By Owen Rogers
As the women’s side of professional cycling grows Tour de France organisers are adding more races to their portfolio, and on Friday launched a new women’s race.
The top 20 riders finishing La Course will take part in a pursuit style event happening in Marseille before the penultimate stage time trial of the Tour.
The main La Course race runs alongside stage 18 of the men’s event, starting in Briançon and finishing 67.5km later at the top of the 31.5km Col d’Izoard.
The new event will see women race the 22.5km men’s time trial route in Marseille, the winner of the mountain race starting first. The remaining participants will set off according to their time deficit on the Izoard two days before.
The first across the line will be the winner.
Riders will be allowed to draft others and the event will be ridden on standard road bikes, not time trial machines.
The 22.5km Marseille course is mainly flat , though there is a 1.5 km climb with an average gradient of 9 per cent to contest with.
“I like the idea,” said Canyon-SRAM team manager Ronny Lauke told us. “It’s a fresh new idea coming into the sport, we don’t know which direction it goes in, but it sounds interesting and entertaining.The best riders will be there, but from a planning point of view it will be a nightmare.”
In contrast to the main La Course race, ASO have booked hotels for the riders involved in Marseille, but that still leaves teams with other problems such as which riders to book flights for.
Though hoping for 20 riders, organisers are as yet unsure exactly how many will participate, saying either the top 20 or all riders finishing the Izoard race within five minutes of the winner.
“I just don’t see how there will be 20 riders [finishing] within five minutes,” Australian road champion Katrin Garfoot (Orica-Scott) told Cycling Weekly. “Especially with the altitude, when it becomes harder and harder, we haven’t done altitude climbs yet.”
Watch: Tour de France 2017 essential guide
That sentiment was echoed by Lauke.
“Look at the Giro d’Italia, with those long hilly stages, that is the only comparison we have, what other climbs are there in women’s cycling that are 10k long? Who is going to finish those stages within five minutes?
“It’s a shot in the dark for everyone, even the organisers.”
Last summer the Giro raced the Mortirolo, and though the climb was followed by over 30km of descent and flat, only the top 12 riders finished within five minutes of the winner.
La Course began in 2014, the first three editions a city centre race based on the Champs Élysées circuit which finishes the Tour de France. Last autumn when ASO announced the race would move to the Alps, and the 67km route attracted much criticism, some seeing it as a token gesture.
Launching the new Marseille event on Friday evening in Liège, Course director Thierry Gouvenou acknowledged this criticism.
La Course takes place on Thursday July 20, it will be fully televised prior to the start of stage 18 of the Tour.
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