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Audrey Cordon-Ragot: La Course has finally become the stepping stone to the Tour de France

SCHMOLLN, GERMANY - MAY 25: Audrey Cordon-Ragot of France and Trek - Segafredo during the 34th Internationale LOTTO Thüringen Ladies Tour 2021, Stage 1 a 89,9km stage from Schmolln to Schmolln / #ltlt2021 / #lottothueringenladiestour / #womencycling / on May 25, 2021 in Schmolln, Germany. (Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Trek-Segafredo) (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Audrey Cordon-Ragot is one of the leading riders of her generation and her biggest dream is to sip a glass of champagne along one the most famous commercial avenues and sporting venues in the world, the Champs-Élysées, as the winner of the women's Tour de France

Amaury Sport Organisation’s (ASO) commitment to re-launching a return of the iconic event for women opens the opportunity for the entire top-tier women’s peloton to win the coveted yellow jersey in 2022. Instead of finishing with a parade into Paris like the men's Grand Tour, however, the women's race will kick off on the on the Champs-Élysées on July 24 and conclude on July 31, with ASO yet to confirm the route details.

In an interview with Cyclingnews, Cordon-Ragot says she is elated to start what could be the last one-day La Course on Saturday in Brest, before she turns her attention to
a long-awaited journey toward the yellow jersey and the new women’s Tour de France next year.

"When Marianne Vos went to speak with ASO years ago, the plan was to get the Tour de France for women, perhaps faster than it came, in the end," Cordon-Ragot told Cyclingnews.

"That was the plan and now almost 10 years later we have it, so that is really great. La Course is finally the stepping stone for the women's Tour de France but it is something that should have happened earlier. Finally, we have it and it’s going to be great."

The women's peloton raced their first official women's Tour de France in 1984, won by American Marianne Martin. It was an 18-day race held simultaneously as the men's event and along much of the same but shortened routes with shared finish lines. The Société du Tour de France, which later became part of ASO in 1992, managed both men's and women's events. 

The women's Tour de France ended in 1989, and while ASO went on to organise women's one-day races like La Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, La Course, and the inaugural Paris-Roubaix (in October), the women's peloton has not been included as part of the official Tour de France for the past 30 years.

La Course by La Tour de France was born in 2014 following a petition to ASO calling for a women's Tour de France. Le Tour Entier's petition was led by Vos, Kathryn Bertine, Emma Pooley and Chrissie Wellington and secured 97,307 signatures. 

Although ASO had previously been criticised for not living up to its promise in expanding La Course over the years, the event has also been one of the most popular races on the Women's WorldTour.

Cordon-Ragot says that despite the controversy over La Course, she appreciated the one-day race, particularly when it was held on along the Champs-Élysées during its first three editions, in conjunction with the final stage 21 of the men's Grand Tour. Those first three editions were won by  Marianne VosAnna van der Breggen and Chloe Hosking.

"I really liked when it was held on the Champs-Élysées because it was really simple to race on the most beautiful avenue in the world," says Cordon-Ragot. "It was a different kind of race than we normally had, even though we also had RideLondon that was also criterium-like. Racing La Course on the same last day as the men’s race was something special."

La Course ventured into a two-day experiment in 2017, which saw a summit finish on the Col d'Izoard, held on the same day as stage 18 of the men's race, followed by a handicapped time trial in Marseille. Annemiek van Vleuten won both stages and the overall title. ASO shifted it back to a one-day event in 2018, a mountainous road race linking Annecy and to Le Grand-Bornand, also won by Van Vleuten. The event was then moved to a circuit race in Pau in 2019 won by Vos. Last year's La Course was held in Nice and was won by Lizzie Diegnan.

"La Course became a day in the mountains for the climbers, and then the day in Pau, which was, in my opinion, a really great idea to put this race on the time trial of the Tour de France. [ASO] really tried to make it an interesting race, and it was an interesting race. For us, it has been one of the races that everyone wanted to win," Cordon-Ragot says.

La Course has been replaced by the new Tour de France Femmes on the 2022 Women's WorldTour, but ASO has told Cyclingnews that it does not intend to cancel the race altogether. Cordon-Ragot says she hopes ASO will keep the one-day race but perhaps classed as a Nations Cup for young riders.

"If they decided to keep the one-day La Course, it should be used as a race for the under-23. It would be nice to keep it for the youngsters. I have no idea what they are going to do with it but if they keep it, and with the Tour de France coming for women, I think it should be for the younger riders. We already have a lot of races and we need more races for the under-23 women to motivate them to get to the top level. So, keep this race on the Champs-Élysées for the younger riders, why not?"

La Course: The last hurrah in Bretagne

Cordon-Ragot would love nothing more than to win what could be the eighth and final Women's WorldTour edition of La Course. 

The women's race was originally scheduled to take place on circuits at Mûr-de-Bretagne on June 27, but it was shifted to June 26 along a 107km from Brest to Landerneau, in the Bretagne region of France, and held on the same day as stage 1 of the Tour de France.

"I was a bit disappointed that the event was moved because the previous version at the Mûr-de-Bretagne is really where I live, and I know all the roads, so it was really going to be a home race. It’s always complicated and we need to accept that it had to move, and we need to be happy that this race is organised for us."

Cordon-Ragot recently won the time trial title and placed second in the road race at the French Road Championships. Although she was hoping to wear the French Champion's jersey at La Course, it will instead be worn by new champion Evita Muzic, but Cordon-Ragot says it will still be a day of celebration for al the Bretons racing on home roads.

"La Course is, this year, more important as a Breton because it is in Bretagne. I’m always happy to be racing at home, and of course, Bretagne is the land of cycling, so people will be expecting a good race and they will be there to cheer for myself and  the other Bretons. I’m going there as a rider from this place, a rider who will be cheered at the side of the roads," she says.

"It’s also an important La Course because it could be the last La Course. So, I’m happy that it was going to take place in Bretagne."

Yellow jersey dreams

Cordon-Ragot has been competing professionally since 2008 when she joined the UCI-registered women’s team Vienne Futuroscope. She has raced with Hitec products, Wiggle-High5, and has spent the last three seasons with Trek-Segafredo. During that time, she has played a valuable role as a support rider for some of the best in the world, while amassing her own victories at Tour de l’Ardeche, Route de France, Cholet Pays de Loire Dames, GP Plumelec, Chrono des Nations, and she has twice won the overall at Tour de Bretagne.  

She says that she has worked for many teammates in support of their home tours, and she is excited that the Tour de France Femmes will give her the opportunity to know what it’s like to be a home favourite at one of the biggest races in the world. 

"I’ve been racing with many women from many countries and every time I saw one of them racing in their own country, it felt like she was living the dream, and such a fan of the public. I was always a little jealous of it because I wanted to live that dream as a French person," Cordon-Ragot says.

"For a male rider in France, he could race his home Tour for three weeks, and so why not me? It’s the same with Paris-Roubaix, why couldn’t we fucking race on those cobbles. 

"It’s now becoming more popular to put women’s races on at the same time as the men’s events, and I’m super excited. I feel like it should have been normal, but I also feel like a child lining up to race for the first time, and being super excited, dreaming about a yellow jersey on my shoulders. 

"I’m 32 years old and now I can dream about some new races, and the Tour de France is the best one," she says.

For many female racers, including Cordon-Ragot, competing in the new Tour de France Femmes is a hard-earned reward, symbolic for their push for progress in women’s professional cycling. 

Next year, as the men parade into Paris to conclude the most celebrated three-week bike race in the world, they will pass the baton to the women’s field, as they set off in pursuit of their own yellow jersey. 

"The day [stage 21] is also the famous celebration of the overall winner, a sort of parade into Paris, as the champion of the Tour de France," Cordon-Ragot says. "I am hoping that one day, I can do that with my team, drinking champagne along the Champs-Élysées as the winner of the women’s Tour de France."

Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.