It is yet to be confirmed by ASO, but it looks like the final curtain has been drawn on La Course — a race which came into being in 2014 through a campaign to bring back a women’s Tour de France. It only took eight years, but with the Tour de France Femmes finally on the horizon in 2022, the one-day race that has been widely criticised as a token and a sideshow has served its purpose.
While efforts to expand La Course into a longer race might have been lacking in vigour, the racing itself has never failed to excite, and the eighth and final edition was no exception. After a barren stretch in the calendar for the Women’s WorldTour — with one month between Vuelta a Burgos Feminas from 20th May and La Course on the 26th June — the French one-day race provided a timely reminder of how explosive top-level women’s racing is ahead of the Giro d’Italia Donne and Olympic Games.
A rare example of live coverage from the very beginning meant that viewers were privy to the dynamics of the entire race. Near-constant early attacks from Continental and WorldTour teams alike kept the pace high as everyone tried to get into the breakaway, but only Cedrine Kerbaol of Arkea Samsic would be able to snap the elastic on a lonely venture out front. The bronze medalist from the French national time trial championships stayed away for 20km with her lead extending to over one minute. Attacks from WorldTeams behind meant that her lead came down significantly with the likes of Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx), Brodie Chapman (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope), and Audrey Cordon Ragot (Trek-Segafredo) trying to counter.
Photo credit: Aurelien Vialatte/ ASO
As the gap closed down, Kerbaol was joined by Elena Pirrone of Valcar Travel and Service on the first of three laps over the Côte de la Fosse aux Loups. However, with just under 40km to go Trek-Segafredo’s Lucinda Brand decided it was time to attack, taking Mikayla Harvey, and Elise Chabbey of Canyon//SRAM Anna Henderson of Jumbo-Visma, Chapman, Niamh Fisher Black of SD Worx, Marta Lach of Ceratizit-WNT, Ana Santesteban of Team BikeExhange, Liane Lippert of DSM, Marta Bastianelli of Ale BTC Ljubljana and Pirroni's teammate Silvia Persico. Movistar, racing without leader Annemiek van Vleuten, had missed out and were forced to chase.
A huge pull from Anna van der Breggen brought the group back on the next ascent of the Côte de la Fosse aux Loups forcing a reduced, select bunch to form. But it wasn’t long before Trek-Segafredo threw down the next attack with Ruth Winder taking many of the same riders from the previous break up the road.
The group stayed away through the penultimate crossing of the line but with 4km to go they were reeled back in by Jumbo Visma looking to position Marianne Vos. On the lower slopes of the climb to the finish, Tiffany Cromwell of Canyon//SRAM shot out of the peloton in an almighty attack that set Kasia Niewiadoma up perfectly to counter and get a gap. Unfortunately, Niewiadoma didn’t have the legs to maintain her lead — her only hope of winning against faster finishers — but it was a move that finished off a solid race for the team tactic-wise.
Photo credit: Aurelien Vialatte/ ASO
Demi Vollering, van der Breggen, Lippert, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Marianne Vos, and Soraya Palladin brought Niewiadoma to heel, and the group spend a few moments eyeing each other up before a gusty attack from Uttrup Ludwig. The Danish rider raced with confidence and conviction no doubt brought about by her recent first World Tour victory in Burgos. This time, though, it wasn’t to be for the FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope rider as World Champion Anna van der Breggen pulled back her leg-breaking move as if it were nothing.
It was clear from that point that SD Worx were going all-in for Vollering and, after a few attempts by others to break free of van der Breggen’s stronghold were once again shut down, the World Champion then led out the sprint for her teammate. Marianne Vos, who in previous years has gotten away with freelancing her way to a win, must have felt the lack of support in the final kilometres. The two-time La Course winner found herself on the receiving end of two-up tactics for the second year in a row and with no teammates to help, was forced to lead out the sprint. As a result, Vos was beaten into third by both eventual winner Vollering and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. Vollering now leads the Women's World Tour classification by 35 points ahead of her compatriot, Annemiek van Vleuten.
La Course takeaways
As well as being a typically thrilling race to watch, La Course gave us a glimpse of who is on top form going into the next part of the season, and who still has work to do ahead of Tokyo. After all of Trek-Segafredo’s efforts in the earlier stages of the race, Lizzie Deignan was notably absent from the front group on the final climb — although she was working her way back up to them.
The British rider admitted after the race that it was “just a bad day from the start to the finish,” adding, “I felt terrible. So I knew it was just about suffering and I just didn’t have it when I needed it. I didn’t have the finish like the girls in front.” This week, Deignan will be going into the Giro d’Italia Donne (starting July 2nd) with her racing partner in crime, Elisa Longo Borghini, and will be hoping to ride back into some form ahead of Tokyo.
It’s hard to tell where Annemiek van Vleuten, who didn’t race at La Course, might be in a months’ time, but you can never rule her out even despite some — by her standards — lacking performances of late. The race didn’t suffer without her, but nor was her absence the only reason for it to be so close and open, as might have been the case in previous seasons. The European Champion’s dominance has been on the wane, but for all we know it is part of a master plan to build towards Tokyo.
Perhaps the main question La Course has raised is one we were already asking: how is anyone going to beat the Dutch in the Olympic road race? The Netherlands now have a rider for every eventuality, and Vollering looks like the favourite to finish off from a reduced group on the Speedway after Saturday's performance. The question of whether it's a disadvantage to have such a stacked team gets posited every year at the World Championships but with the rainbow bands having been kept in the Dutch ranks since 2017, it's a possibility that can surely be ruled out by now.
The Women's World Tour will resume at the Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa on 31st July.