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by Matt de Neef
July 19, 2019
Photography by Cor Vos
This year’s edition of La Course is being held in Pau to coincide with stage 13 of the Tour de France. Ahead of the race, here are 13 things you need to know about this important stop on the Women’s WorldTour.
This is the sixth edition of La Course.
The first three editions were held on the final day of the Tour de France, on the famous Champs-Elysees circuit. Marianne Vos won the inaugural edition in a bunch sprint, Anna van der Breggen won in 2015 with a late attack, and Chloe Hosking won in 2016 from a sprint.
In 2017 the race comprised two days: a mountain top finish on the Col d’Izoard (to coincide with a men’s stage up there), followed by a time-trial-like “pursuit race” in Marseille. Both stages and the overall were won by Annemiek van Vleuten (but only the first stage was considered part of the Women’s WorldTour).
The Dutchwoman repeated her victory the following year at Le Grand-Bornand, overhauling compatriot Anna van der Breggen with a last ditch effort (more on that below).
Van der Breggen (right) took it to Van Vleuten in last year’s La Course but was overhauled just before the line.
It’s only a one-day race, much to the chagrin of many fans.
Back when La Course began in 2014 there was much optimism that this event would grow to become something of a resurgent women’s Tour de France (a women’s Tour ran, on and off, and in various guises, from 1984 to 2009). It’s fair to say that optimism has largely faded by now.
As noted above, La Course was expanded to two stages in 2017 but it was back to one day in 2018 and remains that way this year. Whatever the reason — a lack of interest from ASO, a lack of funding, logistical challenges, all of the above — there’s considerably frustration in the community that the race hasn’t grown.
Last year’s edition was one of the most exciting races of the year.
If you haven’t already, check out the highlights below. That chase from Van Vleuten, with Van der Breggen up the road? Brilliant.
This year’s race is being billed as an opportunity for the puncheurs.
After three years on a sprinter-friendly course, and two years suited to the climbers, this year’s race is more suited to riders who like shorter, punchier climbs.
The course is virtually the same as that being used in the Tour de France time trial.
The Tour de France riders will do one lap of a lumpy 25km circuit south of Pau in the Pyrenees. The women of La Course will do five clockwise laps for a total of 121km.
There are three main climbs on the circuit.
The main climb is the Cote de Gelos which measures 1.1km at 7.8%. There are two shorter climbs that follow shortly afterwards: the Medout climb, and the Cote d’Esquillot.
The finishing straight takes the riders off the circuit and up a very steep, 17% ramp just a few hundred metres before the finish line.
It could be won from a late solo move or perhaps from a reduced sprint.
The last three climbs come 21km, 14.5km and 11.5km from the line. Any of these would make a great launch pad for a rider who’s keen to get away solo, or for a small, elite selection to form. From the top of that last climb to the base of the final, steep ramp is the flattest section of the course, but even then it’s far from flat.
If a bigger group reaches that final ramp, expect the race to splinter there in the sprint.
If it ends in a sprint, Marianne Vos will be very hard to beat.
You only need look at Vos’ results at the recent Giro Rosa: four stage wins from 10 stages, all of them uphill sprint finishes. No one is stronger than her when it comes to a ramp to the line, and if she’s well placed coming into that final, watch out.
Annemiek van Vleuten will be tricky to stop if she gets away solo.
Sure, the Dutchwoman would probably prefer a bigger climb in which to a build a lead, but she’s shown on many occasions that she can get away solo on just about any terrain. Her Mitchelton-Scott teammates will likely try to make the racing as hard as possible, particularly on the climbs, and then set “Vleuty” up for a late attack.
Van Vleuten clearly brings stellar form into the race, having won the recent Giro Rosa by nearly four minutes, and she’ll be very keen to take her third La Course victory in a row.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) won the 2017 edition of La Course atop the Col d’Izoard.
Amanda Spratt will be a handy off-sider for Van Vleuten.
Spratt is more than capable of winning this race on her own. She too loves a late attack on tough terrain, and she might well be the first to go from Mitchelton-Scott. That’ll force others to chase, leaving Van Vleuten fresh for a counterattack, assuming Spratt can be brought back.
Anna van der Breggen has unfinished business at this race.
Van der Breggen probably thought she had it won last year, getting clear on her own and leading into the final 50 metres. But then Van Vleuten reeled her back in at the last moment, consigning Van der Breggen to second.
Van der Breggen returns this year as world champion and will be very keen to make up for the disappointment of 2018. Being beaten by Van Vleuten at the recent Giro Rosa (where Van der Breggen was second overall) will only add more fuel to the fire.
Expect Van der Breggen to attack late, likely on one of the climbs on the final lap. She got clear on her own to win stage 9 of the Giro Rosa — notably overhauling Van Vleuten in the process — and brings strong form into the race.
Van der Breggen won a stage of the Giro Rosa and finished second overall.
While Vos, Van Vleuten and Van der Breggen will be the favourites, they’ll have some strong competition.
Lucinda Brand (Sunweb), Ashleigh Moolman (CCC-Liv), Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), Soraya Paladin (Ale-Cipollini) — all were impressive en route to top-10 finishes at the Giro Rosa. Brand might be a strong bet from a solo move in the closing kilometres, so too Kasia Niewiadoma who won the Amstel Gold Race in such fashion in April. Longo Borghini is one of the best in the world on any terrain, on her day, and Paladin has been hinting at a big win at hilly races all season.
Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) didn’t race the Giro Rosa but overall victory at the OVO Women’s Tour of Britain last month suggests form won’t be an issue. Her best bet might be that uphill sprint finish, but she’s certainly won races solo in the past and it’s not beyond her here.
Deignan was second at the 2017 La Course atop the Izoard.
Finally, just keep an eye on Brodie Chapman (Tibco-SVB). She loves hard aggressive racing on hilly terrain and would love to make an impact at La Course. She’s coming off a solo stage win at the Tour de Feminin in the Czech Republic (despite going off course after some errant marshalling) so her form is certainly good.
La Course should be broadcast live wherever you are.
The women’s race is happening several hours before the Tour de France time trial gets underway. If you’re in Australia, you’ll be able to find live coverage of La Course via SBS Cycling Central’s Tour Tracker App, SBS OnDemand, and SBS Viceland from 6pm to 8:50pm AEST.
If you’re in the US, NBC’S Sports Gold Cycling Pass will get you access to live coverage. ITV4 will have coverage in the UK while Eurosport will have coverage throughout Europe. For more information, check out the “Official Broadcasters” tab at the top of the La Course website and your local guides.
The official Twitter account is @LaCoursebyTDF and the official hashtag is #LaCourse.
Who’s your pick to win the 2019 La Course? And how will they do it?
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