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Nine contenders for La Course mountaintop finish

Breaking with tradition, La Course by Le Tour de France will finish atop the Col d’Izoard. For the past three years, the Women’s WorldTour race has been contested on the flat boulevards of Paris on the Tour’s final day. Here are nine top climbers to watch on Thursday.

Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans)

Guarnier had a slow start to the season after suffering a head injury in a spring crash. After sitting out most of the early-season races, Guarnier will be fresh and motivated for La Course. She just finished the Giro Rosa, where the American won the final stage. Her climbing legs will be primed and ready for the steep slopes of the Izoard.

Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott)

Before her horrific crash at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics last summer, van Vleuten out-climbed Mara Abbott, the best pure climber in women’s cycling. If van Vleuten harnesses her climbing legs of 2016, she’ll be hard to catch on the difficult 14 kilometers to the finish. Having just finished third at the Giro Rosa, she looks to be on great form.

Katarzyna Niewiadoma (WM3 Energie)

Niewiadoma is a known instigator on steep climbs. She earned a regular spot on the podium this spring by out-climbing most of the competition. She finally got a Women’s WorldTour win at the OVO Energie Women’s Tour in Great Britain on stage 1 and in the overall. The featherweight rider will look to La Course’s longer climb for victory.

Ashleigh Moolman (Cervélo-Bigla)

Tenth in Rio and a regular contender on mountainous stages, Moolman looks to the Izoard for her chance at Tour history. She’s a favorite anytime the road points up, making La Course’s final climb a dream finish. However, she abandoned the Giro Rosa due to illness. Hopefully she will be recovered for Thursday’s big race.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5)

Borghini stormed into 2017 with a decisive win at Strade Bianche, where she out-climbed Niewiadoma and Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) in the process. She’s a strong climber who excels at small group finishes, which she could get at the top of the Izoard. The steady rider will also benefit from the climb’s longer, sustained gradient.

Marianne Vos (WM3 Energie)

The three-time world road race champion has weathered some tough times, notably the 2015 season. Now, Vos looks to be back on winning form. The 30-year-old is coming off of a dominant performance at the BeNe Women’s Tour, where she won the overall, the points classification, and two stages. Perhaps she’s not a pure climber like her teammate Niewiadoma, but Vos’s immense experience and tactical nous could be key if the peloton treats the Izoard finish with too much caution.

Shara Gillow (FDJ Nouvelle)

Gillow was in the mix all spring during the women’s hilly classics. She doesn’t have the same results and proven climbing ability as the other La Course contenders, but the French FDJ team will be a fan favorite and Gillow will have the cheers (and maybe a few pushes) to drive her up the climb.

Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Canyon-SRAM)

France’s young cycling superstar hit a rough patch last season with near-career-ending burnout, after a disappointing 26th-place finish in Rio. The versatile rider is the only person to hold simultaneous world championship titles in road, ’cross, and mountain bike disciplines and has the climbing ability to challenge on the Izoard. If she can keep her motivation high through the summer, France could get its champion back.

Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans)

She doesn’t consider herself a climber, but Deignan’s ability to suffer is among the best in the world. She has the punch to split things up early and can finish fast even after a long, tough climb. The other teams have to push the pace in the middle of the Izoard if they hope to drop Deignan from contention.

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