Another exciting edition of La Course by Le Tour, the women’s race which runs alongside the men’s Tour de France, was fought out against a backdrop of negativity regarding the development of the event as a whole, with Lizzie Deignan arguing that it had “stagnated”.
The race itself was a cracker, with Marianne Vos, arguably the greatest champion in the history of women’s cycling, pulling off a spectacular win.
The multiple world and Olympic champion, who rides for CCC-Liv, caught and passed solo escapee Amanda Spratt [Mitchelton-Scott] on the 17 per cent ramp up to the finish line in Pau.
Spratt had been out on her own for the best part of 25km, the Australian’s lead at one point up to 35 seconds as the peloton took a while to organise itself.
A few riders - including Vos and Lucinda Brand [Sunweb] - tried to get across to the Australian, but none of the moves got very far.
With Sunweb and CCC leading the chase, though, the gap came down to around 10 seconds with a kilometre remaining and Spratt was eventually swallowed up by the bunch on the penultimate corner.
Vos, who is in excellent form having just won four stages at the recent Giro Rosa, powered past her, before sprinting away from the rest of the pack to win by three seconds from Leah Kirchmann [Sunweb] and Cecile Uttrup Ludwig [Bigla].
“I came out of the Giro Rosa with good motivation, and La Course was a good inspiration to give it an extra go,” Vos said afterwards. “The break of Amanda Spratt was pretty dangerous, so my teammates had to do a lot of work to bring it back.
“When I saw it came down on the climb, I knew I had a chance. I went and just had the legs to continue.”
It was a thrilling finish to the 121km race, which comprised five laps of the course being used by the men in their stage 13 time trial later on Friday.
But there was, as ever, an undercurrent of negativity about the development of the race as a whole. ASO, the Tour’s organisers, have experimented with various different formats over the years, with the race now back to being a one-day offering as it was when Vos won the first edition on the Champs Elysees in 2014.
Dame Sarah Storey said it felt like ASO was making a “token gesture” this year by including a women’s race on the back of the men’s TT, and that they gave the impression “of not wanting to do any more than the absolute minimum”.
Deignan, who suffered two mechanicals in the race and finished over 11 minutes down, appeared inclined to agree.
Speaking before the stage start, she was asked for her opinion on how the event had developed.
“Stagnated, probably,” she replied. “We're obviously not moving forward. It's still one day. Not going backwards.
“It's got its place in the calendar in terms of our perspective on it and we take advantage of the platform it gives us, the media that are here, take the positives from it. That's all we can do really. There's no progression from last year.”
Vos, who was part of the Le Tour Entier pressure group which petitioned ASO for a women’s Tour de France, was more guarded.
“La Course didn't really change,” she said in her winner’s press conference. “Well the race has changed from a sprinter's course, to a climber's course to a puncheur's course, and that's interesting because a lot of different riders can win,” she said.
“This is one moment in the year when we can ride with our sponsored teams when the whole world is watching. And that's of course a big plus for women's cycling.
“When we launched Le Tour Entier we aimed to have a women's Tour de France. It was a big step to straight away get a race. From then on it was the objective to grow. At this stage in women's cycling a lot of things are changing, the calibre is growing, at the moment it's more important to look at the calendar and change it a bit.”
Deignan and Hannah Barnes [Canyon-SRAM], who was also in action, are now heading out to Japan to recce next year’s Olympic course.