Another race and another podium finish for Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervelo-Bigla) this summer as the South African climber backed up her second place overall at the Giro Rosa with third at La Course. The result was her 11th podium finish of the season, including her two victories at La Classique Morbihan and Grand Prix Plumelec-Morbihan at the end of May.
Moolman-Pasio's performance was set up by her in-form teammate Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who jumped clear on the Col de Romme and was only caught just over two kilometres from the top of the Col de la Colombiére. She was a little disappointed that she wasn't able to deliver the win after the work of her Danish teammate, but was delighted to see her put in such a ride.
"This year, I've probably been the most consistent performer. A lot of top 10s, seconds, thirds and fourths. Not so many wins, but I'm happy with my performances and my team's," said Moolman-Pasio.
"Cecilie did an incredible job to attack early when she did. She put in an exceptional performance. I was disappointed that I couldn't win from that, because it was the perfect set up to be able to do that, but somehow, I just didn't have the legs to do it in the final metres of the climb. Then, it was just a case of hanging onto that third place on the podium to reward the team for their great work.
"I'm really proud and I'm proud of the team and, for me, it's really important to see the development of the team and see a rider like Cecilie growing so fast. From her 16th place last year at the Giro to sixth place this year and also an exceptional performance today; that is the most rewarding."
While Anna van der Breggen came into the race with relatively fresh legs after choosing to skip the Giro Rosa and ride in the Val di Sole mountain bike World Cup, the rest of the pack had a long transfer from the finish of the Italian Grand Tour to the start of the French one-day race. Despite a lengthy car journey to get to Annecy on time, Moolman-Pasio said that she felt good.
"I was actually happy with the way my legs were feeling, considering the 10-day tour. The transfer wasn't so easy and most of us had to drive because it wasn't that simple to fly into France. We had a six to seven-hour drive in the car," she explained. "Considering everything, I was happy with the way my legs felt. Of course, Anna had fresh legs on the day but Annemiek showed once again that she had the best legs and she caught her on the line or just before the line.
"It's been a great two weeks of women's cycling and I think that we've shown the world that women's cycling is exciting and worth following."
An emotional Ludwig
Sat in the centre of the road just beyond the finish line, Ludwig was crying as she spoke to the press. They weren't in sadness but in unmitigated joy. "I'll remember this day for the rest of my life," she said, laughing through the tears.
Still just 22 years of age, Ludwig is enjoying a superb summer with a national title in the time trial, sixth overall at the Giro Rosa and now fourth at La Course. For some time, she had the big favourites in trouble as they scrambled to form a chase and she dared to dream that she might be able to hold them off, though it wasn't to be.
"At one point you actually believe in it and then you feel like you've been hit by a truck but you just try to deal with the pain," said Ludwig. "I had Thomas Campana, my sports director, screaming in my ear 'go, go, go'. Oh shit, this is crazy. I'm so happy. We just showed how good women's cycling is. This is crazy. People out there should watch more women's cycling, please."
It was a day to remember for Ludwig with fans cheering her name along the side of the road as she went on the attack. The ride was all the sweeter for the young Dane after struggling at the start of the season with a tooth infection.
"This is one of the best days of my life and, for sure, I'm going to enjoy champagne, chocolate, pizza. Oh my god, vacation is coming," she said.
"Having people cheer for you on the climb and I saw so many Danish flags and people with banners saying Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and yelling my name, even French people, it's so crazy. I love this sport.
"It's so amazing and I'm so happy, especially because a month ago, I was really riding like shit and then I had an infection in my wisdom tooth and we pulled it out. Ever since my wisdom tooth was pulled out, I've been better day by day. If you ever have problems with bad legs pull your wisdom tooth out because it's crazy how much a little tooth can affect your performance."