Dutchwoman Demi Vollering succeeded compatriot and great rival Annemiek van Vleuten to win the second edition of the women’s Tour de France in Pau on Sunday.
To cement her status as world number one, all that was missing from the 26-year-old’s trophy haul was a victory in a grand tour.
On Sunday, she achieved that after finishing second in the final stage time trial behind Marlen Reusser of Switzerland to claim “the most beautiful success” of her career.
The SD Worx team leader finished the eight-stage race over three minutes ahead of Belgian teammate Lotte Kopecky and Poland’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma of the Canyon-SRAM team.
Van Vleuten, 40, competing in her final season, finished off the podium nearly four minutes adrift of the winner.
“Of course I worked a lot to achieve this result,” said Vollering. “But this success is the result of a good personal balance thanks to a great entourage in particular.”
It was her 15th victory this year after dominating the spring classics, with a hat-trick in the Ardennes — Fleche Wallonne, Liege and Amstel — that only compatriot Anna van der Breggen had achieved before her.
But the former speed skater’s week was not easy.
She admitted being “very tense” in the early stages and was furious after being penalised 20 seconds for an extended shelter behind her team’s car during the fifth stage which dropped her from overall second to seventh.
On Saturday, Vollering powered through the mountain-top fog to win the most demanding stage and grab the leader’s yellow jersey and a 1min 50sec advantage on Niewiadoma heading into the final day.
She extended that lead on Sunday to take revenge on Van Vleuten who had beaten her last year just as she had done by just nine seconds last spring at the women’s Vuelta.
In the streets of Pau, watched by French prime minister Elisabeth Borne, on roads that had dried after heavy morning showers, Reusser set the fastest time of 29min 15secs over the 22km course at the bottom of the Pyrenean foothills.
The Swiss achieved her seventh success of the season after the Ghent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Switzerland and the Tour of the Basque Country.
The final time trial changed the order of the podium established on Saturday at the top of the Col du Tourmalet.
Kopecky, who had worn the leader’s yellow jersey for six days from the first stage, moved from fourth to second overall at the expense of Van Vleuten, who finished 14th in Pau.
Niewiadoma matched her 2022 performance and also won the mountain classification.
The season is not over with the world championships in Glasgow starting next week.
The forthcoming retirement of Van Vleuten, who had won the Vuelta and the Giro this year, after her hat-trick on the three grand tours last year, leaves room for a new generation of riders.
“The level is more and more homogeneous,” said race director Marion Rousse, delighted to see eight different winners in as many stages.
Meanwhile Vollering will be keen to confirm her victory in a year’s time, when the Tour de France will start from the Netherlands, in Rotterdam.