Demi Vollering (SD Worx) says her legs “exploded completely” as she attempted to keep pace with Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) on Stage 7 at the Tour de France Femmes.
The two Dutch GC favourites battled it out in the first mountain test on Saturday, with Van Vleuten producing a ride for the ages to crack her rival and seize the yellow jersey with one stage remaining. Vollering gapped Van Vleuten on the descent from Petit Ballon to hint at a sustained charge, but her compatriot duly swept her up before riding away.
Van Vleuten leads the general classification by 3’14” from Vollering ahead of Sunday’s finale.
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"I'm so empty, I tried so hard. I'm just not strong enough yet," said Vollering. "I was hoping I could have hung on a little bit longer but I couldn't.
"I knew when I was with Annemiek alone, I knew it would be a long day. I tried to focus on my breathing and not think about what was coming, just centimetre after centimetre I tried to hang on.
"I knew that I needed to hang on as long as possible and was trying to focus on how good I was feeling. At one moment, she was setting this speed and I needed to stand up and my legs exploded completely. It was a bit too much."
A despondent Vollering revealed she was at a loss to explain her rival's climbing prowess.
"I said to her [van Vleuten], 'it's not normal what you did', and she said, 'I have so much more training experience and overall experience'," said Vollering.
"Then she said to me, 'it will come to you'. So, let's hope."
Van Vleuten’s heroics were made even more impressive given she had been "so, so sick" with a stomach bug earlier in the race, and was on the verge of quitting after Stage 2.
“[I was] super close [to retiring],” she said. “Because on day two I couldn’t even put my things in my suitcase.
"I had all the symptoms apart from having flu. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t drink, I was super tired. The last thing I was thinking about was racing.
”My team-mates had to push me also all the time so I was really in a bad situation."
Only a dramatic collapse can now stop Van Vleuten from leaving France draped in yellow, although a 123.3km finale from Lure to La Super Planche des Belles Filles could yet throw up some fireworks.

Highlights: Van Vleuten rips field apart to soar into yellow

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