel sections, Marianne Vos said; ‘Of course the level of difficulty depends on the conditions and the kind of strips that are included. I think it’s a stage that fits perfectly into such a race. It’s not just about the spectacle of course, but I think a ‘Strade Bianche stage’ is wonderful in a stage race. From my cross experience, it should suit me, but ultimately I think many riders can handle this well.’

Gravel roads are also a staple feature of Strade Bianche in the Women’s WorldTour. After eight gravel sectors and six climbs with umpteen short hills in Italy during her final season as a professional, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak won the 2021 edition ahead of Elisa Longo-Borghini and Anna van der Breggen. Van Vleuten dominated the race prior in 2019, launching a solo attack on the final section of gravel to time trial her way to victory.

The chaos that comes with gravel is part of its charm, but it can lead to punctures and mechanicals cutting a swathe through the peloton without a moment’s notice – bad luck, or simply a feature of the race unfolding, helping shape races and podiums. Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) noted that these are the types of stages on which you can win or lose the entire race.

On the topic of gravel, the crowning feature of the first Tour de France Femmes takes the form of the monstrous La Super Planche des Belles Filles. The jewel in the queen stage, the 7km leg-breaking climb finishes on a gravel section at the summit. Short but far from sweet.

Riders are almost vertical just a mere few hundred metres from the finish, a wall punishing those who scale it with 20% gradients. Bear in mind, this comes after the Côte d’Esmoulières and Ballon d’Alsace climbs. Whoever makes it to the top of this category one killer first gets their name alongside Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali, Fabio Aru, Dylan Teuns and Tadej Pogačar in the Planche des Belles Filles Tour de France legacy.

It’s clear that the Tour de France Femmes has a versatile course, with 1,029km stretched across sprints, mountains and the more puncheur stages. If we look at it officially, they’ve organised two mountain stages, two punchy stages and four flat stages. No time-trials. The peloton will remain in the north of France throughout [hold for ‘that’s not a tour of France, then’ comments] limiting lengthy transfers yet still remaining quite compact for the first edition.

2022 Tour de France Femmes prize money: Better, but not good enough

So, let’s talk about money. The Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) came under fire recently when it was revealed the winner of Paris-Roubaix Femmes, ultimately Lizzie Deignan, would only get €1,535 compared to the men’s winner – Sonny Colbrelli – receiving €30,000. Trek-Segafredo stated they would make up the difference, something that shouldn't have to happen in 2021.

The total prize pot for the Tour de France Femmes will be €250,000, €50,000 of which will go to the General Classification winner. A sensational amount, but as activist Kathryn Bertine noted, still only a tenth of the men’s Tour de France total. That stands at a whopping €2.3 million. Judging on stages, the Tour de France Femmes has a running length of on average 1/3 that of its men's counterpart.

I only managed a B in GCSE maths but even I can tell that 1/3 of €2.3 million is not €250,000. It’s approximately €766,666. Sure, their stages will be shorter than the men’s, but are we charging by the kilometre when the UCI set the maximum distance for the Women’s World Tour at 160km?

Live coverage is also a hotly debated issue within women’s cycling.

To use Paris-Roubaix Femmes as an example again, while it was a monumentally historic occasion, only 52km of the race ended up being broadcast live compared to the full coverage of the 258km (and neutralised start) the men received. We didn’t even witness Deignan’s winning move.

There is a four-year agreement in place to broadcast uninterrupted live coverage of the Tour de France Femmes, yet we are still uncertain of whether that will be for the entirety of the stages. But the agreement between Discovery Sports and Eurovision Sport will provide broadcasts across Europe, and runs until 2025.

2022 Tour de France Femmes favourites: Who will make history?

Now, who are the challengers? Without a start list, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly. But we can have a pretty good guess that a certain Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) will be at the start line.

Currently recovering from her race-ending crash at Paris-Roubaix Femmes, Van Vleuten will be in the second of her two-year deal with Movistar when the Tour de France Femmes kicks off. She won the overall at the Ladies Tour of Norway this year with victory on the first ever mountain top summit on the third stage. She has to be considered race favourite.

Behind her that day was Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD Worx), crossing the line in second and ultimately finishing in this same position on GC behind Van Vleuten – 39 seconds down. Moolman-Pasio also placed second on GC behind her teammate, the now-retired Anna van der Breggen, at the 10-stage Giro d’Italia Donne, currently the longest stage race for the women. The South African rider claimed victory on the summit finish of category one Monte Matajur on the queen stage after 10 years of trying for a stage win in the race.

Of course, Demi Vollering, also of the SD Worx team, will also have her sights set on the Tour de France Femmes. The Dutchwoman won the most recent edition of La Course in a sprint finish ahead of Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma).

After placing second at both Brabantse Pijl and the Amstel Gold Race, Vollering also won Liège-Bastogne-Liège with a commanding sprint that saw off Van Vleuten and Elisa Longo Borghini. Vollering then topped the Women’s Tour GC by over a minute after six stages this October, and it will be interesting, nay, exciting, to see her performance over an eight-day race.

It goes without saying that Marianne Vos will be an imposing figure within the peloton for such a historic event. Vos, who finished second at Paris-Roubaix Femmes to Deignan and in the World Championships road race to Elisa Balsamo (Valcar-Travel & Service) in October, has barely rested on her laurels with recent victory in two rounds of the UCI Cyclo-Cross World Cup.

She solidified her ‘GOAT’ status at the Giro Donne this year, winning two stages and bringing her to a monumental total of 30 victories in the race. Who else is doing it like her? She praised the varied route to the Tour de France Femmes while admitting the inclusion of a time trial would ‘complete’ a stage race, but acknowledged the tension a different style of stage would bring.

The race will begin on July 24th 2022. For more information, don't miss our complete guide to the 2022 Tour de France Femmes which we'll be keeping updated as more details emerge.