2023 Tour de France Femmes Route

The Tour de France Femmes route is out and it’s a scenic one that heads for chocolatine country. Expect red bricks, sunflowers, holiday makers and a savage summit finish on the Col du Tourmalet.

Stage 1, Clermont-Ferrand, 124km
A ride out of Clermont-Ferrand and probably past the giant Michelin factory that is often associated with the city. It’s flat lands at first but things get harder towards the finish. The roads climb to Volvic – yes, where the bottled water is from – and the climb at Durtol is an ideal launchpad with only a fast descent via the snaking road of Chamalières to the finish. There’s a maillot jaune and whoever can take it can be in the mix for the coming days.

Stage 2, Clermont-Ferrand > Mauriac, 148km

The long drag up to Mont-Dore, we don’t know the exact route but probably via the Col de la Croix-Morand and then lumpy roads to the Dordogne river and then some more. The uphill finish is just hard enough to suit the climbers but where a strong team can help with positioning and drafting.

Stage 3, Collonges > Montignac, 147km
A likely sprint stage with a route that could double up as a bus tour itinerary. Collonges is famous for its maroon red brick buildings, Perpezac is scenic, Arnac-Pompadour (Pompadour for the locals) has royal and imperial history, Hautefort is an impressive castle before Montignac and the nearby Lascaux caves with their paintings. There’s more to say about the features than course as you’ve gathered by now but it’ll be pleasant to watch before a bunch sprint in Montignac by the Vezère river.

Stage 4, Cahors > Rodez, 177km
Sunflower country and a land of long lunches where the riders will need to fuel up for this “marathon” stage, at 177km it’s the longest in the race and the race snakes around the hills of the Aveyron with some lumpy roads and in the final the descents to Rodez are awkward. This looks like the most interesting stage of the race, not the crucial one but a course that’s open to attacks in the final.

Stage 5, Onet-le-Château > Albi, 126km
A scenic stage that passes by several tourist spots before a finish in the red brick city of Albi on the banks of the river Tarn.

Stage 6, Albi > Blagnac, 122km
Scenic country with more sunflowers. This time the hilltop villages of Cordes-sur-Ciel and Puycelsi supply the postcards, the passage through the Gaillac and the Fronton vineyards offer more. Less scenic perhaps is the finish in Blagnac, a suburb of Toulouse that’s host to the airport and aerospace giant Airbus.

Stage 7, Lannemazan > Col du Tourmalet, 90km

The crucial stage of the race with a loop out of Lannemezan before heading into the Pyrenees for the Col d’Aspin climbed on the harder side. A quick descent down to the valley and then the Col du Tourmalet and a summit finish well beyond the 2,000m mark. If the top-10 on the Grand Ballon-Markstein finish last time were separated by ten minutes, the gaps could be as wide on this hour long final climb.

Stage 8, Pau, 22km

A surprise TT to settle the GC and give the rouleuses and specialists a shot at the stage win in the city of Pau. At 22km it’s got as much time trialling as the men’s Tour.

  • A couple of extra points, first it’s been announced that team sizes go up from 6 to 7. It’s not been said out loud but presumably this means one or two teams less
  • There could be an extra half hour of live TV a day but not live from start to finish, this time though the action from the Aspin-Tourmalet combo will be on TV.

The Verdict
With only eight days, the Tour de France Femmes has both constraints and freedom to go where it wants. It doesn’t have to pretend to tour all of France but it probably requires a mountain stage or two in order to provide satisfaction. As we saw last time with the Vosges this needn’t be in the Alps or Pyrenees. The rest of the course can be as wished, a travelling format untied to any particular region or dogma, as long as enough regions and municipalities queue up to host this race but that’s looking good with the event off to a successful start.

The 2023 race takes place in south-western France and has something for everyone, yet probably not enough for everyone. There are sprint stages, but only two. There’s a big summit finish but only one mountain stage, but all in a bucolic scenery and where many tourists will be on hand to line the roads. If there’s only one mountain stage the Tourmalet has to count double, it’s a legendary climb but it’s also a long one. The time gaps could be big here but if someone – read Annemiek van Vleuten – does run away with the race… then Sunday’s time trial won’t be a repeat. The only regret with the course is that it could have arrived in the Pyrenees a day earlier to include an extra mountain stage, nothing savage but some medium mountains and perhaps a downhill finish.

With 22km, arguably this week is more balanced than the men’s race and it’s a surprise inclusion as race director Marion Rousse had spoken about time trials not being a ratings hit. It all makes for a complete race and July offers racing for the entire month.

25 thoughts on “2023 Tour de France Femmes Route”

  1. Less teams would be a good thing. From the little i saw this year the depth was not there for a number of teams. Replacing the weakest teams with an extra rider from better teams makes sense. I might go a step further and just apply the extra rider to the world tour teams.
    Looks a varied course and even the sprinter stages with one exception are not pan flat.

    • No news on this so probably 10-6-4 seconds as usual but we’ll have to see. With the Tourmalet the gaps are likely to be way bigger but this makes the stage to Rodez all the more interesting as those with stronger teams but worried about losing out in a straight uphill climbing test might try more moves.

  2. Marion Rousse had it right about ITTs not being a ratings hit. With some minute+ gaps on GC this stage is unlikely to set things alight; it’s more like pouring water on last night’s camp fire, just to make the the embers won’t catch.

    At least the mooted B&B Hotels women’s WT team won’t be pushing any team aside – the whole lot seems unlikely to continue, men and all.


  3. It looks like a decent route – stages 1, 2, 4 & 5 should produce some attacking racing, like we saw this year.

    I find it hard to get too excited by the tourmalet – it’s great that we’re seeing another iconic climb being tackled by the women, but with Van Vleuten racing it feels like it’ll be another long distance solo win. At least we should get to see all the action this time though, like you say…

    That said, it would’ve been nice to see another stage with smaller climbs (say, something around the Pyrenean foothills and finishing at Cauterets) to see if that created opportunities for other climbers, and where teams can play a bigger role. And it’s a shame that they didn’t add an extra stage or two, just to continue the forward momentum of the race if nothing else.

    Still, something to look forward to next summer nonetheless…

    • Maybe they should pay AVV to stay away ala Binda? One reason I watch less women’s cycling is my dislike of her in-general, not to mention her domination. Granted, she DID score a well-deserved rainbow jersey recently but IMHO she’s boring and rather whiney, not to mention the awful aesthetics of her wrestling matches with her bicycle. Living proof that form and function (same with Il Frullatore) don’t always go together 🙁

      • Her win in this year’s world champs did make me warm to her, as it was so unlike almost all her other victories, and her genuine shock at winning was very endearing. But for the most part I feel the same – her strength on the bike is amazing, but it’s also very dull to watch. I wonder if she’s suffering from past injuries in the way she now rides and struggles with the bike, a la Pozzovivo?

        • I can see why some people see as dull the final result of her devastating raids, although I personally like solo rides. Yet, I fail to see how she as an athlete could be defined boring or dull to watch. Attacking rider, and more often than not one attack isn’t enough anymore, nowadays, she need to force again and again in order to finally go solo. She doesn’t always succeed, either. She puts victory at risk going for the legend, despite the free riders who understandably hold her wheel in total negative racing. Which was even more shocking when it was done by another absolutely superb athlete as Anna VDB. AVV also is able and pronte to attack in the least expected moment, as in last Giro or at the previous Worlds she won. The last ones displayed her never say die attitude against the least favourable conditions. It’s a constant all-in. Frankly, I struggle to imagine a less boring or dull way of racing than hers. Just think her La Course face-off with Anna. In fact, she is actively and deliberately racing in order to create good racing, even if that means putting victories at risk. For the same reason, she chose a weaker team, with the added mission of helping to develop the movement in a country which isn’t exploiting its full potential in women cycling as is Spain.
          Now, as I said, the context, usual expectations, tv production may imply that spectators just lose the best which the race had to offer, and find themselves watching AVV riding solo for the last 45 minutes of a given race. But that’s not AVV’s “fault”, for sure.

          I also fail to understand how could she be labelled as whiney. Quite the contrary, I’d say. The sheer weight of the adversities she had to face both because of accidents and because of the (reasonable) negative racing by most rivals totally belittles any complaint she might have put forward – and I can’t remember many, quite the contrary. If anything, I personally am not that fond of such an ultrapositive, superhuman-wisdom approach, like too good to be true, but it’s really details.

          I suppose that if the same standard is applied, it becomes hard to like “whiney” Cancellara or Sagan (“oh why why they just sit on my wheel?”), not to speak of Cavendish or Nibali. And how, how to bear the boring Roubaix or Ronde by Cancellara himself, not to speak of ultraboring S. Sebastián, Worlds and Liège by Remco, boring boring boring Pogacar at 2021 TDF or various Lombardia or Strade Bianche, boring Van Aert on Ventoux, boring van der Poel at Tirreno, boring Froome at Giro 2018 (also AVV looked on the back foot during the first part of the TFF after all…), boring Nibali at the 2014 TDF etc., boring Contador of course…?

          As a separate note, it’s really notable, comparing to men, the sheer number of women cyclists with loads of *very* interesting things to say, AVV of course (very good in-depth interviews with Saul García, for example), I also recall an impressive recent interview to Niewiadoma, but further back I was also touched by the level of insight and valour by the likes of Mara Abbott, Nicole Cooke, or the intelligence of Emma Pooley, the broad vision and sense of project by Moolman-Pasio etc. I’d say that it’s quite less common among male cyclists – even if of course I could name some, yet I’d struggle so much more. And there are several more charismatic characters as Uttrup Ludwig or Vos, but that’s partly a different story…

  4. …and in a blink a much more serious race in terms of racing, tradition and course (pretty much *not* so under too many other respects) is now out of focus. It’s the Giro-Tour dynamics back from the 60s all over again ^__^

    And rightly so, given that in pro cycling ASO can offer what literally nobody else is able to. The TDF brand and loads of money.

    That said, it’s quite curious that RCS (which has nothing to do with Giro Donne and is currently a total failure when women sport is concerned) has been enjoying more success stories in the last couple of decade than ASO, as organisers. The Lombardia and Sanremo have been growing more or less steadily towards more technical interest, better racing and more international relevance, while, although Roubaix stays stable, of course, Liège has been going through relatively hard times. Not to speak of the Flèche, sadly enough, or even Paris-Tour. At the same time RCS established Strade Bianche and revitalised Mi-To, with Gran Piemonte also in decent conditions, albeit no doubt more difficult ones (RCS themselves don’t have a clear take on the subject). LBL is of course always LBL and no race which isn’t a Monument comes close, but I’m speaking of trends and also taking into account what each race starting point was some 20-25 years ago. The same feelings do surface when considering Pa-Ni vs. Ti-Ad, or even, dealing with comparable start conditions, if we observe the whole evolution of the Middle East races (RCS with Dubai now UAE Tour, ASO with Qatar, Oman, Saudi Tour…, even if they weren’t in as the owners).

    However, back to women racing, what’s unsettling – but, hey, so it goes – is the politics behind some recent events, like the Giro Donne temporary exclusion from WWT for the known TV reasons, which might have even been fine (open to debate)… if only a very different attitude hadn’t been put in place by the UCI towards other races, both at that same time and afterwards.
    Or all the thing with the German race, or other Ftench ones…

    …but, again, that is the way of the world, and let’s just hope that it’s now sealed for good and not again just a romance prone to evaporating in a few years – the usual risk when you “marry the devil” because of great rewards. In this case there are reasons for optimism, I think. Fingers crossed.

    • By all accounts, the first edition of TDFF was very successful. If the race becomes a stable part of the calendar (very likely, because like it or not, any race under the TDF banner is automatically a big deal) then it’s a really good thing. I’d like to see to see maybe 12 stages with a rest day in there, but I can see why they are taking things slow at first. Maybe in 2024 we get to see the TDFF go to Alpe d’Huez…

      • Of course. No doubt.
        I’m not worried by a slow growing process, rather by the fact that this ain’t the first time we have a women TDF, just as we had a women Sanremo… it’s more about real commitment to keep thing going on, even in case you need to face hard times at some point in the future. That’s what people with a serious commitment towards women cycling have been doing when things started to go backwards after the 90s. ASO or RCS are opportunists, and of the slow kind, they’ll jump onboard only once they feel sure that the business works. But they’re also very fast to cut out what they see (stress on “they see”) as a secundary investment.
        I just hope that cycling in general and women cycling in particular will thrive so much that we won’t need to actually test ASO’s level of commitment…

          • It’s not like the very same Société de Tour de France (what is now ASO, which was created from STF et al. in 1991) didn’t already tried with the same fanfare in another moment of sudden growth of cycling as a sport, namely in the 80s.

            They even had 18 stages, back them, often the men’s finales, public TV, official jerseys, official podia and so on (not decent prizes, what a shame). And the format worked, we were also granted some great champions. Photos and fame.
            They obviously climbed some of the male Tour’s most famous climbs… than ASO jumped away in the 90s but the race went on thanks to different organisers which were able to make it survive financially even without ASO’s deep pockets.
            And so, of course, they *could already* climb Tourmalet several times, even as a summit finish, and of course they already climbed Alpe d’Huez, too.

            Then came the 2000s, the first hints of hunger knocks in the global capitalism (oh yeah, it all depended on 09/11, then it was the subprime, then covid…), and at the same time the Armstrong era focussed on the TDF *all* the resources, the feel-good stories and the available investors – so, women cycling – as many more aspects of cycling (even the male Giro, for example) – falled away from the big limelight and started to struggle and literally going backwards until near-irrelevance.

            Marion Rousse (who deserves a great applause for the TFF organisation) reportedly said that going to the the Tourmalet will help TFF make history.
            But that’s precisely helping to erase what is *already* the history of women cycling.
            Like, hey, “now women are starting to be able to prove what they can do thanks to, dunno, profesionalisation” – which is great, of course, but women were already able. They’ve always been.
            (It must be said that cyclingnews, for example, had at least a brief reminder about Tourmalet having been previously climbed by women at TDF).

            The fact that their effort was acknowledged by sheer fame and not money is an authentic shame, and that’s what we need to reverse, but it’s totally false that they weren’t on TV or weren’t recognised as champions, which is the impression which is subtly being passed around now. Like, what wasn’t ASO, didn’t matter at all. That’s cannibalising women cycling (its history, its value) at the same time you’re fostering it.
            Yeah, “the gals” already climbed Alpe d’Huez and Tourmalet 30 some years ago, but, know what?, they also climbed in more recent times, like more or less the last decade, the likes of Mortirolo, Stelvio, Gavia and Zoncolan, really not that much less famous when compared to the French names.

            It’s not just that say, Fabiana Luperini, was on TV and on generalistic media back then, it’s like she *still* is. The first example fresh from a Google search, year 2020: “Oltre alla straordinaria opportunità di pedalare accanto a leggende del ciclismo come Gianni Bugno o Fabiana Luperini…” (Corriere della Sera). Another example. Just last April El Diario published in Spain a long interview to Joane Somarriba.

            I had the occasion to study in detail in other sectors how inequality also acts in a retrospective way. Not only women had to face huge obstacles to achieve success and public acknowledgement, but – which makes it all even worst, if possible – when they *actually did so*, too often their feats were soon erased from history, in a two or three decades time, for a series of reasons which I can’t sum up here. Among those, anyway, the constant need of society to prove how much have we advanced towards equality – more often than not as a means to moderate change, spreading a feeling of contentment with current “improvements”. Losing that past also means losing the awareness and knowledge about the process through which such past in itself is constantly erased or belittled. Those successful women ticked all and every box you might expect they should tick (or, feel assured, they wouldn’t be granted what they deserved): social impact, intrinsic quality, influence over others, contacts, official acknowledgement, institutional presence. To no use. Those who write history a few decades later prefer to delve painstakingly into the minutiae of secundary obscure male figures – whom surely deserve to be recovered through intensive research, no doubt – rather than focussing on, say, more relevant women creators.
            And what’s shocking for the academic is that “people out there” now do complain about… sort of the contrary… essentially because of propaganda, media narratives or short-term, limited phenomena (a few women icons promoted as such, mere icons, often generating overexposure, misunderstanding and inflation); whereas, if one gets to observe a broader picture and a more extended span of time, the quantitative impact of the “let’s forget women” process looks quite close to “business as usual”, besides the further need to weigh it over the decades, as I said.

            Women climbed the Puy-de-Dôme, too. Now that the men race it, why not remembering *also* the Canins-Longo rivalry, and their duels on that climb the last time it was tackled, now that women cycling is “fashionable”? Those were also “official” TDF, ASO don’t even have the pathetic excuse of copyright issues, and they were so much more interesting than the last male editions. Why the narrative must always be “women compared to men” instead of writing, for example, that it was in women editions that the Puy-de-Dôme had its last flashes of glory ? (among the men the break got the day, Delgado-Rooks was already a sealed battle, while Lemond did indeed drop his teammate and only rival Hinault by some 50″ but it frankly had no feel of epic battle).
            If you climb Tourmalet, why not trying as an organiser to retrieve and show off information about the previous times women raced on it, instead of implying that facing it in TFF it’s an historical shift of sort?

            It’s not about being picky. Of course, TFF is great and I really hope that “time has come, so this time the show is here to stay”. Yet, starting with poor memory in a sport whose epic spawns precisely from memories, and speaking precisely of women, ouch. Triple inequality. Women face increased pains first in order to have the opportunities to do, then to get proper acknowledgement for what they have done, finally to have it remembered as it deserves.

          • As always gabriele your contribution is a wonder and challenge. Thank you.
            Inner Ring has commented about the need of serious support for Evenepoel, riders capable of 40 minute efforts as opposed to those who can handle 20 minutes. Elite climbers. This is where there appears to be little challenge to Annemiek van Vleuten. There just aren’t that many gals that can begin to hang with her when the going gets tough. It will be interesting to watch the development of an elite climbing cadre to take advantage of a true Grand Tour route, as true Grand Tour’s are developed anew.

    • Great agumentation, Gabriele.
      Set the mens TDF aside and drag in the previous editions of TDFF would be a much better way to go about promoting this event.
      Flicked through your link, great to see Inga Thompson in the QOM-jersey with her trademark braid. That was one heck of a gifted cyclist. BTW, she is still contributing: https://www.ingathompsonfoundation.org/
      Too bad it never happened while Beryl Burton was in her prime and doing her thing. But the battles of Canins/Longo were epic in their own right. And the disconnected follow-up versions, the EEC and Boué races were also quite impressive from a sporting point of view albeit difficult to follow as media coverage was scarce. But Somarriba, van Moorsel, Pucienskaite, Luperini, Cooke et.al were awesome athletes!

      • 100% agree. Among other things, I’d have loved to see how Burton’s monster wattage would translate into that kind of racing. Luperini’s comeback allowed me to go and watch her live several times, a privilege, just as watching Cooke on TV in international events which enjoyed decent broadcasts.

  5. gabriele – Thank you for the amazing post. Some of the history I was aware of, much of it not. I have been able to track down some footage of Le Tour and other previous incarnations of the race, but like much of what’s available online, it’s very much patchwork. Using a VPN to get access to geoblocked YouTube content works sometimes, but really, why isn’t there an official repository for these things somewhere? A lot of it comes down to who actually owns the rights, I know, but surely these things could be sorted out? Have the ASO or RCS ever tried to launch a project like this? There are many (most likely illegal) snippets available on YouTube, but no actual official archive of available footage anywhere, AFAIK. Even trying to find what’s available from Merckx’s races is difficult, and you would think that those would be some of the first things to be preserved.

    • Spot on. You hit on what is on a broader level a paramount … civilisation question (!!!).

      Written texts on physical support directly accessible to human senses do (or did) enjoy systems of saving and sharing which have been perfected through tens of centuries, literally – the concept itself of “library” to begin with.
      Audiovisual archive, electronic archive, although they apparently make it all much easier, imply a different sets of difficulties which require different solutions. What we now have (adapting existing libraries, the cloud, internet archive as in way back machine and so) is clashing against a lot of contradictions and problems, it’s obviously about going through trial & error, provisional approaches and so on. But it’s a hard transition, and it’s backfiring on the “paper” system, too.

      It’s shocking to discover how much material, “books included”, “classics included” (mainly essays and studies, I mean) has become unavailable or next to. Same, or worst, when you need to study, say, films and you aren’t located near the main world metropolis. And if you happen to be interested in materials which don’t mirror so easily the traditional concept of “oeuvre”, like in the case of TV footages (say, studying news feature in general or related to some grat historical event, or even studying the broadcasting of music, theatre or opera etc etc etc), or even worst debates on internet forums and the likes, well, very very very good luck.

      I’ve seen crucial newspaper articles getting buried right into the cloud of unknowing (the forensic findings about the death of Feltrinelli, for example).

      However, to partially answer your question, national TV broadcaster apparently have or had the right to bring back to light their old footages of sport events, in case it survived somewhere, and both RAI and RTVE started to make good use of it in the recent past (RAI has the Rai Teche project trying to taking care of old broadcasts)

  6. Apart from missing a “medium mountain” stage the route seems pretty good. More exposure in the media is always a good thing and hopefully will bring in more fans and sponsors.

    • The complicating factor is that Demi Vollering will want to take as many bonus seconds as she can to really have a chance on the Tourmalet. Will SD Worx ride every stage for Wiebes when their GC rider might be able to take time on Van Vleuten early in the race? Their tactics this year (without Wiebes in the team) were weird, so I’m curious how they’ll approach things next year.

      • With Moolman leaving and none the new additions to the team being GC riders or even climbers, my guess is they are shifting away from GC’s and reinventing and reinforcing the team around the classics and stage wins…

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