After completing the 10-day Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile on Sunday, there will no doubt be some tired legs on the start line of the 15th round of the Women's WorldTour - La Course by Le Tour de France on Tuesday in Annecy.
Annemiek Van Vlueten (Mitchelton-Scott), who secured the maglia rosa in dominating fashion and is the defending champion of La Course, will take the start line as one of two overwhelming favourites. All eyes will be on her and compatriot Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans), who will no doubt provide stiff competition on the mountainous one-day route.
The ASO-run event was held as a one-day circuit race on the Champs Elysées in its first three editions, won by Marianne Vos, van der Breggen and Chloe Hosking, respectively. Last year, organisers expanded the event to two days that saw a summit finish on the Col d'Izoard followed by a pursuit-style time trial in Marseille, where Van Vleuten dominated both races to win the overall title.
Now in its fifth edition, some have felt that La Course has taken a step backwards by returning to a one-day race. On Tuesday, the women's peloton will line up to compete in a 112.5km road race in conjunction with stage 10 of the Tour de France. Not everyone views it as a step back, however, as Van Vleuten said it would be a hard race through the Alps.
The men will race 159km from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand. The women will also start in Annecy and use a total of 78 kilometres of the men's stage, with 28 kilometres between Annecy and Thônes then the final 50 kilometres between Bonneville and Le Grand-Bornand, and a total of 2,500m of climbing.
The women will climb four ascents; Coll de Bluffy (1.5km at 5.5 per cent), Côte de Saint-Jean-de-Sixt (5.5km at 4.9 per cent), and then the Col de Romme (8.8km at 8.9 per cent) and Col de la Colombière (7.5km at 8.5 per cent) - before a 12km descent into Le Grand-Bornand.
The course will certainly suit the strongest climbers. Van Vleuten has shown her extraordinary climbing ability at the Giro Rosa, where she won the stage 7 mountain time trial to Diga di Campo Moro by nearly two-and-a-half minutes over her nearest competitor. She went on to win stage 9 on the summit of Monte Zoncolan and then the finale stage 10 circuit race in Cividale del Friuli to seal her overall victory by more than four minutes ahead of runner-up Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervelo Bigla) and six-and-a-half minutes to her Mitchelton-Scott teammate Amanda Spratt.
Van Vleuten's recent triumph in Italy, however, makes her a clear favourite. Runner-up Moolman-Pasio and third-placed Spratt, who also won stage 6 atop Gerola Alta and briefly wore the pink leader's jersey, will also be riders to watch for the victory in France.
But no one can discount van der Breggen, who chose not to defend her overall title at the Giro Rosa in favour of a new experience at the mountain bike World Cup in Val di Sole.
Outside of the Giro Rosa, Van der Breggen has dominated every other aspect of the 2018 Women's WorldTour. She won Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders, and then Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Durango Emakumeen Sira. Her schedule has been tailored to one-day races with the mountainous World Championships in Austria set as her major goal. Thus, a one-day race as challenging as the one ASO has put together for La Course is well-suited to van der Breggen's ability and her targeted parcours for 2018.
Despite her absence from the Giro Rosa, van der Breggen continues to lead the Women's WorldTour individual standing with 977 points. Amanda Spratt has jumped up to second place with 958 points and Van Vleuten has move up three spots into third place with 877 points.
Other riders to watch at La Course are Kasia Niewiadoma and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Canyon-SRAM), Marianne Vos (Waowdeals), who proved on good form after winning a stage at the Giro Rosa, Lucinda Brand (Sunweb), who finished fourth overall at the Giro Rosa and Van der Breggen's teammate Megan Guarnier, who was fifth in Italy. Amgen Women's Race winner Katie Hall will also be on the start line with her UnitedHealthcare squad.
Notably absent from the start list is Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5), who was third last year and won the best Italian rider category at the Giro Rosa.
Outside of the big name-contenders, there are a handful of strong riders who could steal the win such as Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervelo Bigla), Eider Merino (Movistar) and Tayler Wiles (Trek-Drops). After finishing 21st overall and winning the U23 classification in Italy, Sofia Bertizzolo (Astana) is one to watch. She is currently leading the youth category for the Women's WorldTour. And one can also never discount decorated Frenchwoman Edwige Pitel, who will be racing for Cogaes.
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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.
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