With the start of the first Tour de France Femmes just days away, all eyes are on top-ranked Dutch cyclists Annemiek van Vleuten and Demi Vollering, and their decidedly different paths to the inaugural eight-stage race, which kicks off this Sunday.
For the first time in more than 30 years, a women’s peloton will race in Paris the same day as the men, and Netherlands’ van Vleuten looks to lead the inaugural charge after her recent third career win in the Giro d’Italia Donne. She arrives in Paris with the momentum – and the world No. 1 ranking – but fellow countrywoman and world No. 3 Vollering will arrive with fresh legs, so to speak, having skipped the Giro to focus on the Tour.
“I did now only two times in my life the Giro and both times I was not so good coming out of the Giro,” the 26-year-old Vollering said in a June press conference via Cycling News. “So that was the main thing that I made the decision to not do the Giro because I am afraid to come again not super good out of the Giro. That’s something I don’t want to risk.”
2022 Women’s Tour de France: How to watch, schedule, race history and more
“I want to be good on the last two stages at the end of the Tour,” she added. “So I think it will be hard to do a good Giro and then be good again at the end of the Tour.”
But that’s exactly what 40-year-old van Vleuten plans to do as she aims for back-to-back general classification (GC) titles in the women’s grand tours, where she’s chasing some final glory after announcing her retirement at the end of 2023.
“The goal is to ride for the classification in both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France and that will be quite challenging,” van Vleuten wrote on her website. “I like to attack, and one-day races are my passion and heart. That passion does not lie in driving for classification, I do it because I can.”
That confidence helped lead van Vleuten to Olympic gold in the time trial and a silver medal in the road race last summer in Tokyo. It’s also propelled her “all-in” perspective on training and downtime: Ahead of her stacked summer schedule, she spent several weeks training in Andorra with Movistar’s men’s team ahead of its bid in the (men’s) Tour de France, and following her Giro victory, she retreated to Italy for two weeks to “chill.”
“The best place to rest mentally is in Italy, at altitude,” she said. “So I’ll go there, invite some friends, have some fun, chill, bike a little, and then I’ll be ready for the Tour.”
Vollering, meanwhile, has spent the last two-plus months almost exclusively training for the Tour and revealed she’s planned her schedule around it since the route was announced last October. She also spent significant periods of time at altitude in and around her home in Switzerland, including at a climbing camp in the Alps.
“I think I can really do hard training by myself, so I do a lot of hard training work,” she said. “My goal is being good at the end of the Tour de France Femmes, so also I have a few stages in front already where I can get a little bit in the racing mood again if that’s needed. But I think this is the best way for me to be there on my best form. Well, I hope that’s the best way. We will find out when I’m there on the start line.”
Vollering’s SD WORX teammate Lotte Kopecky said she can see both sides of the coin, and the Belgian herself chose to compete in the two races.
“I think this combination of the Giro and the Tour can go both ways,” said Kopecky, ranked world No. 5. “There’s two weeks in between, so I think that’s just enough time to recover and have this super compensation in the Tour de France. But I think this combination is really doable, and there are more riders who are doing this.”
Other contenders include the star-studded lineup at Trek-Segafredo, who will look to support the Italian duo of world No. 2 Elisa Balsamo and No. 4 Elisa Longo Borghini with a team that includes time trial world champion Ellen van Dijk, French road champion Audrey Cordon-Ragot, U.S. time trial champion Leah Thomas, and Dutch U23 time trial champion and U23 European time trial and road champion Shirin van Anrooij.