La Course by Le Tour de France 2014 preview

We take a look ahead to the inaugural La Course women's elite race in Paris on Sunday, July 27

As the winner of Tour de France prepares for his ride into Paris on Sunday afternoon, 120 women will be contesting the inaugural edition of La Course. The one-day event has attracted the world’s best women’s teams and is Tour organiser ASO’s response to calls for a women’s Tour.

The event is a victory for Le Tour Entier, a campaign set up by prominent figures in women’s racing calling for equality in the sport. As with The Women’s Tour in the UK, La Course will award the sort of prize money barely before imagined in women’s races. Indeed the €22,500 winner’s prize is the same sum a Tour de France winner receives.

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Amongst the protagonists are three of those behind Le Tour Entier, Britain’s Emma Pooley (Lotto-Belisol), World Champion Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv), and Kathryn Bertine, recently signed to the Wiggle-Honda team specifically for this race.

A women’s Tour de France, La Grand Boucle Féminin, was held between 1984 and 2009, but was discontinued through lack of sponsorship. The final edition was only four stages, causing overall winner, Emma Pooley to describe it as “more of a Petite Boucle than Grande.”

Starting at 12:45pm local time, the race will be televised on both ITV4 and Eurosport.

The Route
A criterium on a grand scale, the 90 kilometre race consists of 13 laps of the circuit which concludes the Tour. Twenty teams of six women will take the start on the Champs Elysées, each with six riders. The race is likely to be very aggressive, however, expect the format to be similar to the men, a small group being allowed some freedom, before coming back together for a sprint.

Who will win?

Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv)
World Champion Vos is the obvious choice and, in some ways it would be fitting if she were to win. Her influence helped create the race and her form has been excellent since starting her season in April. Consummate in all disciplines, she has repeatedly beaten top sprinters this year, though is yet to come up against Kirsten Wild.

Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans)
Armitstead has been on excellent form this season. though she’s only had three wins, she has rarely been out of the top ten and currently holds a healthy lead in the World Cup. The former British Champion has an excellent sprint, winning only last week in Germany, but timing that final burst has hampered her at times this year.

Kirsten Wild (Giant-Shimano)
With 13 wins so far this season, the four times Tour of Qatar champion Wild is this year’s top sprinter. Not only that, but her Giant-Shimano team are extremely well drilled in getting her in the right place at the right time. With one World Cup win under her belt this season, she is bound to be in form for the Sparkassen Giro round next week.

Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-Honda)
After a scintillating 2013, Bronzini’s year has not gone as well as she and her team might have hoped, only winning four times so far. Bronzini out sprinted Vos to win the World Championships in both 2010 and 11, but the Dutch woman has beaten her in four out of five finishes so far tho year.

Shelley Olds (Alé-Cipollini)
American sprinter Olds has had success on both sides of the Atlantic this year. Though her wins came early in the season, she showed well at the Giro and her assertive team are sure to place her in the right place for the final, where the 33 year old could pull off a surprise.

Others to watch out for: Jolien d’Hoore (Lotto-Belisol), the Belgian national champion has had a consistent year and is in top form with wins at the BeNe Ladies Tour last week, but has yet to show against the big hitters. Australian Chloe Hosking has had a quiet 2014, but her Hitec Products team work well together and the course suits her. Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) is a good bet for any race, though despite her general classification win at the BeNe Ladies Tour, is unlikely to beat the top sprinters.