Why British national hill climb champion and the current Queen of the Mountain holder  expresses worries over inclusion in Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in 2024…

Illi Gardner, the current Queen of the Mountain (QOM) holder for Alpe d’Huez on Strava, is expressing concerns about the upcoming inclusion of this iconic climb in the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in 2024.

The Alpe d’Huez ascent will serve as the grand finale of the event, and Gardner, the British national hill climb champion, worries about the possibility of losing her two-year-old Strava QOM record on this mountain.

Gardner initially claimed the QOM for the 12km segment in June 2021, completing it in 44 minutes and five seconds with an average speed of 16.5km/h. However, with the Tour de France Femmes now incorporating Alpe d’Huez, she acknowledges that her grip on this title is growing tenuous.

The 24-year-old acknowledges that her QOM is at risk, stating, “It depends on how they ride it, really. If they go full throttle from the start, then I’m clearly in serious danger. If they employ some strategic pacing at the base, then it hinges on the race dynamics.”

Alpe d’Huez’s lower slopes, featuring gradients over 10%, are widely recognized as the most challenging part of the climb. The gradient then moderates to an average incline of 8%. Gardner vividly recalls her own effort on the mountain, describing it as “21 bends of pain.” She anticipates that the race dynamics may turn it into a time trial for the strongest climbers, making it even more unpredictable.

Looking ahead to the race, Gardner estimates that elite professionals might reduce her record time by a couple of minutes next August. While she doesn’t believe anyone will break the 40-minute barrier, she envisions times in the low 40s.

If her record is surpassed, Gardner will receive a notification from Strava, just as it happened when world champion Annemiek van Vleuten outperformed her on the Col d’Aspin during the Tour de France Femmes. Gardner admitted, “I had to check that it wasn’t a fake account. At first, I was like, ‘This can’t be real.’ It’s really strange to see someone I admire taking my QOM.”

Fortunately, Gardner boasts an impressive collection of QOM titles, holding the record for the most QOMs on the training app, with over 8,000 climb segments to her name. Her achievements also include records on the Col du Tourmalet, Mont Ventoux, and Majorca’s Sa Calobra.

As the Tour de France Femmes continues to grow, more of cycling’s iconic climbs will be featured in women’s racing, putting Gardner’s QOMs at risk. Despite the uncertainty, she welcomes the challenge, stating, “I think it’s really exciting. It’ll be disappointing if I lose my Alpe d’Huez QOM, but I’ll have to return one day and try again. It will give me some motivation.”

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