La Course scaled back to one-day event; advocates miffed

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The fifth edition of La Course by Le Tour in 2018 will once again be a one-day event to be held on Tuesday, July 17th, the ASO revealed on Tuesday.

And like the 2017 edition up the Col d’Izoard, it’ll be one for the climbers. In the upcoming season, the women’s peloton will tackle a 118-kilometre race from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand with identical finish as the men’s race that day.

Started in 2014, La Course is a women’s race held in conjunction with one of the men’s Tour de France stages. The first three editions were a circuit-like race on the iconic Champs-Élysées in the heart of Paris. While the race was short,  the ambience, the TV coverage, the crowds and the fact that it was held on the same day as the men’s Tour de France finale made it one of the most talked about events on the calendar.

Since its inception, however, vague promises were made about the one-day race being a first step to build and expand upon in the future.

This year, in 2017, race organisers did decide to change things up. La Course was moved out of Paris and into the Alps with a 67-kilometre hillclimb up the Col d’Izoard followed by an experimental pursuit-style time trial two days later in Marseille.

The new two-pronged format was met with mixed reviews by riders and fans alike. While intriguing, the format didn’t quite work.

Only the top 19 finishers (out of the 119 starters) of the Col d’Izoard stage were permitted to partake in the 22.5-kilometre pursuit, and the potential of an exciting chase failed due to the large gaps in the start times.

Dutch woman Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) had dominated the hillclimb, reaching the top with a 43-second gap over Lizzie Deignan and 1’23 on Elisa Longo Borghini.

During the pursuit, riders rolled off the starting line in the order in which they had finished the hillclimb at time intervals based on their gaps to Van Vleuten. In the end, no real chase occurred and riders later commented that they held felt like a sideshow.

Rather than altering the second stage, ASO seems to have decided to scale La Course back to a one-day race. Held in conjunction with stage 10 of the men’s Tour de France, the women will complete a 118-kilometre course from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand, tackling two significant climbs along the way — the 8.8-kilometre Col de la Romme with an average gradient of 8.9% and the 7.5-kilometre Col de la Colombière with an average gradient of 8.5%.

The women’s peloton on the iconic Champs-Elysées course.

Advocates miffed

“I’m extremely disappointed that they’re not announcing a multi-day stage race after all the negative press they received in 2017. However, I am not surprised because ASO has done nothing to improve their reputation when it comes to including women’s races at their events,” Kathryn Bertine, one of the advocates that made La Course possible, told Ella CyclingTips.

“I’m also disappointed in the UCI. I understand that this is ASO’s race but the UCI could be far more useful to the women’s movement by insisting that women have more equal representation at stage races held only for men.”

Instead of building momentum, the event is regressing, Bertine stated.

“We were very accepting and tolerant of La Course for the first two years because ASO wanted to see if involving the women would provide traction, an audience and review. And it did. But by the third year when it was still a one-day event, and then the fourth it was a one-day race plus a restricted time trial, I think everyone realised that this is not progress,” Bertine said.

“It doesn’t make sense to take away a race that was very popular in the heart of Paris and move it to the mountains. Instead we need to keep the stage on the Champs-Élysées and the mountain stage and build onto it.”

Behind the scenes, Bertine and her fellow advocates will continue to work with ASO to “make them realise that the inclusion of women is not only doable, there is a demand for it.”

“None of us are ready to dismiss this. We are still advocating for change to take place, but [the ASO] has been quite non-responsive to the importance of the inclusion of women,” Bertine said.

“Still, I am hopeful that there is enough time to remedy the situation. But we, as fans and athletes, need to step up and speak out and let the ASO know that it is not acceptable to keep women in the background or as a sideshow.”

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