Kasia Niewiadoma: My Experience at the 2023 Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift

By Kasia Niewiadoma

Reflecting on my experience at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, I have to say that I am feeling very satisfied. I am always so happy when all the hard work I put in together with my team pays off. I felt confident and believed that TdFF would be a successful race. So for myself and for the future — it’s great to know that once you want something really bad, nothing can stop you!

Of course, a part of me wishes I finished second as I lost the spot by so little; 0.20 seconds seems like nothing. But I guess I was rewarded with a polka-dot jersey for that:) Every race, I finish wiser thanks to the experience and knowledge I have acquired throughout those moments of suffering. So, now I already know what I have to work on and maybe I could put the yellow jersey on myself next year. But overall, I am super proud of myself and my team for how we fought every day and how supportive we were towards each other.

A fast-evolving sport

The event itself was so thrilling to take part in. Women’s cycling grows and improves very rapidly, meaning whatever happened last year is already “too old” to work this season! I learnt that lesson in the Spring Classics. I thought I had trained hard enough to fight for the wins, yet the level had improved so much that I found myself again in a position where I felt I had missed out by such small percentages. That made me realise that before the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, I needed to focus even more and analyse all my training, so my coach and I could reformat my approach to the race.

Having spent over three weeks at altitude, where I basically turned my days into train/eat/sleep mode, I was able to make up the difference. It’s a lifestyle you can only handle for a couple of weeks without going crazy, but it worked last year before the Tour and this year as well. That said — this year’s tour was definitely more demanding than the previous edition. We mainly raced in southern France, where you rarely see flat sections. That means the peloton was fighting every day for perfect positioning. I felt like this year I did eight classics merged into one big stage race, whereas last year, there were more relaxed days or at least less stressful and hectic ones.

Finishing the Tour in third place last year gave me a lot of confidence and belief in myself. Even when I hear and feel people worrying about my performance, especially in the Time Trial, which is not my strongest area, I could stay intact and assure myself and my strengths.

Kasia Niewiadoma
Kasia Niewiadoma at the start of the eighth and final stage of the 2023 Tour de France avec Zwift. © Profimedia

The continued progress and growth of women’s racing on the international stage

Being able to race and finish the stage on Col du Tourmalet was also a big step forward for women’s cycling. It is such an iconic mountain that has been raced multiple times in the past and such a brutal one that it makes you appreciate how insanely difficult our sport is. For years, we women would hear that some mountains or passes are too hard for us or some distances are too long, yet such a thing does not exist, and any time we have the opportunity to do something different and to prove our strengths — we raise to the occasion. That means not only finishing but proving that watching us race these crazy courses is also excellent watching.

Also, having multiple teams that show up to the race with such a robust roaster of climbers, sprinters, and time trialists is something we see happening increasingly with each passing year. Development is massive, and the TdFF motivates many to get outside of their comfort zones and seek tools and training methods that allow them to level up. At the moment, you can not be doing what you were doing last year because you would be invisible, and the urge of wanting more pushes women’s cycling into this crazy speed of evolution. Currently, most of the peloton can suffer in different terrains. Of course, we can divide the peloton into sprinters and climbers, yet we all know how to suffer and hang on for dear life.

The growing popularity of the event adds so much to the atmosphere and competitiveness

The fans help with this a lot, though! It does feel amazing to be cheered on from the start until the finish line, and it also works as some form of distraction from the pain! You find yourself in so much noise and commotion that you can zone out and just keep going. Starting and finishing in big cities also feel great, as we can ride through iconic places promoting our sport and infecting others with the love and passion for bikes. Having people watch you and follow you online gives another boost because, after the challenging stages, you get a lot of lovely messages that make you feel visible and supported. These allow you to go even deeper into the pain cave the next day.

The continued progress and growth of women’s racing on the international stage

When it comes to what we need to make the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift more visible in the years to come — well, I think it’s all about the TV coverage. If it’s easily accessible and adequately streamed, I have no doubt the racing will attract viewers automatically. If the TV coverage is poor, then people don’t have the chance to get in involved and inspired by watching us rolling through different countries. I also believe races that include more punchy climbs or take place on local laps would be more interesting to watch.

And for me to keep evolving personally as a rider, I believe that I need to target specific races more precisely and allow myself to find time for proper training camps. When I am racing every week and travelling so much, it ultimately leads to major fatigue. Focusing on just one goal allows you to squeeze your best during the preparations and the race. If you concentrate on other goals, you will always ride to only 90% of your capabilities. That’s what I have to remember for the next year.