It has been a few weeks now since the peloton launched back into racing and oh what a restart it was. It’s hard to imagine a better way to kick off than with the stunning vistas and exciting racing delivered by the Strade Bianche.
The COVID-19 cloud that forced the break in the first place hasn’t completely dispersed, with necessary protocols and climbing case numbers still hanging over the season, but it hasn’t made the racing any less compelling. In fact with the shortened season amplifying the stakes for the riders and building the anticipation for race starved fans — particularly for those of us still dreaming of long scenic rides from lockdown — the normal race day excitement seems to have reached fever pitch as we head toward La Course.
However, before we take at the look at the route and riders to watch at the women’s race which runs alongside the Tour de France on August 29, let us set the scene with a quick recap of the racing so far this month.
COVID-19 REBOOT RECAP
A hot and dusty season restart at the Strade Bianche delivered an exciting solo break by Mavi Garcia (Ale BTC Ljubljana). The Spanish rider had a lead of more than 3 minutes with 25 kilometres to go, opening the door to the possibility of a spectacular upset victory. That was until a characteristically gritty fight back from a determined defending champion. Annemiek Van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) had looked to be out of the running but bridged back to the group of chasers and went off in pursuit of Garcia alone. Once the catch was made Garcia determinedly stuck to the World Champion’s wheel until she was ultimately dislodged on a tough final climb to the line. Van Vleuten winning may have been a predictable outcome, but the event was filled with all the suspense, excitement and fighting spirit that the long-awaited return to racing deserved.
If you missed it, you can catch up with the highlights here.
We then had a wait of more than three weeks till we got to sate our appetite for Women’s WorldTour racing again on the 25th of August. The challenging, but not extreme, climbs of the Grand Prix de Plouay were ideal for that group of riders that sit between the flat-land sprinters and mountain goats. This was a race for the all rounders.
The drizzly day ended up with a show of British force, breaking up the oft-seen Dutch domination as Lizzy Banks (Equipe Paule Ka) and Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) joined forces out the front and held off the chase. The pair came into the line together with Deignan going clear in the sprint and taking hard-earned victory for the team in the third Women’s WorldTour race of the season.
Only two days later we got to see many of the top riders line up again but this time it was in national team colours for the European Championships. Van Vleuten’s ability to rise to just about any challenge was on display as the Dutch Rider trumped Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) in a two-way sprint.
It was an impressive battle from the pair, with other riders coming and going, but ultimately the outcome revolved around their multiple attacks and continued efforts to tenaciously claw back onto the other’s wheel. It perfectly set the scene for that last deciding duel in the final uphill sprint to the finish line. A well-timed leap across the road to launch the sprint helped van Vleuten secure the victory.
August 29 – La Course by Le Tour de France
The format for La Course has varied considerably over the past five years from sprinter friendly laps of the Champs Elysees to a multi-day test for the mountain climbers, yet you still can’t completely rule out any of the past winners as contenders this year.
The 96 kilometre 2020 edition of La Course starts and finishes in Nice and includes two ascents of the category 3 Cote de Rimiez. It is a climb that isn’t hard enough to mean you can discount the sprinters but it is challenging enough to provide a potential launching point for a break. That means a key question is likely to be whether or not the long run into the finish after the final climb will give the bunch enough time to catch the break before the line.
All in all, the potential for either a bunch sprint or a break means the list of potential contenders is very long. However, we will try not to hedge our bets too much and focus on just a few, starting with the former winners of the race.
The two most recent victors, Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), have both won twice and are versatile racers with an unrelenting grit and determination. This means they are high on the list of possible winners for just about any race they enter into. It’s a course that both could win on, but not one you would describe as ideal for either. Van Vleuten excels when the climbs are higher and racing harder while a nice steep uphill kick at the finish line, instead of a downhill run, is a scenario that would better play into the hands of the three-time Road World Champion Vos.
Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) is another former winner who would benefit from longer climbs, but again shouldn’t be ruled out as with her time-trialling prowess a long range break is always a serious possibility. (Editors note: Apologies and a correction, Van der Breggen isn’t lining up at La Course this year. Rookie mistake from a non-rookie not to thoroughly check the start list.)
The final former winner we need to consider is Chloe Hosking (Rally Cycling) who as a sprint specialist is one rider who will definitely be happy to put the top of those climbs behind her. Still, the Australian sprinter has shown increasing staying power when the road turns up in recent years, so it is quite possible that she could stay in contention over the Cote de Rimiez and find herself hurtling toward the line for a reduced bunch sprint. That would set Hosking up for an ideal finish to her first European race post the COVID-19 racing break.
As we look beyond the former winners, one of the stand out teams for the break scenario has to be Trek-Segafredo. The power packed roster includes former World Champion Lizzy Deignan, the in-form Elisa Longo Borghini and US Champion Ruth Winder. Plus spirits are high after Deignan pulled off victory at the GP de Plouay, a race quite similar in style to La Course. Longo Borghini also continued her season of podium worthy form by snagging silver at the European Championships this week.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine) is another rider to watch. The Danish rider from the French team made a clear mark at La Course two years ago with a race animating break and she then worked her way onto the podium last year. Then there is Kasia Niewiadoma (CANYON-SRAM) who just took third at the European Championships and if it comes down to a sprint, look out for Marta Bastianelli (Ale BTC Ljubljana) who took fourth at GP de Plouay by winning the sprint from the bunch after all the podium places had been swept up by riders from the break.
With the jury out on whether to expect a sprint or break victory the list could go on, but whoever wins there is one thing that is predictable; the short distance, early climbs and hungry peloton are bound to make for an aggressive and action packed race.
How to follow the action
La Course’s position alongside the Tour de France provides a place on one of the world’s biggest sporting stages, and with that comes widespread TV coverage. That means the race can be found on most of the usual broadcasters of women’s cycling, plus many more. Coverage starts at 7:30 pm AEST on Saturday August 29 in Australia on SBS TV and earlier at 6pm AEST on SBS On Demand. It also available on GCN Race Pass in the UK and Eurosport from 9:05. In the US the race can be found on NBC at 4 a.m. ET. If none of the former options work where you are, look to your local TV guides for La Course to sit on the schedule alongside the Tour de France.
To follow on Twitter look to @LaCoursebyTDF, #LaCourse and the regular Women’s WorldTour go to #uciwwt.
There have been some really insightful and well written articles in the cycling media recently that deserve far more than just a quick skim. For these highlights we suggest you grab a coffee and a comfy chair in a quiet corner so you can sit back and take some time to enjoy these superb pieces. You’ll be glad you did.
The first must read is an informative piece from Cyclingnews women’s editor Kirsten Frattini Transfer Mechanics: The inner workings of the women’s market – Part 1. It is great to see this thorough piece of women’s cycling journalism, which delivers insight into some of the challenges riders and teams face before they even make it to the start line.
Next is an in-depth profile on World Champion Annemiek van Vleuten from José Been on CyclingTips. It is delightful to get such a well crafted personable picture of this phenomenal rider and, with the promise of more profiles to come, it looks like we have plenty to look forward to.
Last, but definitely not least, is a blog post from Chloe Hosking on Voxwomen delivering a first hand perspective of just what was going on inside her head when she was struggling with the decision of whether or not she should be jumping on a plane to head back to Europe. It was a great move by women’s cycling specialists Voxwomen to get Hosking on board, so look out for her regular columns as she is refreshingly forthright and can negotiate her way around a keyboard with just about as much prowess as she brings to a hotly contested bunch sprint.
Thanks for joining us for the La Course edition of the What’s On. Running on our new COVID-19 reboot schedule, with more regular updates, we’ll be back before the Giro Rosa to fill you in on who to look out for at the biggest tour on the women’s calendar, which is scheduled to run from the 11th – 19th September.
To keep up to date with all the action in the meantime follow The Women’s Race on Twitter.