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Although notionally this was billed as a possible one for the sprinters – or at the very least, the faster puncheurs – the fifth stage of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift turned once again into an all-out GC battle. With the temperature hitting the heights of 35 degrees centigrade over a parcours that tackled many short steep climbs, Barbara Malcotti was the team’s first finisher.
It was always going to be a hard day in the saddle for the riders but the temperatures really added to the suffering. Malcotti was in the leading GC group for almost the entire day before needing a bike change very late on. Although the team car was able to get her back up and running quickly, it was too close to the finish for her to regain contact.
Malcotti finished alone, one minute and 40 seconds down on the solo winner, Ricarda Bauernfeind of Canyon-SRAM. Despite the disappointment of not making it all the way to the line in the yellow jersey group, her impressive performance still means the Italian rider moves up seven places in the GC, slotting her into 27th place.
After a gigantic effort in the breakaway on stage four, Audrey Cordon-Ragot was not able to stay in the lead group and finished in a large ‘second peloton’, 12 minutes down.
Once back at the team hotel after the stage, Malcotti explained that she was disappointed with her mechanical but is pleased with her legs after what had been a tumultuous day for the 23-year-old.
“Today’s stage was a massive one, almost all the riders thought it would be a sprint but the bunch was completely split up after 3km of the racing.
“Every day is very hard [at the Tour]. I was dropped immediately with other strong riders today. I tried to believe that all was not lost and I could get back after 20km of the race, I felt much better after that and Audrey supported me to go in the climbs in a good position.”
Team sports director, Joanne Kiesanowski said: “Barbara’s performance was very, very good today, a strong, select group in the front so we were happy with that and gives her confidence for the coming big mountain stage on Saturday.
“Really frustrating that she lost just over a minute from that bunch but the incident could have been much worse and we’re glad she kept it upright as it happened on a fast descent.”
“I was ready to fight in the finale but at with 4km to go I got a mechanical, I broke my front wheel spoke and I had to change bike because I wasn’t able to continue. Some bad luck again… but I’m still here again and it’s a step up from last year!
“I’m really disappointed about what’s happened in the finale but I’m really proud about what I did, and about my sensations today.”
All seven of the team’s riders made it to the line and inside the time limit to fight it out for another stage, with the sixth étape purportedly suiting the pure sprinters a lot more than the previous ‘flat’ stages. Only eight other teams still have the full complement of riders in the race, five days into this attritional contest.