By Owen Rogers
Last month the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) announced the route would switch from the Champs Élysées criterium race to a mountain finish on the Col d’Izoard before stage 18 of the Tour de France.
The organisation came in for criticism about the race length, which at 67km is below the UCI minimum race distance for a Women’s WorldTour event.
The event will begin in Briançon and finishes 2,360 metres above sea level, at the top of the Col d’Izoard, the same as the men’s stage. Unlike the 178km men’s stage, however, La Course misses out the southern loop over the Col de Vars.
“Organisationally it is better to have the same start and finish for the men and women,” explained ASO’s technical director and former professional, Thierry Gouvenou.
“They [the women] can enjoy the same infrastructures, the Tour de France village, the big signature podium and benefit from the presence of the public and media that will have the chance to enjoy the two starts on the same day. It is the best way to shine the spotlight on female cycling.
“The 67 kilometres to the Izoard will be a lot harder than the 100 kilometres on the Champs-Élysées circuit in Paris. In addition to the climbs - the Col d’Izoard is 14.1km at 7.3% - the entire stage will be run at altitude. Briançon, where the race will start, is one of the highest cities in France at 1,170 metres above sea level."
With the start and finish of both men’s and women’s races in the same place, despite the recent increase in permissible women’s race distances, it was geographically impossible to come up with a route longer than the proposed format.
“We don’t have the means to move the mountains, so to climb to the Izoard would have been a loop of 70 kilometres or another 180km,” added Gouvenou who raced seven editions of the Tour.
All three previous editions of La Course had been run on the Champs Élysées circuit on the final day of the Tour. Two of those had ended in sprint finishes, the other was won solo by current Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen.
Despite this variety, Gouvenou believes the race needed shaking up.
“We felt that in Paris things began to be repetitious,” he said. “We wanted to offer the ladies different terrain to demonstrate what they are capable of.”
This is a sentiment Women’s WorldTour winner, Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) agreed with.
“Instead of having the sprinters shining we’ll get a look at the different types of riders who will be showcased that day. I think that’s a nice development,” she told Cycling Weekly.
American champion Guarnier was also loathe to criticise ASO for their work creating races for women.
“They are trying. They started La Course and they’re trying something different. We shouldn't take what we can get and be grateful for it, we shouldn’t be passive, but by being negative about people who are trying to help our sport is not going to help either.”
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Whilst acknowledging the logistical difficulties, Gouvenou hinted the race could develop into a stage race in years to come.
“Moving the race to the mountains is a logistic test to see if we can do this in the years to come," he said.
"But it is true that the Tour de France gets bigger year after year and there are always more and more followers, and it is complicated to manage the two events at the same time over the long term.”
Cycling Weekly understands La Course will be televised in its entirety and will need to begin at 8.30am to prevent any overlap with the men’s race coverage where each stage is shown in its entirety.
In addition to La Course, ASO organise the Ladies Tour of Qatar, La Flèche Wallonne Femmes and next year Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes will make its debut on the women’s calendar.
La Course will take place on July 20 before Stage 18 of the Tour de France, the final mountain stage of the race.
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