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Over its six-year run, La Course by Le Tour de France has catered to the sprinters and the pure climbers. For 2019, the women’s one-day race has a course that could benefit a rider with strengths on a variety of terrains.
The 121-kilometer course starts and finishes in Pau, and utilizes the course used for the men’s individual time trial. The women complete five laps on the 27km course, which features two climbs per lap: the Côte de Gelos (1.1km at 7.8 percent) and Côte d’Esquillot (1km at 7.2 percent).
On the final lap, however, the peloton will hit a punchy 17 percent ascent that comes just 400 meters from the finish line. This final stinger comes 12 kilometers after the final ascent of the d’Esquillot, which could give sprinters enough time to catch back on.
Organizers have said that the new course was designed specifically for the puncheurs of the women’s peloton — those one-day riders who excel on punchy short climbs. Race coordinator Jean-Marc Marino said the goal of the new course is to “underline the wealth of diversity of women’s cycling.”
“Smart riding will be key,” Marino said. “Will there be a team that tries to keep a lid on the race with the hope that its leader can survive the climbs and take the sprint? We’ll see. At any rate, expect a war of attrition, a thrilling race.”
For fans of the sport, this course, with its hilly terrain and punchy finish, caters to one rider above all: Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv).
All eyes on Vos
Vos comes into La Course riding a wave of success over the past two months of racing. Since May she has won seven races, including the overall at the ASDA Tour de Yorkshire.
La Course’s punchy terrain seems almost custom-built for Vos’s specific strengths. She excels on flat and hilly terrain, and her sprint on uphill drags to the line is virtually unbeatable. Just last week Vos was nearly untouchable at the 10-day Giro Rosa, winning four road stages. All four of Vos’s wins came on punchy stages that featured uphill finishes — similar terrain to what the peloton will face at La Course.
Vos won the inaugural edition of La Course back in 2014, when the race was still held on a circuit around the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
Van Vleuten’s participation adds a new wrinkle
If any two riders could spoil Vos’s strengths in the sprint, it’s two-time defending champion Annemiek Van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) and reigning UCI world road champion Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans). Van Vleuten has the climbing prowess to escape on one of the climbs, and van der Breggen has the punchy finish to contend for the sprint up the final drag to the line.
Both women come out of the Giro Rosa riding high off of major victories: Van Vleuten won two stages and the overall, and van der Breggen took an emphatic victory on the mountainous queen stage.
Van Vleuten was originally planning to skip La Course this year, however she has confirmed that she will participate in the event. Van Vleuten said this year’s route feels like one of the hilly Ardennes classics, which opens the door for both climbers and punchy riders to win.
“The course this year is not as hard as the last two editions, but it still has the same amount of elevation meters and it’s a lot like the Ardennes Classics,” Van Vleuten said. “So for sure, it’s not easy.”
Other favorites who will fight for the win
The course’s combination of punchy terrain and the potential for a sprint could give a host of other riders the opportunity to battle for the win. Trek-Segafredo come to the race after an aggressive Giro that saw Ruth Winder, Tayler Wiles, and Elisa Longo Borghini frequently on the attack. Lizzie Deignan is also one to watch, following her overall victory at the OVO Women’s Tour.
Bigla Pro Cycling is riding high following a breakaway victory at the Giro Rosa by Elizabeth Banks, and Canyon-SRAM’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma showed she was also on top form, wearing the pink leader’s jersey for the opening stages.
North Americans in the race
North American participation in La Course is again robust, with 15 total riders in this year’s race. There are three North American squads at this year’s race: Rally-UHC, Tibco-SVB, and Trek-Segafredo.
The North American riders in this year’s race include: Sara Bergen, Allison Beveridge, Kristabel Doebel-Hickok, Abigail Mickey, Sara Poidevin, Emma White (all Rally-UHC), Anna Gabrielle Traxler (Charente-Maritime), Ruth Winder, Tayler Wiles (both Trek-Segafredo), Emily Newsom, Lex Albrechet (Tibco-SVB), Leah Kirchmann (Team Sunweb), Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM), Katie Hall (Boels-Dolmans), and Leah Thomas (Bigla Pro Cycling).