The evergreen Marianne Vos, a multiple world champion, crowned her illustrious career by taking her first yellow jersey in the Tour de France Femmes after emphatically winning stage two of the week-long race in Provins.
Vos, who was beaten to the line on the Champs Élysées in the opening stage by Lorena Wiebes on Sunday, made no mistake on the uphill sprint into the medieval town. “We were aiming to take a stage win and we knew that was going to be hard but we wanted to take the opportunity when it came,” she said.
The 35-year-old, winner of the first La Course, the one-day precursor to the revived Tour de France Femmes, has been one of the influential figures campaigning for its rebirth.
“When nine years ago we were talking with ASO [Amaury Sport Organisation] about an opportunity to get a race, it went really fast to get La Course going,” Vos recalled. “When we raced La Course for the first time on the Champs Élysées, it felt like a milestone. Now to be here for a real Tour de France, with all the emotion of a stage race, that’s another milestone.”
But in a torrid finale to the 136km stage, several of the major contenders fell by the wayside in a series of crashes. The worst of these put paid to the hopes of Marta Cavalli (FDJ Suez Futuroscope), who gingerly remounted but was unable to finish the stage. The Italian had slowed as she approached a group of fallen riders but was hit from behind at speed, and with great force, by the pursuing Australian rider Nicole Frain of the Parkhotel Valkenburg team.
“She’s suffering from a concussion,” Cavalli’s team manager, Stephen Delcourt, said. “She wanted to continue but we said: ‘No.’ We didn’t want to play with her health. Cycling’s part of life but not the priority. She’s gone to hospital for a scan.”
“I think that she didn’t see,” Delcourt said when asked if Frain was at fault. “When you see crashes like that it makes you worried for the safety of the riders. It’s like when one of your family has an accident. Above all it’s a sad day for Marta.”
As an edgy peloton negotiated traffic calming, crosswinds and narrow back roads in the Seine-et-Marne region east of Paris, Vos stayed at the front and expertly threaded her way through the crashes in the final 30km of racing.
Other fallers included Amanda Spratt, leader of Team BikeExchange Jayco and her teammate, the Slovenian Urska Zigart, who was being watched by her partner Tadej Pogacar, from the roadside.
After Maike van der Duin led a group of six, including Vos, clear of the mayhem, the break built a lead on the finishing circuit that guaranteed they would decide the stage victory. But the unexpected time gaps between Vos and the favourites and the multiple crashes throughout the peloton, will have ramifications for the days to come.