Eight years after winning the inaugural La Course, Marianne Vos is back on the Champs-Élysées in pursuit of a victory that could see her wear the first yellow jersey at the rebirth of the women's Tour de France – now called the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.
A victory would indeed mark a special achievement in her career, the closing of a circle of sorts, after her efforts to help bring the historical moment of a women's Tour de France to fruition.
"The one-day race in 2014 was the first step into this Tour de France, and now ASO has found the right time to make it longer. I think everyone is excited to get it going. Women's cycling has made huge growth over the last ten years. Sometimes you can't push and need time to grow and get everything ready to have this kind of race. I think everyone is excited to get it going," Vos said on the eve of the event.
Our video preview of the Tour de France Femmes
La Course was created in 2014 following a petition to ASO calling for a women's Tour de France. Vos was one of four women who led the Le Tour Entier's petition alongside Kathryn Bertine, Emma Pooley and Chrissie Wellington, securing 97,307 signatures.
The event began as a one-day race, and several editions offered multiple stages. Still, while it gained popularity, it was also controversial because ASO had not lived up to its promise of growing the event into a full-fledged women's Tour de France.
Eight years later, La Course is now seen as a stepping stone to ASO's new and highly-anticipated Tour de France Femmes.
It had to be the right time
"I always remember meeting with the women pro racers ten years ago when we discussed a women's Tour de France and devised La Course by Le Tour," said Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme.
"Marianne Vos, who is a remarkable woman and a great ambassador, was clear that the race would need media coverage to build interest. That is something I have kept in mind throughout the planning process."
ASO have put together a robust media package that will provide 2.5 hours of live broadcast worldwide of all eight stages. The event begins at the Eiffel Tour with a circuit race on the Champs-Élysées on July 24 and concludes at the top of La Planche des Belles Filles on July 31.
The importance of this race and the potential impact it will have on the progress of women's cycling cannot be underestimated.
"The Tour de France is bigger than sports. It's a big thing around the world. It will impact the fans, and the possibility of showing women's cycling across the globe will make a difference. It has already made a difference since La Course, and we have seen this picked up widely. Since we received the news of an eight-day Tour de France, we also saw the media and fans were very much excited to have us racing here."
It's been over three decades since women have competed in this pinnacle of professional cycling, with Marianne Martin, Maria Canins, and Jeannie Longo winning their yellow jerseys between 1984 and 1989.
Asked why it took so long to welcome the women's peloton back into the Tour de France, 33 years after the last version of the stage race and eight years after the first La Course, Vos said, "It's not easy; logistically and organisation-wise, it has to be the right time. Of course, we can say it has taken too long, but I'm happy it's here."
Making dad proud
Vos' father, Henk, has followed her sparkling career at every pedal stroke, every bike race, and every victory. He is at the Tour de France Femmes to support his daughter's goal of winning Sunday's opening stage on the Champs-Élysées. In an interview with Cyclingnews, Henk remembered his daughter's victory at the inaugural La Course in 2014 and how far the sport has come.
"Women's cycling has grown, and to have watched and been part of it is very nice. I go to most of her races all over the world," said Henk, who stores Vos' mountain of cycling memorabilia, winners' jerseys, trophies and medals in a barn on the family property that is being turned into a museum.
Asked how he would feel about Vos securing the first yellow jersey on Sunday, he said, "First, she must win. Most of the time, when Marianne starts a race, she is the favourite. Now, it is possible that she can win and wear yellow. I can't imagine ... if it happens, I have no words. Every time she wins, it's special."
Vos is prepared to give her best performance on Sunday, but even if she doesn't win, having the chance to compete at the Tour de France will mark a monumental moment in and of itself for her and the other 143 women in the race.
"It's special to be back here now and have a full Tour de France, but the moment I won the first La Course was a step. We had the first La Course on the Champs-Élysées, and I remember it clearly. Now, we are here for a full Tour de France, and it will be an intense week of racing ... I'm looking forward to it."
Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets
After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1