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.
Niewiadoma: “The Tour made me way stronger mentally”
With 10 professional seasons under her belt, Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon//Sram Racing) is a well established champion who has lived the recent evolutions and revolutions in the world of women’s road racing, all the way to a first participation in the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift last year. The Polish star lived up to her reputation – she stood on the final podium (3rd of the overall standings, winner of the team standings with Canyon//Sram) thanks to her strong and consistent performances over a full week of intense racing… But victory escaped her, like it often did in recent years. Niewiadoma’s last triumph dates back to a stage of the Women’s Tour 2019, a couple of months after she took the Amstel Gold Race when she was only 24. As years pass by, she’s established herself as an elite puncheur and discovered she also has a knack for longer climbs over the (French) mountains. In line with the progresses she’s observed since she reshuffled her training towards the Tour, she wants to return to victory and she dreams of doing it in this most prestigious event.
You’ve spent a week in France at the beginning of June to do recons of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift 2023. How was it?
We saw stages 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7 and 8, so we have good knowledge about the Tour in general now. Basically, every day is super challenging, which is really good for us. It’s always hard to say how a race will go but being there, in France, to check the stages personally, definitely makes a difference. Now that we’ve seen it, we have a few weeks to adapt what needs to be adapted in the preparation. I was definitely surprised with the first stages, they’re actually harder than what we expected. And of course Tourmalet is Tourmalet!
Was it your first time on the Tourmalet?
What did you think of the ascent?
To be honest, I was already surprised with the Col d’Aspin. It’s a proper climb and I think having it before the Tourmalet will add extra fatigue and make the Tourmalet even harder. I really loved that climb. I could envision all the fans standing on the side of the road and cheering us up. And it finishes in such a beautiful place… We could soak up the views and enjoy the mountain atmosphere. It will be a fight with yourself, to push as hard as you can, especially as it goes over 2,000 metres above the sea level. That’s gonna be another factor to make this climb difficult, with thin air.
“It would be amazing to take a victory in such a big race”
How much have you changed as a rider to prepare for the challenges of the Tour?
To be honest, this course requires you to alter your training. You sit down with your coach to set the goals and build a plan around how to get to that place, how to be able to compete with Demi [Vollering] or Annemiek [van Vleuten]. That’s the first step. And the second step lies on my shoulders because the Tour requires to be as light as possible unlike the classics for example. That’s another factor that I’m also focusing on right now. And spending some extra time on the time-trial bike and working with people to make sure your body is capable to push hard every day. So it’s like basically focusing on all the little details that you might skip as you go through the classics season because you travel so much, you move around from one country to another and sometimes there’s no time for it. Having a couple of weeks where you’re just with your people, working to reach your best, it’s also very motivating because you see the differences as the weeks go by.
Last year, this preparation led you to a podium result in the overall standings, which was “a dream come true”. What are your dreams for the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift 2023?
Definitely to win a stage! During recons, I tried to see what day could be mine. It’s definitely motivating and as I enjoyed being on the podium of the Tour de France last year, I think being able to cross the finish line first or to wear the yellow jersey motivates me to be super professional now. It’s been a while since I won my last race so I think that would be just something amazing to take a victory in such a big race.
“The penultimate stage of the Tour was a massive suffer fest for everyone”
Looking back at the Tour 2022, is there one moment that stuck with you and left an even stronger mark than the rest?
I think I will forever remember that penultimate stage, the one with the Petit Ballon and then Grand Ballon. It was such a hard day on the saddle and we started racing from the beginning, from kilometre 0 basically. That was a massive suffer fest, not only for the people in the front, but for everyone to just survive and make the time cut. I feel like we all suffered equally and being able to cross the finish line in the front gave me a lot of confidence for the final stage of the Tour. I feel like mentally I was way stronger than before, knowing that I can actually finish the Tour on the podium.
You also stood on the podium with your partners from Canyon//Sram as the winners of the team standings. What do you know about the way the squad is built for this edition?
Of course our team is a little bit different from what it was last year, some riders left the team and others joined us. But definitely the team is sending a strong group of climbers plus a sprinter. It’s still heavily oriented towards riders who can climb and who can position well. The final cut isn’t confirmed yet but definitely you can expect having Elise [Chabbey] there again, myself, and a strong team.
You’ve seen the course, you’ve been battling at the highest level of the UCI Women’s WorldTour… How do you see the GC battle shape up in the Tour?
I think that Demi is having an amazing season and for sure she wants to carry this amazing winning streak until the Tour de France with her team, because they’ve been showing from the start of the year how powerful they are. But also, it’s nice that the Tour de France happens later in the season because we know what their strong points are and where we stand. So hopefully my team and Annemiek’s team, Movistar, we’ll be able to make it more difficult for them. And I think it can be nice to have two strong riders battling one against the other, like Demi and Annemiek, because they may forget the rest of the race. That’s how I see opportunities to go for victory or take extra time. It can work with Elisa Longo Borghini or Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig…