It’s 30 years since the first edition of the Tour de France Féminin was held, a women’s counterpart to the Tour de France that sadly fell into decline in the 2000s before being raced for the final time in 2009. There have been renewed calls for the reintroduction of a women’s Tour in recent years and while we’re still some way off seeing a multi-week tour brought back to life, the UCI 1.1 La Course is being heralded as a good step in the right direction.
The fact the race is even going ahead is largely due to the efforts of Le Tour Entier, a campaign “established to call for a women’s race at the Tour de France, supported by wider changes in the sport, to help harness the full potential of women’s road cycling and develop the sport equitably and sustainably.”
The campaign, which received nearly 100,000 signatures, was spearheaded by some of the biggest names in world cycling — including road and CX world champion Marianne Vos; three-time stage winner at this year’s Giro Rosa, Emma Pooley; and new Wiggle-Honda signing Kathryn Bertine, the writer and director of the documentary Half the Road.
The hope is that the race will evolve into a multi-day tour in the years to come, but for now La Tour Entier and many others are celebrating this first step.
La Course is a circuit race contested over 13 laps of the most well-known circuit in world cycling — the 6.85km course in the heart of Paris that features the famous cobblestones of the Champs Elysees.
The 89km race is more or less flat, but the run up the Champs Elysees towards the Arc de Triomphe is slightly uphill which, combined with the cobblestones, will serve to fatigue the riders’ legs quicker than they might otherwise.
How it will play out
La Course certainly isn’t the longest or hardest race on the women’s calendar, but this just means it will be raced faster and more aggressively. Just as the final stage of the Tour de France almost always ends in a bunch sprint, so too La Course is likely to go the way of the fast-finishers. But that’s no certainty.
Attacks are likely to be constant throughout the race, with one move going as soon as the previous one is caught. In reality there are probably only a handful of riders than can win La Course if it comes down to a bunch sprint, so everyone else will be hoping to try their luck with a win from an escape group.
Of course, many riders will also be keen to get off the front in search of some TV time. With the race being broadcast into roughly 150 countries (more than 100 of those live) there’s a far greater chance of getting noticed at La Course than in any other women’s race this year.
The race will feature six riders each from 20 teams, including all of the biggest teams in women’s professional cycling: Rabo-Liv, Specialized-Lululemon, Orica-AIS, Boels-Dolmans, Lotto-Belisol and many more.
The winner of La Course will receive €6,000 while the total prize pool — €22,500 — is the same as is rewarded to a stage winner of the Tour de France. Click here for more information about the prize money available.
The startlist for the race hasn’t yet been finalised but assuming everyone is there that we expect to be, here are some riders you should look out for:
Kirsten Wild (Giant-Shimano)
On pure, straight-line speed alone, Kirsten Wild is the fastest sprinter in the women’s peloton. On flatter courses that end with a flat finish, she is extremely hard to beat.
She’s won 12 races already this year, including the GC at the season-opening Ladies Tour of Qatar where she won three of the four stages. Her teammate Amy Pieters won the other. If the race comes back together at the end and Wild is well positioned for the sprint, she’ll be the one to beat.
Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-Honda)
Two-time world champion Giorgia Bronzini goes in to the race as another of the big favourites. The Italian has won four races so far this year, and with six consecutive stage victories at the Route de France last year, Bronzini has shown she’s hard to beat in a fast finish.
Interestingly, Bronzini has only come up against Kirsten Wild in a final sprint three times this year — all at the Tour of Chongming Island — and of those three races Wild won two and Bronzini won one.
Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv)
If there’s one rider who knows how to rise to an occasion it’s Marianne Vos. Vos has won just about every big race there is to win on the women’s calendar, including the Giro Rosa, the Olympics road race, the world road race title, and a whole bunch of the one-day Classics. She also won the inaugural Women’s Tour of Britain this year with three stage wins and a second and third place on the remaining stages.
Vos was an ambassador for that race, just as she is for La Course, and there’s no doubt the reigning world champion will want to complete her association with this year’s race with another victory to add to her extensive palmares.
We don’t think of Marianne Vos as a pure sprinter — she’s just about as well-rounded a cyclist as you’re likely to come across — but if it comes to a sprint finish on Sunday she’ll be well and truly in the mix. She’s outsprinted Giorgia Bronzini this year — most recently on stage 5 of the Giro Rosa — but interestingly, Vos hasn’t had to sprint against Kirsten Wild yet in 2014.
Chloe Hosking (Hitec Products)
If the race comes down to a bunch sprint Australia’s Chloe Hosking will be in with a great shot of a podium finish. Kirsten Wild has gotten the better of Hosking on several occasions this season and, on paper at least, is likely to do the same on Sunday. But there’s no doubt Hosking loves to win and she’s got the determination to fight for victory if she’s well placed coming into the final dash for the line.
Jolien D’Hoore (Lotto-Belisol)
The Belgian national champion is coming into some good form having won her national title and both road stages at the BeNe Ladies Tour in the past month.
Whether she’ll be strong enough to outsprint Kirsten Wild if it comes to that is another question — they’ve sprinted against one another a handful of times this season and Wild has proved stronger each time.
Other riders to watch
Aside from the big favourites, there are any number of other riders that are worth watching throughout the race. Here’s just a few:
- Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Rabo-Liv): The French national champion has had a break-out season, winning a bunch of races and looking very threatening in others. The team will almost certainly ride for Marianne Vos on the day, but “PFP” will almost certainly show her hand at some point, either with a breakaway attempt or in setting Vos up.
In reality, the entire Rabo-Liv squad is worth watching. Any of one of the six riders on the Dutch squad (the others being Lucinda Brand, Iris Slappendel, Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen) could take this race by the scruff of the neck.
- Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans): Lizzie Armitstead has had a great season that’s featured three victories, including the first round of the World Cup, the Ronde van Drenthe.
The former British champion skipped the Giro Rosa in order to focus on her preparation for the Commonwealth Games, but she’s racing La Course and will be hoping for a solid hit-out before the Comm Games road race in a little over a week.
Armitstead is another impressive all-rounder with a solid sprint, but she’s probably more suited to sprinting from a small escape group, rather than a big bunch sprint. Still, she shouldn’t be discounted. If a group does get up the road near the end and Armitstead is in it, keep a close eye on her.
- Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS): The Swedish champion is one of the most consistent riders in the women’s peloton and will be keen for a strong result here. Many of her Orica-AIS teammates will likely to be given the freedom to go on the attack while Johansson might try to make her move closer to the end. She probably doesn’t have the same kick as some of the pure sprinters, but she certainly won’t die wondering.
- Shelley Olds (Ale-Cipollini): Olds faces the same quandary as a number of the other contenders at La Course — she’s won a handful of races this year but when she’s come up against Kirsten Wild she’s just lacked that top end power necessary to beat the fastest in the world.
But when the race begins, past victories mean little and Olds will almost certainly be a contender should the race come to a final sprint.
- Ellen van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans): Van Dijk is the reigning world ITT champion and while the team will likely be trying for a Lizzie Armitstead victory, expect van Dijk to try and get up the road at some point. If there’s one woman in the peloton that can help ensure a breakaway stays clear of the sprinters at the end, it’s van Dijk.
- Emma Pooley (Lotto-Belisol): Pooley was extremely impressive in the Giro Rosa just a few weeks ago, winning all three high-mountain stages. And while the Champs-Elysees isn’t anything like the high mountains of northern Italy, Pooley is also a very strong time trialist, having won the Great Britain ITT championship a month or so ago. She isn’t likely to feature if the race comes to a sprint, but if she gets up the road she too will take some catching.
How to watch it
Outside of the Olympics road race, La Course is likely to be the best televised women’s cycling race we’ve ever seen. In addition to screening live in more than 100 countries, the race will feature live footage from on-board cameras; a first for professional cycling of any gender.
To see which network is broadcasting La Course in your country, click on the Broadcasters tab at the bottom of this page on the La Course website. In Australia the race will be broadcast live on free-to-air by SBS with coverage starting from 9.30pm AEST.
To follow the race live on Twitter, simply follow the #LaCourse hashtag and the official account, @lacoursebyTdF
Who’s your tip for La Course by Le Tour de France?