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Anna van der Breggen (Rabo-Liv) time-trialed to victory on Sunday in a rain-soaked, crash-packed La Course by Le Tour de France.
There were plenty of crashes during the 89km circuit race around the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Shelly Olds (Ale Cipollini) was among those who went down on the slick 7km circuit; she remounted only to tear off her rear derailleur with around 35km to race. She abandoned.
Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare) reportedly fell twice but remounted and continued.
A huge crash with 23km to go took down some 20 riders, among them Severine Ereaud (Poiteau-Charentes.Futuroscope.86) and a number of riders from the Rabo-Liv squad of world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot.
With two laps remaining the rain worsened and the greatly reduced pack — perhaps half the 120 starters — was bunched together. A few failed attacks and one lap later the bunch got the bell for one lap to go, with Bigla Pro Cycling setting the tempo.
As the pace ramped up the bunch shrank further, to perhaps a third of its original size.
Then van der Breggen had a go on the long drag up to the Arc de Triomphe, and she opened a big gap.
With less than 4km to go, van der Breggen — the winner of this year’s women’s Flèche Wallonne, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Giro d’Italia — had a dozen seconds over the Boels Dolmans-led pursuit.
The chase cut that advantage in half with 2km remaining. Coming out of the tunnel and onto the finishing stretch van der Breggen still had six seconds’ advantage — and yet another crash disrupted the chase, taking down the world champion, among others.
Van der Breggen hit the red kite alone and thundered toward the line. She was running out of gas with 200 meters to go and the bunch closing in — but she held on for the win ahead of Jolien d’Hoore (Wiggle Honda) and Amy Pieters (Liv-Plantur).
“It was really slippery here and there,” she said. “I knew the peloton behind me would pull out all the stops. But winning here is well worth it.”
D’Hoore, who crashed once, said the slick conditions made for “nervous racing.”
“It rained from the start, and also in the last lap it was hard to control the race and to get organized for the sprint, because of the weather,” she said.
“So that’s why Anna took her chance, and it was perfect for her. Everybody was looking at each other, and nobody really took on the responsibility. We, in the team, had difficulty finding each other in the final, and that’s why she could hold the gap. It was a good job by Anna van der Breggen, she was strong.”