La Course packs a punch but push for women’s Tour de France continues

The 2019 road suits attacking riders, with five ascendings in a dynamic circuit but has failed to build on momentum to expand the one-day race

The 2019 edition of La Course by the Tour de France turns the spotlight on the puncheurs , the explosive all-rounders who induce the most of every attacking possibility. Riders such as a resurgent Marianne Vos, or the Women’s World Tour leader Annemiek van Vleuten, will be looking to cross the finishing line in Pau before their competitors from the 15 Women’s World Tour teams who are slated to appear.

This year’s one-day race moves away from the pancake-flat cobbles of the first three editions and the high altitude theatrics of last year’s duel in the Alps to a more dynamic circuit course with the climb of the 307 m Cote d’Esquillot likely to prove decisive. La Course will follow the route of the only time trial in the 2019 men’s Tour de France, riding the same testing circuit through the rolling hills around Pau. Shifting date to align with the men’s race on 19 July, La Course narrowly avoids an overlap with the Giro Rosa, the biggest stage race in the women’s cycling calendar.

Question marks remain over the commitment of the Amaury Sport Organisation( ASO ), the organiser of La Course and the Tour de France, to expanding the one-day race into a women’s grand tour. To Kathryn Bertine of La Tour Entier, the pressure group that successfully leveraged global activism to work with ASO and make La Course, the sixth edition is” a victory and a disappointment because ASO has not maintained its promise to Le Tour Entier that they would grow the days of the women’s race incrementally over the years “.

La Course continues to tracing the parcours of just one of the 21 stages of the men’s race, remaining 20 stages short of the original project to develop a viable women’s Tour de France. Bertine believes that La Course still has a purpose:” It reminds us that change is truly possible, but we must keep a watchful eye on victory and make sure we never settle for breadcrumbs of progress .”

Britain’s Lizzie Deignan will be competing in La Course with her new team, Trek-Segafredo. Photograph: REX/ Shutterstock

However, the former professional Iris Slappendel is less optimistic.” At the beginning it was quite exciting for the women’s peloton as it seemed to be the start of something bigger ,” says the Dutchwoman, who ride the first three editions in Paris and is now the executive director of the Cyclists Alliance.” I can say much of that exhilaration is gone and we are only all hope that ASO makes a great course so we can make a great race that is shown worldwide .”

This year’s route is designed to showcase a powerful all-rounder, and the explosive puncheurs will enjoy the five ascents of the Esquillot climbing during the course of its 120 km race. Positioned 16 km into each of the five circuits and with gradients up to 7 %, it is the ideal springboard for a race-winning move. ASO say this year’s route is designed to balance the five previous editions by showcasing the aggressive riders who excel on challenging terrain.

That stimulates Anna van der Breggen a hot favourite to avenge her defeat by Van Vleuten in last year’s dramatic race, when she was caught on the line in a thriller. The reigning road world champion is riding a virtually flawless season so far, following up a record-equalling fifth win at Fleche Wallonne with an equally impressive ride at the Amgen Tour of California, taking the overall win and the points jersey.

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With teams such as Boels-Dolmans, Bigla and Mitchelton-Scott on the start line both of 2018′ s protagonists should be in Pau. They will line up alongside Britain’s Lizzie Deignan, who will be looking to finally add La Course to her palmares with her new team, Trek-Segafredo. Other riders who will enjoy this Classics-style parcours include the Italian champion Marta Bastianelli, the winner of the women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen, and Poland’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma, who at 24 is one of the young prospects in the athletic and the win of the equally hilly Amstel Gold Race.

From the fitting triumph of Vos in 2014 to last year’s nail-biter, when given the opportunity on the biggest stage women’s cycling can be guaranteed to bring the panache.

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