Marianne Vos has welcomed the changes to La Course, telling Cyclingnews that, although she would like to see a multi-stage format in the future, the move from the Champs Elysées to the Col d'Izoard is a step in the right direction that keeps the race "new and fresh".
Vos was the winner of the inaugural edition of the one-day race in 2014, set-up by organisers of the Tour de France to take place ahead of the arrival of the men's race in Paris. A three-year pilot was agreed for that criterium-style format and, with women's cycling growing in stature, many hoped for multiple stages from 2017 onwards to create, in effect, a mini women's Tour de France.
At the presentation of the route for the 2017 Tour de France, it was announced that La Course will remain a one-day event but, instead of a sprint on the Champs Elysées, will centre on the mighty Col d'Izoard climb in the Alps, with riders covering a truncated version of stage 18 of the 2017 Tour.
"The Champs Elysées is not new anymore, and the attention from the media and the fans gets less, because it's not new and we've been there and done that," explained Vos.
"It’s still a one-day race but it finishes on the Izoard so it’s something new again and will get some attention, so if we look at that point then it's a good step. Hopefully a step to getting not only a mountaintop finish but maybe also a time trial and a sprint finish – then you'll have the different elements of the Tour de France and you have more of a Tour de France feeling. But this is a step."
While the best riders in the men's and women's peloton will tackle one of the Tour's mythical climbs – described by Jacques Goddet as “a harrowing trial that establishes the line between difficult and terrifying” – on the same day, La Course will only comprise 67 kilometres, compared 178 for the men. Furthermore, the women won’t go all the way to the lunar landscapes of the summit of the Izoard, instead covering just 10km and finishing four kilometres shy of the men’s finish line.
"That's a shame," Vos said. "Of course, that's difficult to explain to the people outside - why can't the girls do 140km? We would love to."
The change seems to have divided opinion, with some, like Vos, feeling that it gives the event fresh impetus, while others believe it represents a wasted opportunity to bring about true progress.
"Great news,” wrote former world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot on Twitter, thanking ASO and saying the Izoard would provide a “great spectacle".
Kathryn Bertine's, on the other hand, was hard-hitting in her assessment. "Instead of adding more days of equality, they just switch one-day venues," wrote the Cylance rider. "Be careful not to confuse progress with shape shifting."
Molly Weaver provided what was perhaps the neatest summary, branding it a 'parallel step'.
Moolman-Pasio told Cyclingnews that she is disappointed that the event is so short and hopes to see a multi-day event in future.
"I'm not complaining but the progress of this race is up for debate," Vos told Cyclingnews.
"I think it's a good thing to do something new and fresh. It's not a proper Tour de France, but it's a chance for climbers to get the attention that the Tour brings with it. That's a good thing – having other chances for other riders. Hopefully in the future there will be a Tour, but on the other hand I’ve just looked at the calendar and it's already quite tight. This is a one-day race that fits in, and hopefully it will be a good show on the Izoard."
'All that's missing now is Roubaix'
The change to La Course comes on the back of news that ASO plan to introduce a women’s version of Liège-Bastogne-Liège next April, and that Amstel Gold Race organisers will revive the women's version of the hilly Dutch Classic. With a women's Flèche-Wallonne already in existence, that will make for a full house of the three big Ardennes Classics.
After the introduction of the Women's WorldTour this season, Vos feels the calendar is better health than ever before.
"Those steps might be bigger than the step taken by La Course," she said. "The Women's WorldTour for next year looks really really good.
"For us now we have the three [Ardennes] races in a row that the men also do. That's great. We have the great Classics like Flanders, Amstel Gold, Flèche-Wallone, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and also later in the season we have great racing. The Tour of California, women's Tour of Britain – all those races are very high class.
"The only thing we could wish for now is Paris-Roubaix…"
Vos praised the Women's WorldTour inaugural year, but explained to Cyclingnews last month that there is much work to be done structurally to strengthen women's cycling's foundations. Work, she feels, that takes precedence on the priority list above the introduction of more races.
"Of course, if there are some great races like Paris-Roubaix or Lombardy that want to step in, that'd be great, but the next step is to get the Women's WorldTour to the level where it should be," said Vos, pointing to a tiered system of teams like the one that exists on the men's side.
"That takes time. The rules, the structures, the team obligations and so on… These are things that have to be done instead of having more races."