The first came Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), soaring to victory on La Super Planches des Belles Filles to win the first Tour de France Women. Then came Demi Vollering (SD Worx), finishing second behind Van Vleuten for the second day in a row, finishing second overall.
But behind them, on the brutally steep final ramp leading to the finish of stage 8, an intriguing battle was being played out. Of the three riders remaining in this GC group, Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) was the biggest name and probably the favorite to complete the stage podium. Juliette Labous (DSM), local heroine and Giro stage winner, was also in the running.
But with about 100 meters to go, as the road climbed more than 20%, it was the last and least fanciful of the group, Silvia Persico (Valcar-Travel & Service) who gave the go. dispatch to finish third in the stage. .
This result was emblematic of the whole Tour de France Women of Persico. Heading into the race, few had considered the 25-year-old Italian among the contenders for a high overall classification. By finishing the Tour fifth overall, Persico had exceeded all expectations, including his own.
“Of course I don’t believe if someone tells me before the Tour ‘you finish in the top five, blah, blah, blah’,” she told reporters after Stage 8. “But I I’m very happy to be here, so now I have to believe and I’m very happy.
Persico was the most versatile rider in the first Tour de France Women with Zwift; the most complete rider on all terrains.
In Stage 2, she came late into the winning breakaway, then finished second behind Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) in an uphill sprint. In stage 3, she finished fourth on a short but steep finish in Provins. In Stage 5, she finished seventh in a pure peloton sprint won by Lorena Wiebes (DSM). And then in the mountains of the final two stages, Persico climbed with most of the top GC contenders, finishing sixth and then third.
In all, over eight stages, she managed six finishes among the first seven. It would have been seven out of eight had she not been relegated for a dangerous sprint on stage 6, dropping her from fifth to 39th on the stage.
Persico’s third place on the final stage may well be his most impressive result of the Tour. She started the stage feeling the effects of yesterday’s hard day in the Vosges, but she fought valiantly.
“Today was a tough day,” she said. “At the start of the stage, I didn’t feel well. And then I said to my head, ‘Silvia, you have to believe. You must believe.’ So on the first climb, I almost fell and then on the second, I didn’t give up. And in the third, I finished third.
While Persico wasn’t a big name for the Tour, she certainly didn’t come out of nowhere.
The 25-year-old is perhaps best known for her exploits on the cyclo-cross track, highlighted by a bronze medal at the Cyclocross World Championships in Fayetteville earlier this year, behind Vos and Lucinda Brand. But she hasn’t been anonymous on the road either.
She has been racing the tarmac as a professional since 2017 when she joined the Valcar team in her first year. The Italian continental team has since made a name for introducing a series of riders to the WorldTour, namely Marta Cavalli, Elisa Balsamo, Teniel Campbell and Vittoria Guazzini.
While Persico has had promising results in past seasons, it’s in 2022 that she’s really stepped up. She finished in the top 10 at all Strade Bianche, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Gent-Wevelgem and Brabantse Pijl. She also finished third overall in the Elsy Jacobs Festival, seventh in the Vuelta a Burgos, similar to RideLondon, and seventh also in the Giro d’Italia Donne, a race where she finished third, fourth and seventh on the individual stages.
And then came the Tour.
Surprisingly, Persico did not come to the Women’s Tour de France with ambitions for the general classification.
“I start this Tour and I was not [doing] GC,” she told CyclingTips. “I was here [to] win a stage. So finished fifth for me, that’s a bigger one [result].”
After reaching that winning Stage 2 break, Persico spent four days in second place overall, with only Vos ahead of her. Once in this position, she hoped for more, but it was not.
“When I was second, I dreamed of the yellow jersey,” she said. “But Marianne was super strong and then yesterday Annemiek [van Vleuten] was also super strong. So I’m very happy to be here and to fight for the yellow jersey for five days. And I’m also happy with fifth place because it’s special for me.
Given her strong overall results at the Giro and now the Tour, does Persico want to target GC at more races in the future? Not so much, as it turns out.
“Of course not,” she laughs. “I prefer one-day races like the Flanders or the Classics. I don’t know next year but for sure I have to do another Giro or Tour, so I’m trying to do my best.
Persico’s contract with Valcar-Travel & Service is set to end this year. It wouldn’t be a surprise if she is the next rider from the second division team to rise through the ranks of the WorldTour.
Either way, it was a remarkable Women’s Tour de France for Persico. She came to the race targeting stage wins, and leaves having proven herself to be a much more complete rider than anyone expected, probably even herself.