The Women's WorldTour is set to contest the one-day La Course by Le Tour de France on Saturday in Nice, held in conjunction with the opening stage of the men's three-week Tour de France.
It is one of the most anticipated and well-attended events on the calendar, and this year the women will race a 96km, two-lap circuit race that starts and finishes on the Promenade des Anglais.
Here, Cyclingnews highlights the top riders to watch.
Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv)
Multi-time world champion Marianne Vos can take partial credit for the creation of La Course by Le Tour de France. She formed part of Le Tour Entier, and, together with Kathryn Bertine, Emma Pooley and Chrissie Wellington, set up a successful petition sent to the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) and Tour director Christian Prudhomme calling for a women's Tour de France. After securing 97,307 signatures, La Course by Le Tour de France formed in 2014.
Vos also won the inaugural edition – a circuit race on the Champs-Élysées – and then won the race a second time last year in Pau. In fact, last year was one of Vos' most successful seasons, with a total of 19 victories.
This course is perfect for a rider like Vos, who can win from a sprint or from a potential breakaway over the punchy climbs on the course.
The CCC-Liv riders who are provisionally listed as a support team for Vos are Sofia Bertizzolo, Jeanne Korevaar, Pauliena Rooijkkers, Soraya Paladin and Sabrina Stultiens.
"We will start with a strong team and hope to finish high in the ranking," said the team's director, Jeroen Blijlevens. "Last year we won La Course with Marianne Vos. The course is largely comparable to 2019, although the climb, the Côte de Rimiez, which needs to be covered twice, is a bit longer at six kilometres, and at the same time less steep than last year. After the last climb, there is a descent and a flat stretch of 30 kilometres to the finish line in Nice. We will have to race attentively as a team to be successful and jump at the right moments."
Marta Bastianelli (Ale BTC Ljubljana)
A former world champion, Marta Bastianelli is one of the fastest sprinters in the peloton, and she is also a strong climber, particularly when they are short and steep. She opened the season with a victory at the Vuelta CV Feminas before the season was shut down due to COVID-19.
One-day races like La Course, along with the traditional Classics like the Tour of Flanders, which will be held in October, are made for a rider like Bastianelli. She can win from a mass sprint or from a breakaway. Look for the Italian to take her first WorldTour win of the season in Nice.
Bastianelli will be joined by her teammates Maaike Boogaard, Eugenia Bujak, Tatiana Guderzo, Anna Trevisi and Urska Zigart.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott)
Annemiek van Vleuten is fresh from victory in the elite women's road race at the UEC European Championships in Plouay on Thursday. The current road race world champion has had a near-flawless season, with victories at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in March, the three one-day races in Spain in July, and Strade Bianche in August.
Her teammates for La Course will include Grace Brown, Sarah Roy, Jess Allen, Gracie Elvin and Jess Roberts.
She has won La Course by Le Tour de France on two occasions, in 2017 and 2018, and will want to continue that success in Nice on Saturday.
Although she criticised ASO for designing a route that she felt was not hard enough to be part of the Women's WorldTour, she also understands that a race is as hard as the peloton makes it.
Expect Van Vleuten to make this year's La Course by Le Tour de France a brutally hard race.
"So, I think we are ready for it," said the team's director, Alejandro Gonzales. "We expect a more aggressive race and a bit of a harder course. But it's also kind of an open course in other ways, so we will go there with several options, not just one option. It's likely to be a sprint, but it all depends on how the race is raced. I think we will try with some riders to avoid a sprint finish, but we have options for both."
Chloe Hosking (Rally Cycling)
Winner of the 2016 edition of La Course by Le Tour de France, Australian sprinter Chloe Hosking returns with her American outfit to attempt a second victory in Nice. Hosking will have support from her team that includes Krista Doebel-Hickok, Heidi Franz, Leigh Ann Ganzar, Sara Poidevin and Emma White.
Hosking has previewed the course, which was initially thought to favour sprinters. However, she preached caution ahead of the race, according to a team press release.
"It's definitely not a straight-up sprinters' course," said Hosking. "We've seen some of the hill climbers are in fantastic shape right now, so we'll see how things play out. I'll tell you this, if I get a sniff of the finish line, I'd love to open up my sprint after such a long break from racing."
Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (Boels Dolmans)
Chantal van den Broek-Blaak put forth an impressive performance at the recent European Championships in the elite women's road race in Plouay on Thursday.
She may not have won the race but the motivation and strength that it took for her to bridge across to the breakaway and stick with climbers Van Vleuten, Kasia Niewiadoma and Elisa Longo Borghini showed that she is in great form ahead of La Course.
She will have support from teammates Jolien d'Hoore, Christine Majerus, Amalie Dideriksen, Jip van den Bos and Lonneke Uneken.
The former world champion is one of the best Classics riders in the sport, and a former winner of Gent-Wevelgem, Amstel Gold Race, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and three-time winner of Le Samyn des Dames.
A victory at La Course by Le Tour de France would be a great addition to an already stellar resume.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo)
Elisa Longo Borghini is on track to take a big victory during the revised Women's WorldTour calendar. After supporting her teammate Lizzie Deignan to victory at the GP de Plouay on Tuesday, and then finishing second at the European Road Championships for the Italian national team on Thursday, she is one of the favourites to win La Course on Saturday.
She has a focus on the Giro Rosa held from September 11-19, but has proven to be in top shape heading into next month's target.
Look for Longo Borghini to attack on one of the two climbs of the category 3 Cote de Rimiez, or generally trying to force the winning breakaway.
Trek-Segafredo will have a strong line-up that also includes Deignan, Lauretta Hanson, Anna Plichta and Tayler Wiles.
Liane Lippert (Team Sunweb)
Liane Lippert will toe the start line as the leader of the Women's WorldTour. She won the opening round at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in February and maintained her lead through Strade Bianche and the GP de Plouay.
Lippert now leads the top-tier series with 472 points. Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) is in second with 408 points, and Van Vleuten is in third with 400 points.
Lippert has shown that she is a worthy leader of the Women's WorldTour, and she plans to hold onto that purple jersey for at least another round of racing.
She will have a strong support team that, provisionally, includes the previous year's podium finisher, Leah Kirchmann, Floortje Mackaij, Anna Henderson, Alison Jackson and Juliette Labous.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope)
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig got her first win for her new team, FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope, at the Giro dell'Emilia last week, and will no doubt want to continue that success for her new sponsors.
She was so close to making the winning move at the European Championships road race on Thursday, before a crash took her down right as the race ignited.
She showed tenacity in getting back on her bike and reconnecting with the main chase group, and then attacking several times to try to bridge to the breakaway that included Van Vleuten, Van den Broek-Blaak, Niewiadoma and Longo Borghini.
She is a powerful climber and a strong Classics rider. She finished third on the podium in last year's La Course, so look for her to win the race this time around.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)
Kasia Niewiadoma is slowly building her form ahead of the September and October segments of the revised Women's WorldTour calendar.
She has shown that she is on a perfect trajectory after finishing on the podium at the European Championships, where she formed part of the winning breakaway.
She is an all-rounder, a great climber, a punchy rider and a strong breakaway threat. Look for her to help create a winning breakaway on the two-lap circuit in Nice.
She will have a team that, provisionally, includes Alena Amialiusik, Hannah Barnes, Tiffany Cromwell, Omer Shapira and Jessica Pratt.
Lizzy Banks (Equipe Paule Ka)
Lizzy Banks had a stunning performances at the GP de Plouay, where she formed part of the winning two-rider breakaway with Trek-Segafredo's Lizzie Deignan. She placed second in the end, but it was a breakthrough performance for the British rider, nonetheless.
She had won a stage of the Giro Rosa last year, and is one of the riders to watch this season, especially as the peloton heads into the September and October races.
She will have a strong team of contenders around her, which includes Leah Thomas, who placed third at Strade Bianche, along with young talent Niamh Fisher-Black and recently crowned Danish road race champion Emma Cecilie Norsgaard.
Tune into Cyclingnews for live coverage of La Course by Le Tour de France along with the full report, results, gallery and news following the conclusion of the race on Saturday.
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