The world cycling elite went through a minor revolution last year with the inaugural edition of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, which became the pivotal event of the season in no time flat. With the second edition just around the corner, six riders open up about their experience last July. Évita Muzic: “A top 10 in the Tour never fails to impress” Hailing from Franche–Comté, trained at the Besançon Sports Academy and a prolific hunter in the junior categories, both in cyclo–cross and on the road, Évita Muzic has several points in common with Juliette Labous, the other French ace in hilly races. Unlike the DSM rider, who is one year older, the woman from Jura has made her mark in the sole French WorldTour outfit, FDJ–Suez, which she joined as soon as she graduated from the junior ranks in 2018. Singled out as a phenomenal climber for a long time, Évita Muzic continues to move up patiently with the ambition of becoming number 1 someday, first in her squad and then on top of the world. Marta Cavalli and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig’s setbacks in recent months have accelerated her preparation to take over leadership duties. While eighth place in the first Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift came as “a pleasant surprise“ for her, the 24–year–old climber has since proved herself by finishing fifth in the Flèche Wallonne and sixth in her first Grand Tour as a leader, La Vuelta Femenina by Carrefour.es, with fourth place at the Lakes of Covadonga. More than enough to tackle the Tour with confidence, although her main task will be to back up her leaders, just like last year
Évita Muzic, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think back to the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift?
La Planche des Belles Filles! It’s true that the stage finished in my neck of the woods [Muzic grew up in that region, first in Lons–le–Saunier and then in Besançon]. My father organised a fan bus with family and friends. They’d made T–shirts, flags… I saw my name painted on the road and heard people shouting it all the way to the top. It’s a really sweet memory.
Did you get to catch up with your loved ones after the stage was over?
Yes, absolutely, they were at the top, scattered all over the place. Dad was at the start of the gravel bit. Eddy [Finé, her partner, who rides for Cofidis] had climbed all the way up. When I came down, I lost sight of everyone, but they came to the team bus later. As well as my parents, there was also a friend of my father’s, Éric, with whom I used to ride when I was little and still do so when I go back to Lons–le–Saunier [she now lives in Grenoble]. It was so crowded that I have trouble remembering them all!
Looking back with almost a year of hindsight, how did the first Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift change your career and, more generally, your life?
It’s the biggest race on Earth. Now, when people ask me if I’ve done the Tour, I can say “yes”. One thing’s for sure, a top 10 in the Tour never fails to impress. It’s quite a big result. Besides, it was an amazing edition. Crowds linedthe entire route. I’ll always treasure the memory.
“It started to sink in after the finish” Were you surprised to finish so high up [eighth]? It was your best Grand Tour result to date.
Definitely! I wasn’t even supposed to go for the overall when the race got under way. That was Marta Cavalli and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig’s job. Losing Marta on the second day shook up our plans. In the end, it all fell into place in a direct confrontation in the penultimate stage. I was in the same group as Cecilie [who went on to finish seventh
overall], so I rode for her and moved up the classification in the process. But my primary goal was to do well in a stage. I was stoked to have finished second in the stage with white roads [stage 4 to Bar–sur–Aube]. Let’s just say it wasn’t really on the cards. It was a pleasant surprise.
Would you say the Tour was a turning point for your confidence? Was it a game–changer?
If there was a game–changer, it was the Vuelta, last May. I was the number 1 leader there, so it was really something else. The game plan is completely different. When it comes to confidence, the Tour is a race like no other. The pressure was massive. There was non–stop jostling, I struggled to maintain my position and it’s true that people spent the entire year banging on and on about it because it was the first Tour. Between the recovery protocols, talking to the media and everything else, you can’t catch a break. It drains you mentally. It started to sink in after the finish. We
still had a cracking Tour with Cecilie’s win [in stage 3 to Épernay]. It was a bit of a roller–coaster, but that makes winning so much sweeter.
“I’m not in ‘hanging on for dear life’ mode as much as I used to. I can make a bigger impact on the race”
Last spring, you continued to climb up the hierarchy by finishing fifth in the Flèche Wallonne and sixth in La Vuelta Femenina by Carrefour.es, with fourth place at the top of the Lakes of Covadonga.
The team has always had faith in me. The long–term goal is for me to take over the leader’s mantle. Unfortunately, Marta is taking some time to bounce back after her mishap last year. So they handed me more responsibilities in the Vuelta, and it’s true that getting to do a stage race as the number 1 leader… Leadership is more nurture than nature.
You need to give it a try. And it was awesome. Besides, I’m still chuffed to have posted good results. It made me cross a mental threshold to see that I could keep up with the best on long climbs, perhaps not until the end, but at least for a decent chunk of the ascent. Now, you could say I’m not in “hanging on for dear life” mode as much as I used to. I can be make a bigger impact on the race. Enjoying the trust of the whole team sure helps.
Even so, you are going into the second edition of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in the same role as in the previous one. As a domestique.
That’s the plan. I’ll get my chance in the Giro. That’s what we decided at the start of the season. Our goal is to peak at the right time based on that plan. I might not have as much pressure, though. There’s no denying that it’s mentally
tough. I’m riding all three Grand Tours this season, and you always feel the heat… We’ll see how it goes, but why not chase a good result in a stage, perhaps the second one, which suits me like a glove and could offer a chance for me to shine? We need to find strength in numbers. If several of us go on the offensive, I might find an opening.
How do you feel about the Tourmalet, the finish of the penultimate stage?
It’s a legendary pass, the most used climb in the Tour. Then again, my heart would have fancied the Alps better, but I reckon we’ll go there someday! I haven’t often had the chance to go to the Pyrenees, but I’m all fired up for this
stage. Again, it’s a different level from last year. La Planche des Belles Filles has carved out a niche in the Tour, but it still doesn’t come close. The other climbs we’ve tackled were less known to the public. The Tourmalet, on the other hand, is the Tourmalet. And with the Aspin, it rings a bell for everyone