PARIS, France (VN) — As if it were ever in doubt.
World champion Marianne Vos won the first La Course by Le Tour de France in Paris on Sunday, in an excruciatingly long sprint up the bumpy Champs-Élyseés. She coasted through the sunny finish here in her white jersey with rainbow stripes, smiling and happy; a rider used to making history adding another line to her ever-lengthening story.
Dutch rider Kirsten Wild (Giant-Shimano) finished second, with Canadian national champion Leah Kirchmann (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) taking third. Just centimeters separated the three riders at the line.
“We started the sprint at the same time,” Vos said. “Then I had one gear left, then I pushed the extra gear, and I felt I was going to win. But you’re never sure till you’re over the line.”
After the race, Vos’ Rabo-Liv teammates pooled around her, hugs and smiles for the champ on the world’s grandest cycling stage. It may have been a long time coming, this event for women’s cycling, but it was here now, and that much wasn’t lost.
“It’s only the very first but it’s really prestigious. Everybody was focused on this race. Everybody was motivated to show themselves. And the whole world was watching,” Vos said. “There were a lot of sprinters. Good sprinters here. On the cobbles, slightly uphill with the wind … it’s not easy to win. But definitely that makes the win even better.”
Indeed, the cycling world was watching. The crowds were large but not huge, but the event was broadcast in more than 150 countries.
“Definitely this is a start in the right direction for women’s cycling,” said Specialized-lulumon’s Carmen Small. “And to be on such a big platform — the crowds were great today. And what was it,  countries live, something like that? So that’s incredible in itself. I think everyone’s pretty excited, as this is a start for showcasing women’s cycling.”
The race itself — 90 kilometers played out in the early afternoon sun on a splendid summer day — was hectic, with attacks off the front and little control from Vos’ Rabo-Liv team.
“The last couple circuits were pretty active. Lots of attacks and everything. I think at the end of the day everybody wanted it to come down to a sprint finish. Pretty surprised there wasn’t one main, dominant team in the leadout,” UnitedHealthcare’s Coryn Rivera said. “I felt like it was really scattered. But yeah, I was just surfing wheels from the last K or so … there was a crash by the barriers kind of like, you know, put everyone on their toes, but yeah, it was being like third or fourth, through that last corner.”
Rivera finished sixth on the day, a place behind Shelley Olds (Ale Cipollini), the best-placed U.S rider.
Kirchmann, the Canadian champion, rode a tactically astute race to finish on the podium. “In the last few corners, I was looking for the big sprinters in the race and wanted to play off of them,” said Kirchmann, “I saw Wild come by me very fast and I knew she was a favorite to win the race, so I hopped on her wheel and followed it all the way into the final straightaway to have a chance at the podium. It was our goal to get on the podium here and I am incredibly excited to be part of such a historic event for women’s cycling.”
The avenue, which plays host to the men’s race hours later, is cycling’s hallowed sprint ground, and one of the world’s iconic boulevards. Not that people could notice.
“I don’t know about anyone else but I was suffering pretty bad out there,” Small said. For UHC’s Scottie Wilbourne it was her first one-day race in Europe.
“I’m pretty whupped,” she said. “It was awesome. It’s a pleasure to be here … I’m pretty new to UHC, so I was pretty honored to be asked to be a part of it. I’m just happy to be here.”
Full results from the inaugural La Course can be found here.