Riders react to shortened La Course

On Tuesday, ASO revealed plans for the 2018 version of La Course by Le Tour de France, the race’s fifth running since its 2014 debut. Scheduled for July 17 in conjunction with stage 11 of the men’s race, La Course has been shortened to a one-day race (in 2017 it was two stages). The 2018 version includes 118km of racing and finishes in Le Grand Bornand.

VeloNews reached out to current and past members of the women’s pro peloton for perspective on the new format. The reaction was mixed, with riders expressing both disappointment that it is a one-day event and optimism about the challenging course.

“They’ve just kind of like punched us in the guts again with another one-day event,” said Carlee Taylor (Ale Cipollini). “I think the whole women’s peloton, to be honest, is probably pretty disappointed.”

Retired British rider Emma Pooley called the new route a “missed opportunity.”

“I think they have a great opportunity to build a stage race out of La Course,” Pooley said. “It’s great they have a race, I just think they could do a lot more with it. ASO are leaders in cycling and I think they have a great position where they could show leadership. I think it would be great if they could develop it a little bit more.”

For the first three years, 2014-2016, La Course was held on the Champs the morning of the Tour’s stage 21 finale. In 2017, the race moved to the mountains and debuted an unorthodox two-day format. ASO staged a 67.5km race to the top of Col d’Izoard. That was followed by an unconventional pursuit time trial in Marseille, two days later. Orica-Scott’s Annemiek van Vleuten won both races.

“It was nice they tried something different,” said Australian racer Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM). “At the end of the day it was a fantastic day, but I still would have liked to have seen a much bigger stage.”

For many fans of women’s cycling and some of the riders, La Course 2017 was too short. Pooley said the mountain stage up the Izoard represented progression, but the short 67.5km stage length was not ideal.

“It’s almost humiliating,” Pooley said. “The Etape riders, the sportive riders, do the full distance. Women are really capable of a longer stage than that.”

Pooley, an Olympic silver medalist in 2008 and world champion in 2010, believes ASO should instead expand La Course to a multi-day stage race. The goal of the event should be to create a women’s version of the Tour de France, she said.

“I did get the feeling from ASO that they were annoyed by the hassle of having to deal with women wanting a race and then having to arrange a women’s race,” she said.

Pooley thinks an expanded La Course is a business opportunity for ASO.

“You can see amongst new women’s races like the [OVO] Women’s Tour in the UK, how well a women’s race sells as an entertainment and media event,” Pooley added. “It’s brilliant for people to watch they love it. It seems to me like the ASO are really missing an opportunity for their sponsors.”

The OVO Women’s Tour is a five-day race that covered 650 kilometers of racing June 7-11 in Britain this year. According to organizers, the 2017 race attracted 500,000 spectators; 1.4 million people watched the highlights program in the UK with more watching abroad in almost 100 countries.

Cromwell shares Pooley’s perspective, hoping La Course will expand to a multi-stage race. “Align it with the men’s so we benefit from the crowds,” Cromwell said. “Logistically I know it’s challenging, but ideally that’s what you want. There’s something special about how big the TDF is.”

The dream of a proper women’s Tour de France will have to wait. Fortunately, for 2018, the new route should afford exciting racing, albeit in a single-day format. “I’m glad it’s in the mountains next year and that it’s a bit longer so it’s a decent length next year,” Pooley said.

“Going back to one day of racing is definitely a bit of a disappointment, but the 2018 course sounds like a good one and hopefully will help us continue to build in the future,” said American Ruth Winder, who will transfer from UnitedHealthcare to Sunweb for 2018.

“The course is exciting,” Cromwell added. “It’s the biggest stage we have from an exposure point of view. It’s nice that we finally have a true race.”

Caley Fretz contributed to this report.

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Tour sticks with one-day format for women’s La Course

In addition to the men’s Tour de France route announced Tuesday, organizer ASO revealed the route of the fifth women’s La Course race. The one-day event will be held July 17 in tandem with stage 10 of the men’s race.

Up until 2016, the race was held on the Champs-Élysées circuit. It was a sprinters’ affair, and the first three winners were Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen, and Chloe Hosking, 2014-2016, respectively.

In 2017, the race moved to Col d’Izoard for a summit finish. At just 67.5km, the race was criticized as too short. Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) won the day. She went on to win world time trial championships in Bergen, Norway in September.

Tour organizers may not have gone quite so short this year with a 118-kilometer route, but they may still be criticized for not expanding the race to multiple days.

Regardless, La Course will be one of the season’s most important and visible women’s races. The route starts in Duingt, on Lake Annecy. It will climb Col de Romme and the Col de la Colombière before the downhill run to Grand-Bornand. It will be an abbreviated version of the 159km men’s race that day.

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VN podcast, ep. 43: Tour redux; Lizzie Deignan talks La Course

Welcome to the VeloNews cycling podcast, where we discuss the latest trends, news, and controversies in the world of cycling.

We were promised a race full of attacks and excitement — did the 2017 Tour de France route deliver? Spencer Powlison argues that it didn’t. On the ground in France, Fred Dreier got really sweaty. He also got peeved that Chris Froome and Team Sky shut most journalists out of traditional rest day press conferences.

Plus, we talk about the unconventional La Course women’s race. First it went up the Izoard. Then, it raced around Marseille. Former world champion Lizzie Deignan liked part of it — but not all. Also we talk to Polish champion Kasia Niewiadoma.

If you like what you hear, subscribe to the VeloNews podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play. Also, check out the VeloNews Fast Talk training podcast with Trevor Connor and Fretz.

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Mixed opinions on new La Course

MARSEILLES, France (VN)—La Course by Le Tour de France wrapped up Saturday with an unorthodox individual pursuit around the Stade Vélodrome stadium in downtown Marseilles.

For the race’s fourth edition, organizer ASO removed the event from the Champs Élysées in downtown Paris and developed an entirely new format for the race. On Thursday, riders raced 67km from Briançon to the top of the Col d’Izoard. The top 20 riders qualified for a pursuit-style individual time trial in Marseilles, to be held just before the men’s individual time trial.

Overall winner Annemiek Van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) praised organizers for shifting the event away from the Champs Élysées and developing the new competition format. The new event gave other riders a chance to grab attention—not just the sprinters.

I think we can show we can do more than just laps on the Champs Élysées,” Van Vleuten said. “I think my Strava file from the Izoard, I think people really like to see that; girls are also pretty fast on the bike. It was a great moment to ride up the Izoard with lots of people to watch.”

The event was not without its critics. On Friday the event received public criticism from retired German rider Judith Arndt, who called the event “pathetic and almost humiliating” because of its short length and strange format. Arndt won three world championships during her career, and won the Tour de l’Aude—which was viewed as the women’s Tour de France—on two occasions.

“If they can’t organize a proper race for them, they should just leave it,” Arndt wrote on her Facebook page. “Women’s cycling is such a serious sport and should be treated as such.”

“If they can’t organize a proper race for them, they should just leave it.”

– Judith Arndt

Amongst women at the race, opinions were also mixed. Reactions were extremely positive after Thursday’s stage up the Col d’Izoard, with criticism coming after Saturday’s event in Marseilles. After finishing outside the time limit on Thursday, Marianne Vos (WM3 Racing) called the event “a good show.”

“It is interesting to see this hillclimb as the best climbers have the opportunity to show themselves in La Course now,” Vos said. “We sprinters had our chance of the [Champs Élysées] and now its time for the climbers.”

Australian racer Shara Gillow (FDJ) also praised the event due to the crowd size. On both Thursday and Saturday the women raced along sections of the men’s route, with the spectator counts numbering well into the thousands. Gillow said the crowds were even bigger than the 2012 Olympics in London.

“I’m still buzzing from riding up in the French Alps—I’m thankful that we can have a day like we did Thursday,” she said. “I didn’t kick up a fuss about it because I think we’re really privileged to have a taste of it.”

“I’m still buzzing from riding up in the French Alps. I think we’re really privileged to have a taste of it.”

– Shara Gillow

British rider Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) was less enthusiastic about the two days of racing. After the Marseilles event she called the unorthodox pursuit race “an experiment” and had somewhat mixed feelings on the La Course format.

“We took it as seriously as probably we felt the organizers took us today,” Deignan said. 

The race posed an event to teams from a behind-the-scenes standpoint, Deignan said. Since a rider’s spot in Marseilles was not guaranteed—the results from the Izoard qualified them for Marseilles—it was challenging for teams to prepare for the race, she said.

“Our strategy was to win on the Izoard and treat that as a one day event and treat this as a bit of fun and see what happened,” Deignan said. “It’s the behind the scenes stuff that you don’t’ have an appreciation for. Its the hotels and flights and bikes, spare wheels—what wheels do you even need? All the things we can’t prepare for properly.”

The organization of the Marseilles event—or lack thereof—presented other challenges, Deignan said. 

“This morning I was in a car park looking for a female toilet and there wasn’t any at the start,” she said. “To warm up for a TT not knowing where the closest bathroom is—if there is one at all—it’s difficult to take that seriously.”

“To warm up for a TT not knowing where the closest bathroom is—if there is one at all—it’s difficult to take that seriously.”

– Lizzie Deignan

Deignan said she has an open mind for the event’s future. The various sponsors of the women’s peloton, she said, received good attention at the event. But Deignan would like the organization hurdles to improve.

We’re at a stage where we deserve more probably,” she said. 

A universal sentiment from the women’s peloton was that organizer ASO should try to grow the event to multiple days. If the old format featured one day on the Champs Élysées, and the 2017 format had two race days, then why not extend it to three, four, or five days in the future?

“That would be great if we had a bit longer stage race,” said Polish rider Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling). “I see improvement every year. Last year we only got on [Champs Élysées]. Now we have two stages. I’m hoping in the future we can have four stages and maybe five. Maybe it’s like the [Giro Rosa] and we have 10 stages.”

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Van Vleuten escapes chasers in La Course pursuit

MARSEILLE, France (VN) — Annemiek van Vleuten raised her arms to a roar inside the Marseille Velodrome as she held off her chasers to win the first edition of La Course’s pursuit-style time trial on Saturday.

Boels-Dolman’s Lizzie Deignan outsprinted Wiggle High5’s Elisa Longo-Borghini for second, crossing the line 1’52” back. Boels’ Megan Guarnier was fourth.

The unique event had each rider set off with the gaps earned in Thursday’s La Course race to the top of the Col d’Izoard. That meant Orica-Scott’s van Vleuten rolled down the start ramp 43 seconds ahead Deignan, 1’23” on Longo-Borghini, and 1’28” on Guarnier.

The format, which left racers on their road bikes and allowed drafting, forced tactical decisions among the top riders. Deignan made the call to wait up for Guarnier and Longo Borghini, believing that she would be unable to bridge the 43-second gap to van Vleuten alone. That put a select group 90 seconds behind van Vlueten in the first half of the race.

“Half of the fun for this race today was thinking about what other riders would do,” van Vleuten said. “If they want to win they have to come together and chase me together. I thought for sure they would wait, especially Lizzie would wait for her teammate and ride together.”

“Today was a different formula, and I think it’s good, like the Hammer series, to try something new,” van Vleuten said.

Even with three riders working together, the gap to van Vleuten refused to budge. As the chasers hit the day’s steep climb Guarnier fell off and left just Deignan and Long-Borghini. In the final kilometers, the two began to play a bit of cat-and-mouse, allowing van Vleuten to further stretch her lead.

Classification results, top 10

1. Annemiek Van Vleuten (NED/Orica), in 32:52
2. Lizzie Deignan (GBR/Boels), at 1:52
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (ITA/Wiggle), at 1:52
4. Megan Guarnier (USA/Bols), at 3:00
5. Amanda Spratt (AUS/Orica), at 3:26
6. Shara Gillow (AUS/FDJ), at 3:48
7. Lauren Stephens (USA/Tibco), at 3:53
8. Katarzyna Niewadoma (POL/WM3), at 4:35
9. Ashliegh Moolman Pasio (RSA/Cervelo), at 4:35
10. Ana Sabria (COL/Servetto), at 4:46

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