This year's La Course champion, Annemiek van Vleuten, has welcomed the plans for the 2018 edition of the women's race organised by the Tour de France, which has been scaled back to a one-day race in the Alps. Though the Dutchwoman would like to see it become a multi-day event in the future, she believes the continuing push for the development of women's cycling need not entail a fixation on the Tour.
The route for the fifth edition of La Course was unveiled on Tuesday in Paris at the same time as the unveiling of the route for the 2018 Tour de France. What started out in 2014 as a circuit race on the Champs-Élysées ahead of the arrival of the men's peloton on the final day of the Tour, became a two-day affair this year with a summit finish on the Col d'Izoard followed by a handicap time trial in Marseille.
In 2018 it will return to a one-day format, though not on the Champs-Élysées but in the Alps, with a 118km race that borrows from stage 10 of the men's race and features two major mountain passes – the Col de Romme and Col de la Colombière – before a descent into Le Grand Bornand.
"I think it's a beautiful course, using a lot of the same roads as the men, I think that's great. I love the course," Van Vleuten told Cyclingnews.
"It's hard, with two climbs, two steep climbs. Usually in women's cycling we don't have races with so much uphill, so I am really happy about that, and I think it will really help to showcase women's cycling. It really adds something to our calendar, having a race with so much climbing."
The move to the two-day format was met with mixed reactions this time last year. While some expressed excitement at the shake-up, others saw it as a missed opportunity to grow the event into what could be seen as a proper women's version of the biggest event in the sport.
"It was good to try something. You have to try things and see how they work. The old criterium on the Champs Élysées was not the best thing to show how women's cycling is developing and how professional we are," said Van Vleuten, who in July won atop Izoard before holding off the pursuers in the time trial.
"This year I felt La Course had a really big impact. With the TV broadcast people could watch it even in Australia. It was a really good race for women's cycling to show what we are capable of."
The unveiling of the 2018 edition was always likely to reignite the debate, whatever ASO decided to go with. Former pro Kathryn Bertine, an activist who played no small part in the creation of La Course, wrote on Twitter on Sunday: "Still only one day for women. Until there is a Queen of Le Tour to reign with the king, ASO and UCI are a court of jesters."
"I don't like to see it as going backwards," countered Van Vleuten. "They still organize something for the women. Now we go from having one climb to having two climbs. You can always look at the negatives but it's going to be a beautiful race."
Van Vleuten would, "in an ideal world", love to see La Course as a proper stage race that could cover all bases with mountains, a time trial, and a sprint. However, she does not feel angry or disappointed that it has not yet happened, nor might never happen.
"The negativity is not helpful," she says. "I can see it on social media. It's not helpful to developing women's cycling, so I don't like to go in that corner."
The more productive option, for Van Vleuten, would be to avoid a fixation with the Tour de France, for all the exposure and status it may offer.
"I think maybe the Tour de France doesn't want La Course as a stage race, because the Tour is already big enough. Maybe it's not realistic that the Tour de France organizes it," she said.
"But we already have amazing races. The Women's Tour is a really great race – it would be good to have live television broadcast for that, and make that our biggest race. The Giro, it would be a really good move to develop that race, and maybe change the schedule so it's not on at the same time as the Tour de France.
"You can say ‘we want a Tour de France for women', but we already have great events from organisers who already really appreciate women's cycling. Let's focus on developing those events instead of just focusing on the Tour de France."