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TROYES, France (VN) – Wednesday at the Tour de France Femmes will deliver the challenge that everyone’s been waiting for: the gravel stage.
Stage 4 of the race builds on the hilly trajectory of stage 3 and throws some dirt into the mix. After a fairly flat start with an intermediate sprint at 60km, the fun begins halfway through the day.
The stage features four gravel sectors ranging from 2.3 to 4.4 km, totaling about 13km of dirt roads. In between each of those sectors are five significant climbs — the first two, Côte de Celles-sur Ource and Côte du Val des Clos, are short and steep, with an average gradient of 8.8 percent. The 1.8km Côte du Val Perdu is a four-percent kicker six kilometers before the finish in Bar-sur-Aube.
While there is one vocal opponent to throwing gravel into the mix during stage races in the peloton, most of the riders we spoke to at the start were looking forward to the dirt. Here’s what they had to say:
How will the racing look today?
Audrey Cordon Ragot (Trek-Segafredo) — It’s gonna be fucking crazy. Honestly, more than the show, it’s gonna be the turning point of this tour.
Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope) — I think today is going to be a real race of attrition. Right from the first gravel sector it’s going to be a fight all the way to the finish. It’s actually quite different to Strade Bianche in the style of gravel and the climbs. So it’s not like a copy paste if you did well at Strade you’re gonna do well here. I think it’ll be another exciting day.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope) — I think it’s gonna be super hard today and a lot of action. We just have to be at the front and ride as hard as we can. It’s gonna be exciting to watch. I think it will end up in a reduced bunch. And we have a lot of cards to play.
Christine Majerus (SD Worx) You can really lose it here. If you win this stage, it’s a nice stage to win. I think it has a lot of character, so I think a lot of riders want to win this stage, and for the gc riders they will be up there.
Silvia Persico (Valcar Travel & Service) — Today I hope to have a lucky day. I like the gravel. Because I’m a cyclocross rider. So I hope to do a good race and stay in the first bunch. Maybe take the yellow jersey but I also know that Marianne is super strong, so it’s not easy. But this is our goal.
Does gravel have a place in stage racing?
Audrey Cordon Ragot — I think so. We see cobbles for the men. I think in the future we will also have cobbles. I think to win the Tour de France you need to be complete. Look at the winner of the men. He knows how to do everything. He knows how to TT, he knows how to go on the cobbles, he knows how to climb, he does everything. I think the winner of this Tour, this first Tour, is gonna be someone who can do everything, that’s why we have a chance.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig — I think it’s fun to have different elements and to be challenged not only in one area like the flats or the hills or the gravel, I think it’s a cool element to racing.
Grace Brown — I agree. As long as the gravel is chosen smartly and it’s not super dangerous. Like if we’re doing gravel descents, maybe that’s too much but the gravel they’ve chosen for this stage today is really good. Maybe some people will have some bad luck, but people have bad luck on tarmac too so that’s how it is.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar Team) — Not really. I don’t look forward so much to the gravel stages. I love it in Strade Bianche, but not so much with GC ambitions. It’s a bit unnecessary that it can be decided by luck.