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La Course by Le Tour de France was meant to be a day for the sprinters, but Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv) elected to ignore that memo. Launching a powerful attack just inside the final lap of the 89km circuit around the Champs-Élysées in Paris on Sunday, van der Breggen narrowly held off the peloton and crossed the finish line alone.
“You expect a sprint here – a bunch sprint – and there were a lot of good sprinters still in the bunch,” van der Breggen told Ella following the race. “I didn’t expect this, and it is an amazing feeling.”
Just one second behind van der Breggen, Jolien d’Hoore (Wiggle Honda) won the bunch sprint for second place. Amy Pieters (Liv Plantur) rounded out the podium.
“I’m happy with my second place,” d’Hoore told Ella in a post-race interview. “I did a good sprint. It’s too bad Anna got away. She was really strong today and already really strong the whole year. She deserved the win with the way she raced.”
It was drizzling as the women’s peloton set off for 13 laps of the 6.75km circuit on cycling’s most iconic avenue. Thirty minutes following the neutral start, the rain began to fall more heavily and the winds picked up. The rain-soaked cobbles proved treacherous causing crash-after-crash-after-crash. Ellen van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans), Tayler Wiles (Velocio-SRAM) and Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare) were amongst the early crash victims.
“I crashed once,” said d’Hoore. “It was really fast and really wet. I took a lot of risks to get back. I was chasing behind the car today. I was lucky to make it back to the race. A lot of girls didn’t. It was really dangerous today.”
By the time Australia’s Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS) took a flyer on lap six, the streets were soaked with rain and the riders were drenched. Elvin, whose two European victories have come in similarly filthy conditions on the classic-like course of Gooik-Geraardsbergen-Gooik and stage three of Thüringen Rundfahrt, immediately opened up an advantage. No longer able to fly under the radar, Elvin could only gain 15 seconds before the peloton chased her down.
Elvin’s teammate, Lizzie Williams, countered the catch. She was joined up the road by Floortje Mackaij (Liv Plantur). The duo enjoyed a short-lived moment of glory up the road before the peloton hunted them down.
And so it would go all the way to the line. Crashes on nearly every lap caused repeated splits and regroupings in the peloton. Breakaway attempts kept the pace high and the rhythm irregular. It proved a race of attrition.
“I said halfway through the race: ‘Whoever wins this is going to be the last person standing at the end,’ said UnitedHealthcare sport director Rachel Heal. “As a director, you hate to get out of the car and see your two sprinters and your two lead-out riders on the ground. That was on lap two, and the crashes continued from there. I was just looking at results, and we did well to finish with four of our riders. A few teams had none left by the end of the race.”
With two laps left to race, the rain worsened still. Less than half of the 120 starters remained in the peloton.
Bigla, riding for Lotta Lepistö, led the bunch across the finish line as the bell rang to indicate one lap remaining. As the pace increased, van der Breggen moved up along the side of the peloton and prepared to strike.
“We made the plan with the team, and I had to attack in the last lap,” explained van der Breggen . “That was the plan from the beginning. If you’re on the front, it’s good for the team, and also the other teams have to chase you. For Pauline [Ferrand-Prevot] who was going to sprint for us, it was always good.”
But the world champion was one of several riders that crashed just before the flamme rouge. Van der Breggen hit the one-kilometre mark with a six second advantage over the Boels-Dolmans led peloton.
“I didn’t really think,” van der Breggen explained. “My legs were burning. You just do a full pull to finish line and see if it works out or not.”
And it worked. Van der Breggen soloed to her tenth victory of the season – adding La Course to her impressive 2015 campaign which includes wins at Omloop Het Niewsblad, La Flèche Wallonne, the Dutch national time trial title and the Giro Rosa overall.
“This is an important result,” van der Breggen confirmed. “Look around you. It’s amazing to be here in the middle of Paris and race around this course with so many people. The attention is really big for us.”
“Yes, it’s a criterium,” van der Breggen added. “It’s not as hard as a World Cup or the Classics, but it’s a very important race for us.”
Stay tuned for a beautiful story-style photo gallery out of Paris featuring images from Balint Hamvas.
La Course by Le Tour de France (1.1) Paris → Paris