Despair turned to celebration on the champagne roads of the Marne for the effervescent Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Suez) who won stage three of the Tour de France Femmes, from Reims to Épernay, after she outsprinted the overall race leader, Marianne Vos.
The Dane, who was in tears after crashing and losing time on stage two, was in tears of joy, after her explosive acceleration took her clear of Vos in the last 100 metres. It is hard to imagine a more exuberant winner in the long history of the Tour de France.
“It feels like a such a good comeback after what, I have to say, was a fucking shit day yesterday,” Ludwig said. “I just love how the team kept the fighting spirit and we knew that today was a super-good day [for us].
“If I had the legs, I could go for the win, but to actually do it and be a Tour de France stage winner, in this Danish national champion’s jersey! Oh my God, it just doesn’t get better.”
The succession of short, sharp climbs through the hills overlooking Épernay whittled down the lead group on the approach to the sharpest of all, the Côte de Mutigny, 15 kilometres from the finish and famously the platform for Julian Alaphilippe’s stage win in the 2019 men’s Tour.
But the Mutigny climb was almost Vos’s undoing, as she slipped back following an acceleration from Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, of Team SD Worx. But after distancing Vos, Moolman-Pasio’s leader, Demi Vollering, then slid on a left-hand bend, and lost her advantage.
Vos was soon chasing the front group of six, which included the Giro Donne winner, Annemiek van Vleuten of Movistar. “I gave it my all to stay in contention,” the race leader said. “It was just, ‘try to get back to the first group’.”
Van Vleuten, who has been depleted by a stomach bug, again had a fatiguing day, having lost fifty seconds on stage two. Forced to chase after a toilet stop, with 30 kilometres to race, things got worse on the final climb, Mont Bernon, when she lost contact with the front group of favourites. Although the Dutch rider chased back to the rear of the select front group, she again lost ground in the sprint, ceding a further 18 seconds to Vos.
The 35-year-old Jumbo-Visma leader retained the overall lead from Silvia Persico (Vulcar Travel and Service) and Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon SRAM) by 16 seconds.
Yet it was Ludwig’s day. “We are really progressing in women’s cycling,” she said in her post-race press conference.
“The level is getting better and better every year. It’s getting a lot more professional. I think there are so many cool things about cycling and that’s why it’s my favourite sport. It is a fun game to play.”