Each day has become a piece of history. Even if nothing was easy, even if their bodies were put to an unprecedented test, the women riders are and will remain pioneers, those who took part in the rebirth of the women's version of the Grande Boucle and in a new stage in the development of their sport. Thus, the mixed emotions at the end of the stages, the simple pleasure of taking the start, of being part of the peloton that left the Eiffel Tower last Sunday for the summit of the Super Planches des Belles Filles this afternoon, will be part of those moments that will mark their careers.
Alana Castrique's withdrawal, the hard blow
For the Cofidis team, which is competing in its first season, everything had to be learned. In terms of repetition of efforts, logistics, physical and mental approach, a Grand Tour is not something common and this week proved it in its own way. After the sunny start in the capital on Sunday, the team had to face a first hard blow: the crash and the withdrawal of Alana Castrique.
The Belgian rider, who had all the qualities to shine on certain stages, had to leave the Tour in a hurry. Victim of a fracture of the sacrum, her season is over. For the five other riders - Martina Alzini, Victoire Berteau, Valentine Fortin, Sandra Levenez and Rachel Neylan - it was necessary to start again, to move forward, to put on their race number and to believe in better days. Supported by a dedicated staff, they all remained mobilised until the end.
Victoire Berteau, audacity rewarded
The best example of this fierce will to give everything and never give up is embodied by a smile and an attitude: those of Victoire Berteau. At 21 years old, the best French rider of the last Paris Roubaix, at ease on the track as well as on the road, is one of those riders who never give up. There was only one stage left to prove it to the general public. It was the 5th one, last Thursday, between Bar-le-Duc and Saint-Dié-des-Vosges. Victoire started, attacked and was at the initiative of the breakaway of the moment. She was only caught again with 2,5 km to go, 145 km, alone at the front, alone facing herself. The day will end on the podium with the Prix de la Combativité, the feeling of a job well done and a rewarded effort.
The peloton was not spared as the road went up to the Vosges. For the riders in red and white, the fatigue was obvious and for good reason: Martina (withdrawal on stage 6), Victoire and Sandra had already been part of the Giro d'Italia adventure at the beginning of the month. The difficulty in keeping up with the pace, in drawing on the depths of one's resources on a daily basis is an illustration of the particularly high level of the women's cycling elite.
However, during the final stage with its spectacular finale in the most famous pass of the Vosges, Rachel Neylan first of all and then Victoire Berteau, once again, distinguished themselves. On the first difficulty of the day, the Australian placed a first attack before Victoire went to the top for long kilometres in counter-attack before joining the break with 50 km to go. The young Frenchwoman then gave everything to support her leader Rachel until the foot of the Planche des Belles Filles. A great performance, a new illustration of the Cofidis spirit of never giving up. This Grande Boucle will be rich in lessons learned before turning calmly to the second part of the season.
Gaël Le Bellec, team manager: "What I remember about this Tour de France is that the whole team has grown in strength. We got off to a difficult start with Alana's retirement last Sunday and stages 2 and 3 were a bit complicated. Everything came to a head with Victoire's breakaway and her title of most combative. After that, we saw some girls who were liberated, who realised that they were able to follow the best. We saw some riders who went on the attack. On this last stage, we have Rachel and Victoire who are at the front. They did a very nice stage and at the foot of the last climb, they were in the yellow jersey. They gave it their all, there is nothing to regret and I am happy with the way this Tour turned out from the 4th stage onwards."
Victoire Berteau: "It's a successful Tour. I came with three objectives: a top 20, the white jersey and a combativity prize. I achieved two of them, which is already a good result. For the white jersey, it wasn't far off but we had a bit of bad luck on the Champs Élysées, but I'm satisfied with my results with a nice last stage to help Rachel at the foot of the Planche des Belles Filles.
It was quite easy today until the first climb where I had to make an effort on my own to catch the breakaway. In the Ballon d'Alsace, I couldn't follow the leading group but I managed to hang on.