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Riders react to shortened La Course

The women's La Course race returns to a one-day format, which has some riders disappointed, despite promising route.

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On Tuesday, ASO revealed plans for the 2018 version of La Course by Le Tour de France, the race’s fifth running since its 2014 debut. Scheduled for July 17 in conjunction with stage 11 of the men’s race, La Course has been shortened to a one-day race (in 2017 it was two stages). The 2018 version includes 118km of racing and finishes in Le Grand Bornand.

VeloNews reached out to current and past members of the women’s pro peloton for perspective on the new format. The reaction was mixed, with riders expressing both disappointment that it is a one-day event and optimism about the challenging course.

“They’ve just kind of like punched us in the guts again with another one-day event,” said Carlee Taylor (Ale Cipollini). “I think the whole women’s peloton, to be honest, is probably pretty disappointed.”

Retired British rider Emma Pooley called the new route a “missed opportunity.”

“I think they have a great opportunity to build a stage race out of La Course,” Pooley said. “It’s great they have a race, I just think they could do a lot more with it. ASO are leaders in cycling and I think they have a great position where they could show leadership. I think it would be great if they could develop it a little bit more.”

For the first three years, 2014-2016, La Course was held on the Champs the morning of the Tour’s stage 21 finale. In 2017, the race moved to the mountains and debuted an unorthodox two-day format. ASO staged a 67.5km race to the top of Col d’Izoard. That was followed by an unconventional pursuit time trial in Marseille, two days later. Orica-Scott’s Annemiek van Vleuten won both races.

“It was nice they tried something different,” said Australian racer Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM). “At the end of the day it was a fantastic day, but I still would have liked to have seen a much bigger stage.”

For many fans of women’s cycling and some of the riders, La Course 2017 was too short. Pooley said the mountain stage up the Izoard represented progression, but the short 67.5km stage length was not ideal.

“It’s almost humiliating,” Pooley said. “The Etape riders, the sportive riders, do the full distance. Women are really capable of a longer stage than that.”

Pooley, an Olympic silver medalist in 2008 and world champion in 2010, believes ASO should instead expand La Course to a multi-day stage race. The goal of the event should be to create a women’s version of the Tour de France, she said.

“I did get the feeling from ASO that they were annoyed by the hassle of having to deal with women wanting a race and then having to arrange a women’s race,” she said.

Pooley thinks an expanded La Course is a business opportunity for ASO.

“You can see amongst new women’s races like the [OVO] Women’s Tour in the UK, how well a women’s race sells as an entertainment and media event,” Pooley added. “It’s brilliant for people to watch they love it. It seems to me like the ASO are really missing an opportunity for their sponsors.”

The OVO Women’s Tour is a five-day race that covered 650 kilometers of racing June 7-11 in Britain this year. According to organizers, the 2017 race attracted 500,000 spectators; 1.4 million people watched the highlights program in the UK with more watching abroad in almost 100 countries.

Cromwell shares Pooley’s perspective, hoping La Course will expand to a multi-stage race. “Align it with the men’s so we benefit from the crowds,” Cromwell said. “Logistically I know it’s challenging, but ideally that’s what you want. There’s something special about how big the TDF is.”

The dream of a proper women’s Tour de France will have to wait. Fortunately, for 2018, the new route should afford exciting racing, albeit in a single-day format. “I’m glad it’s in the mountains next year and that it’s a bit longer so it’s a decent length next year,” Pooley said.

“Going back to one day of racing is definitely a bit of a disappointment, but the 2018 course sounds like a good one and hopefully will help us continue to build in the future,” said American Ruth Winder, who will transfer from UnitedHealthcare to Sunweb for 2018.

“The course is exciting,” Cromwell added. “It’s the biggest stage we have from an exposure point of view. It’s nice that we finally have a true race.”

Caley Fretz contributed to this report.