What you need to know about La Course

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On July 26, the professional women’s peloton will take to the most famous avenue in Paris for the second La Course by Le Tour de France. The women’s circuit race on the Champs –Élysées begins in France at 1:30 p.m. (9:30 p.m. Australia, 7:30 a.m. New York) and will conclude around 3:30 p.m. before the men leave Ville d’Avray for the start of the final stage of their three-week Grand Tour.

You can expect fast and fierce racing. All the top teams in the sport will be in Paris – they wouldn’t dare miss it – and each is heavily invested in stealing the spotlight. This is one of a handful of chances that women’s teams have to get their sport in front of a global audience and in real-time, and you know they’ll make the most of it.

And while the second edition of the one-day French race isn’t the longest, hardest or even the most prestigious race on the women’s calendar, it’s an incredibly important one.

Why?

1. Borrowing heavily from the infrastructure already in place for the Tour, La Course presents an unprecedented opportunity for the professional women’s peloton to attract new fans, sponsors and media attention. The 89 kilometre, 13-lap women’s race on the Champs-Élyséees concludes two hours before the men reach Paris for their own laps around the iconic avenue

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2. The whole world will be watching. La Course will be broadcast to 190 countries. Twenty-two television broadcasters will host live coverage including SBS Australia, Universal Sports, Eurosport and ITV. Beyond television, La Course will be live streamed online including on TourTracker, and sports journalists on the ground and viewing from around the world will dedicate space to a segment of the sport that often goes unnoticed.


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3. The race is wide open. Marianne Vos (Rabo Liv) won the first edition of La Course ahead of Kirsten Wild (then Giant-Shimano, now Hitec Products) and Leah Kirchmann (Optum p/B Kelly Benefit Strategies). Sidelined with injury, Vos will not return to defend her title, and there are plenty of riders and teams eager to climb to the top step of the Paris podium.

Paris 2014 - La Course for women Elite

Check out the official start list – and you’ll find plenty of possible contenders. Like the final stage of the men’s Tour de France, La Course is likely to end in a sprint, which means the fast finishers are the most obvious contenders.

While Vos may be out, last year’s podium finishers Wild and Kirchmann will surely be eyeing the top step of the podium. Recent field sprint winners amongst the starters include Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) Jolien d’Hoore (Wiggle Honda), Lisa Brennauer (Velocio-SRAM), Hannah Barnes (UnitedHealthcare)- all of whom won stages at Aviva Women’s Tour – and Barbara Guarischi (Velocio-SRAM) and Annalisa Cucinotta (Alé Cipollini), both of whom won stages at the Giro Rosa.

Beyond d’Hoore, Wiggle Honda can look to Chloe Hosking and Giorgia Bronzini. UnitedHealthcare has Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare). Bigla has Joëlle Numainville and Lotta Lepistö. Liv Plantur will look to Amy Pieters. Shelley Olds, third last year, will make her Alé Cipollini European debut and could be the Italian team’s designated sprinter before Cucinotta. Mel Hoskins (Orica-AIS) expected to contend in Paris before her severe allergic reaction last week, and while her form may be a question mark, her teammate, Thüringen Rundfahrt winner Emma Johansson, is clearly fit and hungry.

The harder and more selective the sprint, the better for riders like Armitstead, Brennauer and Johansson. While the run towards the Arc de Triomphe is slightly uphill and the cobblestones on the course will tire the legs, the 89-kilometre course is not selective enough for the scrappy sprinters unless it’s truly raced ‘a bloc’ (that’s what the French call ‘full gas’).

Bottom line? While a sprint may seem inevitable come Sunday, the winner is anything but.

4. La Course exists in large part due to a collective call for equality. Marianne Vos, Emma Pooley, Chrissie Wellington and Kathryn Bertine formed La Tour Entier (“The Entire Tour”) and launched a petition against Tour de France organisers, the Amaury Sports Organisattion (ASO), calling for a women’s Tour de France. The petition, first released on July 11, quickly garnered 97,000+ signatures and marked the start of renewed conversations about a women’s race held in conjunction with Tour de France.

Marianne Vos - La Course

ASO announced the new women’s one-day race to be held on the final day of the Tour de France in February 2014. Although the petition had called for a three-week race similar to one raced by the men, La Tour Entier backed the race, calling La Course an important step in the fight for equality in professional cycling.

With the addition of La Course by Le Tour de France and the Aviva Women’s Tour last year, 2014 proved a promising year for women’s racing – and 2015 has been even better. In response to the success of La Course and Aviva Women’s Tour, additional new women’s races were added to the calendar this year including Strade Bianche (organised by Giro d’Italia organisers RCS Sport), the Women’s Amgen Tour of California and La Vuelta (in conjunction with La Vuelta a España).

5. La Course offers a total prize purse of €22,500 ($34,000 AUD), which is equal to the total that the stage winner of the Tour de France will take home. The winner of the women’s will take home €6,000 paycheck ($9050 AUD) – split amongst her teammates, of course.

Paris 2014 - La Course for women Elite

Compare that to the €575 prize offered to the overall Giro Rosa winner Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv), and it’s clear that this is a generous prize purse. Yet it’s not quite the same message sent by Sweetspot, organisers of the Aviva Women’s Tour, who offer the women’s peloton a prize purse identical to the prize purse their male counterparts will compete for at Tour of Britain in September.

Yes, the money up for grabs in Paris is generous. Yet when the winner of the men’s stage takes home an amount equal to that of the entire prize purse for the women event, it’s hard not to feel like this race billed as an important step toward equality hasn’t exactly delivered on the intended message.

Also worth noting – some teams have yet to see prize money from last year.

DID YOU KNOW?

While La Course is still all shiny, sparkly and new, it isn’t the first women’s Tour de France race. From 1984-1988, women raced the Tour Feminin, a multi-day race held throughout France. At its maximum, the stage held included 15 stages in different locations around the country.

The Women’s Tour de France, as it was known, was not held from 1989-1992. It was revived in 1993 and re-branded as ‘Le Grand Boucle’ (the big loop) in 1998. The newly named event ran for six years before it disappeared for one year, and returned as a diminished event with significantly fewer stages and a lower UCI ranking. In 2009, it was removed from the calendar entirely.

HOW TO FOLLOW LA COURSE

Paris 2014 - La Course for women Elite

This is one of the few opportunities to watch the women race live, so if you’re able to do so, we highly encourage it. Beyond the broadcast, there are plenty of ways to follow along with La Course by Le Tour de France:

  • The official hashtag is #LaCourse
  • Sarah Connolly has her twitter list that includes all the accounts that might live-tweet during the race.
  • The official social channels for La Course may be a good source of information on the day: Twitter, Facebook, Daily Motion
  • Specialized is the official performance bike sponsor of La Course by Le Tour, and, as such, will have access to behind-the-scenes information that they will share on their social channels: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

LA COURSE ON ELLA

You can count on us to bring you all sorts of bring you interesting, engaging and informative coverage of La Course over the next few days.

Here’s what we’ve got in store for you on Ella:

  1. A ‘ Le Grand Boucle’ throwback with Meredith Miller on racing the women’s French Grand Tour in 2003. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t all that glamourous
  2. Live Twitter updates at CyclingTipsLive. We’ll be live tweeting Champs-side from the Specialized VIP Tribune.
  3. An Ella Instagram Takeover from one of the Boels-Dolmans La Course riders.
  4. A race report – of course! This is your place for a run through of all the basic action from the day, including full results and early images.
  5. A big beautiful photo gallery put together in conjunction with Balint Hamvas of cyclephotos.

Don’t forget – we’ll announce the winner of the La Course + Specialized + Boels-Dolmans prize pack from Paris on Sunday. If you haven’t signed-up for our mailing list as your entry into the contest, you can do so here.

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