Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) claimed La Course by Le Tour de France in the most dramatic finish possible at Le Grand Bornand but admitted that she was worried about her condition after winning the Giro Rosa last week.
The Mitchelton-Scott leader looked to be heading to second place in La Course after Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) attacked on the final climb and opened up a lead on the descent and run-in to the line. However, van Vleuten is nothing if not resolute and in the final few hundred metres she hunted down the Olympic road champion before passing her within the last 50 metres.
For the huge crowds and those at home watching the race on live television, this was the best possible advert for the strength of women's cycling and an advert for the growing depth to the peloton.
"With 500m to go my team director in the car gave up and stopped cheering for me," Van Vleuten said at the finish.
"I thought, 'Never stop fighting to the finish line', but with 300m to go I thought I would be second. Then I came around the final corner and I saw her dying and I knew it was for me."
Anna van der Breggen had built up a 10-second lead as she pushed towards the finish, and it looked as though she would hang on to take the win. However, Van Vleuten held the gap and as the road rose towards the finishing straight she could see the Boels Dolmans rider was on the limit and beginning to crack.
"I never stopped believing that anything was possible," Van Vleuten said. "She could make mistakes on the descent and I just gave it all. I had to do a sprint after every corner, and my legs were exploding on the descent. I've never had a descent where I suffered so much.
"The climb was hard because I had to chase with the girl in front. The Boels team left it up to me, and then I thought if I don't chase then no one wins. I just rode at a solid tempo, but then she attacked me and I had a bit of trouble to follow and there was a gap."
Van Vleuten, 35, came into La Course on the back of a highly impressive debut win in the Giro Rosa, where she won three stages, including the stage on the Monte Zoncolan. She admitted after her win in France that she had doubts over whether her form and focus would hold. Those fears were put aside when she crossed the line to defend her 2017 crown and take the top step on the podium.
"I was worried but I knew that after finishing the Giro I wasn't completely smashed," Van Vleuten said. "It was a hard race, so I wasn't fresh, and I also celebrated with my team because we did so well together. This is a super nice bonus. It was hard, but I did the Zoncolan two days ago, so this one was almost flat."
There are repeated calls for La Course to expand, and those plans continue to be discussed at administrative levels. In the here and now, Van Vleuten put on a show, and one that will reverberate around the cycling world. Vive La Course.
"To win this one is very special," Van Vleuten said. "On the same day as the Tour and with live television everywhere. Wow. I realised from last year that so many people watch this live. It's prime time television so you can see it all over the world. It's a big step for women's cycling to have live television coverage. It's the best way to promote winner's cycling and I'm proud of that."
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.