Finishing second at the top of the Col d’Izoard today, British champion Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) exceeded her expectations. Though not planning on riding for the win, Deignan set a blistering pace up the climb, thinning the group and finishing second behind Annemiek Van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) in the Women’s WorldTour race.
After her team-mates did much of the work, 28-year-old Deignan went to the front with over 10km of the climb left to ride intending to set up her Boels-Dolmans team mate, Megan Guarnier. However, such was the pace Guarnier was dropped, eventually finishing in fourth place, 45 seconds behind the Briton.
“I felt really good in training, particularly after the Giro,” Deignan said after the race. “Megan put her hand up and said she could be leader. I perhaps did a bit too much work because we wanted Megan to go for it, but that’s cycling, that’s how it goes sometimes.
“I surprised myself for sure. I think I overestimated the climb, I had not done a recon and I didn’t find it as hard as the nightmares I had about it. It wasn’t as steep as I had expected it to be.
“I have never never been successful on a mountain top in my career, so I did not have the confidence to be leader today. I am pleased with the form I had.”
Thursday’s race was the fourth edition La Course, a race created after pressure from a number of women’s cycling advocates calling for a women’s Tour de France. In previous years the race was held in advance of the Tour’s final stage, on the Champs-Elysées circuit. Today’s mountain race arguably provided riders with a better experience of the cycling’s crowds.
“It loved it,” Deignan continued. “Especially being able to ride through crowds like that. It would be great to do it more often, but it’s a positive experience. Difficult but positive.”
When originally announced the race received much criticism for being just 67km long, but Deignan saw the event as a success.
“It’s really positive that we have a mountain top finish, but I think it needs some work in terms of organisation, it’s great but but it felt like a little bit of an afterthought sometimes, with the organisation.”
One of the event’s overwhelming favourites, La Course was won by Dutch woman Annemiek Van Vleuten.
“After the Giro she was certainly in great form but I think there was a little bit of unknown after the ten day period after the Giro,” her Orica-Scott team manager Gene Bates told Cycling Weekly. “You could see some people were struggling to maintain form and some are still on the up and up.
“A climb that severe you can’t make too many plans, it has to be done on sensations and she took her opportunity. It did go perfectly to plan. We came here to win and we did.”
Dutch time trial champion Van Vleuten will take a 43 second lead into Saturday’s pursuit style time trial race, run on the same course as the penultimate Tour stage in Marseille.
Unlike the mountain stage, it is not even classified as a UCI competition, instead being an invitation race with only the top 19 riders from the Col d’Izoard starting.
Riders will start in Thursday’s finish order and with time gaps, in a race where drafting is allowed and only road bikes permitted.
“I wouldn’t call myself a time trialist, but it’s on a road bike so we’ll see what happens I think Megan is just behind me, so maybe I should wait and chase her down together,” Deignan concluded.