MARSEILLE, France (VN) — La Course by Le Tour de France wrapped up Saturday with an unorthodox individual pursuit around the Stade Vélodrome stadium in downtown Marseille.
For the race’s fourth edition, organizer ASO removed the event from the Champs-Élysées in downtown Paris and developed an entirely new format for the race. On Thursday, riders raced 67km from Briançon to the top of the Col d’Izoard. The top 20 riders qualified for a pursuit-style individual time trial in Marseille, to be held just before the men’s individual time trial.
Overall winner Annemiek Van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) praised organizers for shifting the event away from the Champs-Élysées and developing the new competition format. The new event gave other riders a chance to grab attention — not just the sprinters.
“I think we can show we can do more than just laps on the Champs-Élysées,” Van Vleuten said. “I think my Strava file from the Izoard, I think people really like to see that; girls are also pretty fast on the bike. It was a great moment to ride up the Izoard with lots of people to watch.”
The event was not without its critics. On Friday the event received public criticism from retired German rider Judith Arndt, who called the event “pathetic and almost humiliating” because of its short length and strange format. Arndt won three world championships during her career, and won the Tour de l’Aude — which was viewed as the women’s Tour de France — on two occasions.
“If they can’t organize a proper race for them, they should just leave it,” Arndt wrote on her Facebook page. “Women’s cycling is such a serious sport and should be treated as such.”
[pullquote align=“right” attrib=”Judith Arndt”]”If they can’t organize a proper race for them, they should just leave it.”[/pullquote]
Among women at the race, opinions were also mixed. Reactions were extremely positive after Thursday’s stage up the Col d’Izoard, with criticism coming after Saturday’s event in Marseille. After finishing outside the time limit on Thursday, Marianne Vos (WM3 Racing) called the event “a good show.”
“It is interesting to see this hillclimb as the best climbers have the opportunity to show themselves in La Course now,” Vos said. “We sprinters had our chance of the [Champs-Élysées] and now its time for the climbers.”
Australian racer Shara Gillow (FDJ) also praised the event due to the crowd size. On both Thursday and Saturday the women raced along sections of the men’s route, with the spectator counts numbering well into the thousands. Gillow said the crowds were even bigger than the 2012 Olympics in London.
“I’m still buzzing from riding up in the French Alps — I’m thankful that we can have a day like we did Thursday,” she said. “I didn’t kick up a fuss about it because I think we’re really privileged to have a taste of it.”
[pullquote align=“left” attrib=”Shara Gillow”]”I’m still buzzing from riding up in the French Alps. I think we’re really privileged to have a taste of it.”[/pullquote]
British rider Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) was less-enthusiastic about the two days of racing. After the Marseille event she called the unorthodox pursuit race “an experiment” and had somewhat mixed feelings on the La Course format.
“We took it as seriously as probably we felt the organizers took us today,” Deignan said.
The race posed an event to teams from a behind-the-scenes standpoint, Deignan said. Since a rider’s spot in Marseille was not guaranteed — the results from the Izoard qualified them for Marseille — it was challenging for teams to prepare for the race, she said.
“Our strategy was to win on the Izoard and treat that as a one day event and treat this as a bit of fun and see what happened,” Deignan said. “It’s the behind the scenes stuff that you don’t have an appreciation for. Its the hotels and flights and bikes, spare wheels — what wheels do you even need? All the things we can’t prepare for properly.”
The organization of the Marseille event — or lack thereof — presented other challenges, Deignan said.
“This morning I was in a car park looking for a female toilet and there wasn’t any at the start,” she said. “To warm up for a TT not knowing where the closest bathroom is—if there is one at all—it’s difficult to take that seriously.”
[pullquote align=“right” attrib=”Lizzie Deignan”]”To warm up for a TT not knowing where the closest bathroom is — if there is one at all — it’s difficult to take that seriously.”[/pullquote]
Deignan said she has an open mind for the event’s future. The various sponsors of the women’s peloton, she said, received good attention at the event. But Deignan would like the organization hurdles to improve.
“We’re at a stage where we deserve more probably,” she said.
A universal sentiment from the women’s peloton was that organizer ASO should try to grow the event to multiple days. If the old format featured one day on the Champs-Élysées, and the 2017 format had two race days, then why not extend it to three, four, or five days in the future?
“That would be great if we had a bit longer stage race,” said Polish rider Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling). “I see improvement every year. Last year we only got on [Champs Élysées]. Now we have two stages. I’m hoping in the future we can have four stages and maybe five. Maybe it’s like the [Giro Rosa] and we have 10 stages.”