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La Course by Le Tour de France: Dutch riders look formidable ahead of Olympic Games

With three Dutch riders in the top four at La Course, the nation looks set to dominate the Olympic Games road race next month. Can they be beaten, and how?

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As if the Dutch team wasn’t scarily strong already.

Demi Vollering (SD Worx) continued to be one of the riders of the season at La Course by Le Tour de France as she outgunned her soon-to-be national teammate Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) to the line.

Meanwhile, world champion Anna van der Breggen looked comfortable on that final climb as she brought back every dangerous move and then set Vollering up perfectly for the sprint.

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Of the Dutch four set for Tokyo, three of them made it into the top four on the Côte de la Fosse Loups while the other – Annemiek van Vleuten – was not racing. With just a month remaining until the road race at the Olympic Games, the Dutch women looked formidable at La Course.

Could the nation be on course for its third Olympic gold in succession?

How do the other nations beat the Netherlands in Tokyo?

Of course, the route from the Musashinonomori Park to the Fuji Speedway presents a different prospect to the roads of Brittany, but we should see similar riders contesting the top places as they did in La Course.

In La Course, the climbing challenge came in the relentless ascents of the Côte de la Fosse Loups, while the Olympic course piles on most of its altitude meters in one chunk some 50km from the finish line. The drag to the line at the Fuji track is much less arduous than in Landerneau, but that will not hamper the Dutch chances.

Plenty of options

Whether it be on an uphill or a flat, the Netherlands has options for all terrains.

Vollering continues to show herself as the rightful successor to van der Breggen’s role as leader of the dominant SD Worx squad, with her second major victory of the year after taking the Liège-Bastogne-Liège win in April.

Also read: Demi Vollering aiming high after whirlwind start to professional career

The 24-year-old can hack it out on the climbs with some of the best and still have gas in the tank for the sprint. The longer climb in Tokyo will be the biggest challenge for her, but she could still do it and the upcoming Giro d’Italia Donne will be an opportunity to test herself on tougher terrain.

Meanwhile, Vos is slightly weaker on the climbs than her younger counterpart, but she’s proven this year that she can still boss it in a race. If she can make it over the climb anywhere near the front then she is a huge threat in the sprint to the line, and she’ll be a huge asset to the team whatever happens.

If the Tokyo climbs prove the undoing of Vos and Vollering, the Dutch team still has van der Breggen and van Vleuten in its arsenal. I mean, the depth of this squad is utterly ridiculous.

Van Vleuten would definitely like a harder course but there’s just enough climbing on the route for her to make life difficult for everyone else.

The fact that all four of the Dutch squad have a realistic chance of winning opens up the door to all manner of tactics. The team can use its strength in numbers to draw out its rivals and tire them out in the same way that SD Worx did with Vollering and van der Breggen at La Course.

Also read: Building the next generation: Move to Movistar means more than winning for Annemiek van Vleuten

With two riders in the key move on the final climb, van der Breggen was able to sacrifice herself and eliminate dangerous attacks before forcing Vos into an early sprint. Van der Breggen could have gone for the win herself, she was certainly strong enough to, and it was the perfect demonstration of.

With so many potential winners, Netherlands coach Thorwald Veneberg will have to manage his riders well to ensure there is no mutiny within the ranks.

If the Dutch can come together in Tokyo like SD Worx at La Course, it is going to be tough to beat them but not impossible.

Upsetting the Dutch plans

The Olympic Games can be a tricky business with much smaller teams available to control the race. Other nations will be able to try and exploit that as they try to upset the Dutch plans.

La Course saw a number of Tokyo-bound riders try to wrestle the race from the grips of SD Worx, and while they were unable to finish it off it was the right way to play it.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig came closest with her late attack on the Côte de la Fosse Loups and put in an impressive turn on the final sprint to the line. Beating Vos in a sprint, even if it is slightly uphill, is no mean feat and it shows that the Dane is in a very strong place ahead of the Olympic Games.

Grace Brown and Kasia Niewiadoma also made huge efforts in the finale, and both finished within the top-10. Niewiadoma’s explosive style of racing is a high-risk gamble, but it also comes with a high reward when it pans out. Brown showed once again that she has the power to stick with attacks from some of the big names, while she still has a strong sprint to mix it with the faster women in the bunch.

The USA’s Leah Thomas (Movistar) and Coryn Rivera (Team DSM) were both caught out on the final ascent but the jet-setting between America and Europe for the national championships – plus the very early start – will not have helped. Time will tell how they will stack up against the women in orange.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Lizzie Deignan – who could be one of the biggest threats to the Dutch in Tokyo – had a difficult day on the bike. She was unable to hold the wheel when the bunch split on the Côte de la Fosse Loups and said afterward that she hadn’t been able to “suffer enough” to close the gap.

The form is clearly there and if Deignan can find the suffer switch then she has the skillset to topple the Dutch.