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Tour de France Femmes

Marion Rousse: 2023 Tour de France Femmes is ‘harder’ than first edition

Race director says that organizers listened to riders' input after this year's first edition.

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Despite the route being nearly 100km shorter than this year’s, race director Marion Rousse believes that the 2023 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift will be tougher.

Rousse unveiled the 956km route at the Palais des Congres in Paris on Thursday morning. The eight-day race begins July 23 in Clermont-Ferrand and concludes July 30 in Pau.

Instead of a double-header of mountain stages, like what concluded this year’s race, the 2023 event will be decided with a 90km stage that finishes on the Tourmalet and a 22km time trial into Pau. Though the climbing meters have been toned down for the race’s most decisive stages, there are plenty of rolling stages in the build-up that could see time won or lost.

However, Rousse is keen on keeping the identity of the final overall winner a mystery as long as possible.

“Like last year, it’s a course that corresponds to a lot of different riders,” Rousse told FranceInfo. “The idea is to increase the pressure towards the end and keep as much suspense as possible. When you look at the route, there are stages that seem flat, but in the end, it’s a course that is almost harder than last year because, every day, something can happen.

“It’s the dream of all organizers to try to keep the suspense going until the last day. In year two, we drew a few conclusions because we want to keep the suspense going until the end.”

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While largely well-received, the parcours for the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift did get some criticisms from riders.

One of the main criticisms from some riders was the lack of time trial. Rousse also said that some riders had come to her to say the final weekend was too tough.

The final weekend of the 2022 TdFF featured two very challenging mountain stages with summit finishes at Le Markstein and Super Planches des Belles Filles — Annemiek van Vleuten made up more than four minutes on her nearest rival across the two days.

“We had a few requests from girls to have a time trial, there will be one this year,” Rousse said. “Because to win a Tour de France, you have to be competent in all areas and the exercise of the time trial is important.

“It’s always special to trace a route. It must not be too hard because it does not encourage you to move before. We also relied on what the riders told us last year. We tried to make a balanced journey and I think we succeeded. We traced it with Franck Perque and, even us, we wonder what will happen.”

This year saw the race begin in Paris to coincide with the final stage of the men’s race before moving out east. While the men’s race will one again finish in Paris, as it has done since the race was inaugurated in 1903, the women’s will not return to the French capital for 2023.

Instead, the race will move several hundred kilometers south to set off from Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne region.

“Last year, we chose Paris because it seemed important to us for the first edition to have this handover between men and women. But on a race that lasts eight days, you can’t just start from Paris because it blocks you quite a bit on the route,” Rousse said. “The city of Clermont was interested and, above all, we can choose the route that suits us in the Massif Central: we can do very hard, sprint and more classic stages. It’s really ideal for the start of a Tour.”

Moving the start of the race further south has allowed Rousse and her team to have their pick of mountain ranges. The race will be heading to the Pyrennes for 2023 with a trip up the iconic Tourmalet for a rare summit finish.

Though the men’s Tour de France has visited the climb almost 100 times, only three of those visits have seen a stage finish at the top.

“It is true that she makes you dream. The Tourmalet speaks to everyone,” Rousse said. “We all have the images in mind of finishes on the Tour, in particular the victory of Thibaut Pinot in 2019. The athletes themselves will be honored to climb it, especially since there is the Col d’Aspin just before. It’s a real high mountain stage.”