The Tour de France was unveiled this week while La Course, the women’s race, was mentioned in passing. Where will it go? We know the start and finish and it’s back in the Alps but if the date was announced the proper route wasn’t. Here’s a guess at the most likely route.
This year saw the format moved to the Alps with a race to the Col d’Izoard instead of laps of the Champs Elysée/Tuileries in Paris. Opinions seem mixed on this but it got a decent TV audience and put show the a race on the same mythical terrain as the men, as opposed to flat urban laps of Paris. The second day seemed unloved on social media but again a good audience despite the poor production that struggled with the concept as much as the riders and viewers alike. 2018 sees the La Course return to the Alps but this time it’s just a one day race.
The route starts in Duingt on the shores of Lake Annecy and finishes in Le Grand Bornand, it’s 118km long and features the same finish as the men get in the Tour de France.
— La Course by Le Tour (@LaCoursebyTDF) October 17, 2017
That’s all we know based on a tweet from the race and Christian Prudhomme’s speech in Paris earlier this week. The event’s website has gone dormant since July and there’s nothing new. Normally if you announce something you’d think it’d be backed up with a website and press release but there’s been nothing more.
So let’s guess the route… Tracing various options the most likely path – ie the best guess – sees the red parts of the Tour de France profile cut out. After the start in Duingt there’s loop around the south of Lake Annecy then the valley road to Thônes at which point the peloton tackles the steady Col de Saint Jean de Sixt, instead if turning for the Col de la Croix Fry which the Tour will use. Then it’s the Borne gorge road which the Tour will use but straight down the valley, no climb over the Plateau de Glières and then somewhere near Bonneville in the Arve valley La Course will rejoin the Tour de France route to climb the valley before the tough combo of the “Col” de Romme and the Col de la Colombière before the descent into Grand Bornand.
This suggested route fits the prescribed distance and would make sense for organisational perspectives as it doesn’t close any additional roads and a sporting one too as it saves the selective climbing for later on in the race. The final two climbs are certain and as the profile above shows they are highly selective, the climb to Romme (it’s not a pass, the “col” label is erroneous) is very steep from the start and the descent to the appropriately named Le Reposoir (“rest point”) is fast before the race picks up hardest part of the Col de la Colombière. You might remember this from the 2009 Tour de France when Alberto Contador attacked Lance Armstrong and Bradley Wiggins was trying to hold on. Either way it means La Course is going to be won by a climber… but who will start?
…The Giro Rosa runs from 3-15 July and La Course is on 17 July. This means there is time for the peloton to go from Italy to France, but only just, we’re talking time to wash the bikes and drive up to France right away. The 2017 La Course had a day added to it in the spring of this year but if you’re the optimistic type the chances of this seem slim given this clash means turning a one day race into something longer is going to be difficult without adequate rest in between.
The 118km distance is an abbreviated version of the 159km stage of the Tour de France. UCI rules limit the Women’s World Tour to… 160km so they could ride the full stage. Maybe this is because of TV and so that the race can be shown live in full again before coverage of the Tour de France starts? But as the women strive for equality having a cut-down stage looks bad.
As for being short the real cut is not the distance but the duration, it’s now back to one day rather than building into something bigger and there had been whispers last summer’s two stage format was a logistical experiment ahead of something bigger.
The wider context is the absence of elite women’s racing in France. There’s La Course and the GP de Plouay… and that’s it for the Women’s World Tour. Stage races like the Route de France and the Tour de l’Aude, partly because they were run on shoe-string budgets and their demise seemed like a matter of time. But this could have been the moment for ASO to have stepped in. Ironically ASO runs one day of racing in France but has double that in Belgium because it does the Flèche Wallonne feminine and Liège-Bastogne-Liège and it’s adding an extra day to the women’s Tour de Yorkshire too. Presumably this is all because it is paid to with local political imperatives; back in France the only pro team is backed by FDJ who also sponsor La Course so it seems the state lottery – run by a woman in Stéphane Pallez – is trying to underpin the sport but has some way to go. And even this could be changed with FDJ reportedly up for privatisation and by implication ready to dilute political imperatives for commercial ones.
Staging La Course during the Tour de France has its pros and cons. On the plus side there’s much to be said for using the Tour de France as a means to shine a light on women’s cycling, there’s a large audience and the event draws in people, whether on TV or the roadside. Quite possibly millions watched the Tour de France and heard commentators saying messages like “tune in for La Course tomorrow” and so on. Indeed with a roadside audience of 12 million people it means La Course get enjoy plenty of cheers and having a big crowd by the roadside validates a race, for example compare Doha’s world championships last year to Bergen. The Giro Rosa does something similar via television, piggybacking the Tour’s coverage on RAI to feature the women’s racing, a version of come for Le Tour, stay for the Giro Rosa. The flipside is the Tour de France is so big it’s akin to a black hole sucking the light away from anything nearby. So take the Giro Rosa again because it is held in July few cycling media outlets send people because they’re all busy on Le Tour. If it was held in August this blog would do daily stage previews.
Often it feels like much of the coverage of women’s racing is about the coverage of women’s racing… or rather the lack of it. It’s understandable but means the sport itself has to compete with news about its own structural problems. Here ASO only compounded this, announcing an event only in passing, there’s a tweet and a line in a speech and no more. Even if pro cycling is a business and profit has to be generated then one way to help La Course thrive would be to give out the basic details about the course so there’s something to get excited about rather than be frustrated. But in absence of official information curiosity got the better part and a guess for the course is presented above.