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Tour de France

Did ASO get it right with 2022 Tour de France Femmes route?

The route launch of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes was a historic occasion, but with no Alps, Pyrenees, or time trial is the parcours the right one?

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The unveiling of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes route was a historic moment, but did the parcours match the occasion?

In a word, yes. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Over the years, fans of women’s cycling have become accustomed to a tinge of disappointment that comes along with any progress made by organizer ASO within the women’s side of the sport.

Also read: Tour de France Femmes: A course to make history from Paris to Belles Filles

There was the dearth of any sort of coverage for Flèche Wallonne, ASO’s longest standing women’s race, and its reluctance to broadcast Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Its treatment of La Course by Le Tour de France as more of an afterthought than a race of any importance also caused plenty of frustration.

However, cycling’s biggest organizer seems to have turned over a new leaf.

Prize money for the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes aside, ASO has been putting far more effort into its women’s race, particularly with course designing. Rather than designing courses that appear to lack belief in the capabilities of the women’s peloton, it has been delivering parcours that give the riders opportunities to show what they’re capable of.

The inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes course was a very solid opener that delivered a tough test with plenty of cobbles. The same can be said for next year’s Tour de France Femmes parcours — just swap the cobbles for gravel this time.

Annemiek van Vleuten is a rider unafraid to express her opinions on how organizers treat women’s races and whether a course has underdelivered. Though she wasn’t enamored by the inclusion of four gravel sectors as the race traverses the Champagne region on stage 4, she was predominantly pleased with what was unveiled last week.

Also read: The eight stages of the inaugural Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift

“It’s obvious I like the mountain stages, but there are other aspects I see very well as well. The fact of starting on the Champs-Élysées is a beautiful way to connect the men’s Tour with ours, starting when they end,” van Vleuten said of the course. “I like different kinds of stages — days for sprinters, days with climbs, and stages with a hard final kilometer. It has all the ingredients of what a Tour de France should be.

“It’s true there’s no time trial, but I’m not too sad about that because the two mountain finales suit me well. The only thing I don’t like, and it’s something that not any other stage race does, is the stage with gravel. I don’t think it’s necessary in a Tour de France. It only increases the factor of ‘luck,’ because you can have a puncture. It’s a bit like a lottery.”

Van Vleuten wasn’t the only one with positive things to say about the unveiled course, with a largely positive response from the women’s peloton. Indeed, some riders had their expectations surpassed with what is a good course that should provide a suspenseful fight for the title.

Balanced with a punch at the end

The 2022 race opens with a flat circuit race around Paris, linking the start of the women’s race to the end of the men’s event. It is a good way to open the race with fanfare and hopefully avoid it disappearing into the post-Tour lull that can sometimes follow the men’s contest.

The course that follows the curtain-raiser in Paris sticks to France’s northwest, a necessity given that the race is just eight days long. Huge transfers would have been needed — adding extra cost for teams and the ASO — to include the iconic climbs of the Pyrenees or the Alps.

While it would have been great to include the mysticism brought by an ascent such as the Tourmalet, the Galibier, Alpe d’Huez, or Mont Ventoux, the big opener in Paris is likely going to do more for the race, in terms of audience, than a trip to the south of France.

Also read: What will be the prize money purse for Tour de France Femmes?

The stages that follow the sprint opener provide some opportunities for the punchier climbers, while the gravel roads in Champagne are an opportunity for the classics-style riders in the bunch. There are a couple of stages that could go either way between the sprinters and breakaway riders, while stage 5 also has the auspicious honor of the longest day in women’s racing at 175km.

ASO had to get special permission to have a stage that extended this far, as women’s races are restricted to a maximum of 140k stages in a multi-day race with a maximum average of 120k. While the parcours is not too testing, the extended distance will test the riders and bring in the additional fatigue factor that we usually associate with grand tours.

The race closes with a trip to the Vosges.

While the Vosges doesn’t carry the same historical punch that France’s southern mountain ranges do, there’s more than enough in the final two mountain stages to deliver an explosive close to the race next summer.

Also read: Why Zwift is expanding from virtual racing to support Tour de France Femmes in real life

Unlike the end of the men’s race, there is no filler in this eight-day contest. The race for yellow will go right to the end with the Planche des Belles Filles, and its maximum gradient of 24 percent, a brutal end to the event.

Perhaps the one big omission is the lack of a time trial among the eight stages. However, there is some method to omitting the so-called “race of truth” from this edition.

By leaving the contest for yellow purely down to road stages, ASO has almost ensured the victory will be decided in the final stages. As we’ve seen across both men’s and women’s races, the TT can be so decisive that it dampens the GC fight in the latter part of the race.

With this TT-less race, the suspense of who will ride home with the fabled maillot jaune should go right to the wire.