Polarized opinions remain on La Course

The annual women's event was a one-day race this year, held Tuesday alongside stage 10 of the men's Tour de France.

Photo: Getty Images

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LE GRAND BORNAND, France (VN) — In its fifth edition, La Course by Le Tour de France continued to evoke polarizing opinions from the professional peloton.

On one hand, the 2018 edition featured a challenging route that included the Col de Romme and Col de la Colombière — tough climbs that challenged riders’ legs and showcased their abilities on Alpine ascents. On the other hand, the 2018 edition was shortened to just a single day of racing, while in 2017 the event included two days.

Yet the execution of the 2017 event was poor, and some riders felt that the single day of racing in 2018 actually marked an upgrade.

“Ideally I’d love more than one stage, but I didn’t feel that last year with the two stages really worked out — the reverse pursuit format didn’t create the time gaps,” said Leah Kirchmann (Sunweb). “In the future, it would be great to expand this to a full stage race for us to really show what we’ve got.”

Of the dozen or so riders and team staffers VeloNews spoke to at the event, the overall opinion was positive of the 2018 edition. Riders expressed a desire for organizer ASO to someday expand the race to a multi-day stage race, complete with challenging climbs in the Alps and longer stages. Riders felt that the 2018 format — a single challenging day in the mountains — was a step up from the 2017 edition. And riders continued to see La Course as an opportunity to showcase their racing on the larger media platform created by the Tour de France.

“It’s better to have a full-length race. To go over two full climbs with a descent to the finish is a challenge,” said Australian rider Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott). “We still want a longer race, but I’m happy with the stage today.”

La Course debuted in 2014 with a sprinters circuit around the Champs-Élysées that was held several hours prior to the men’s race. For 2017, organizer ASO debuted a radical, two-stage format that catered to the climbers. The opening stage sent riders up the Col d’Izoard; the results of that stage qualified riders for the second stage, a pursuit-style time trial through the streets of Marseille. Both stages were held alongside the men’s Tour de France stages.

The execution of the event, however, left riders somewhat miffed. The stage to the Col d’Izoard was unquestionably short at just 67.5km (42 miles).

The top 20 riders who finished within five minutes of the leader qualified for the individual pursuit. Since the results were not known, however, teams had to scramble to send riders, mechanics, and equipment to Marseille. The last-minute decision created a logistical and expensive headache.

And those riders who raced in Marseille complained that the production of the event was lacking. Riders lacked access to basic infrastructure — including working toilets — at the event.

“Last year was a test, and the test failed,” said Danny Stam, team director for Boels-Dolmans. “So it’s good to go back to one day.”

For 2018, ASO abandoned the time trial and instead organized a single-day race from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand. The 116km stage was shorter than the men’s race, as organizers skipped the opening climbs up the Col de la Croix Fry and the new Plateau des Gliéres climbs.

Instead, riders tackled the two finishing climbs from the men’s stage, the Col de Romme and the Col de la Colombiere. Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten caught compatriot Anna van der Breggen in the final meters to repeat her victory from 2017.

Prior to the race, van Vleuten said the event’s close proximity to last week’s Giro Rosa stage race also created an extra challenge for the riders. The 10-day Italian tour finished Sunday with van Vleuten winning the overall. On the penultimate stage, riders climbed the famed Monte Zoncolan.

Other riders seconded van Vleuten’s assessment of the challenging schedule.

“It’s like the Tour de France for women this year because of the timing,” said Shara Gillow (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitane). “We get one rest day and then we race again.”

What changes ASO does to the event for 2019 are not yet known. Since the event’s inception, ASO has received regular criticism for not growing it into a stage race. Prior to the 2017 race, ASO technical director Thierry Gouvenou said that holding the event alongside the men’s race was a positive, due to the increase in crowds and media.

“It is the best way to shine a light on female cycling,” Gouvenou said.

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervelo-Bigla), who finished third on Tuesday’s stage, disagrees. Perhaps the best way forward is for women’s cycling is to create an event that stands on its own away from a men’s race, she said.

“I’m somewhat of a believer that women’s cycling needs to create something of its own and we can’t keep depending on men’s events to give us handouts or to suddenly make our sport like the men,” Moolman-Pasio said. “We need to create something for ourselves. We need to take [La Course] with both arms. But we also need people who really believe in women’s cycling. For ASO, this is not their first priority.”

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