The 10-day Giro Rosa just wrapped up in Italy this weekend and many of the same women will travel southwest to the French city of Pau to compete in the one-day La Course by Le Tour de France on Friday. Maglia rosa winner Annemiek van Vleuten, who won back-to-back races last year, will line up in an effort to win a third consecutive title at La Course, but she faces a less-challenging parcours, and one perhaps more suited to the puncheurs of the peloton – someone like Marianne Vos.
In fact, Van Vleuten was not expected to participate in this year's race and was instead scheduled to take a few days rest before travelling to Tokyo to spend six days previewing the elite women's road race course for the 2020 Olympic Games. Those plans are still in place, but she will make a pit-stop in Pau to compete in La Course after being a late addition to the Mitchelton-Scott team.
"I felt super good during the Giro, and I'm super happy to be able to race La Course again, to be able to use my legs again," Van Vleuten said.
Van Vleuten is a rider to watch for a one-day parcours like the one offered at this edition of La Course. After all, she proved this spring to be a front-runner in the Classics where she won Strade Bianche and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and placed second at Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne.
Along that same vein of talent, fans can also look for strong performances from riders like world champion Anna van der Breggen, who won a fifth Flèche Wallonne and recently secured a summit-finish stage win at the Giro Rosa. She won La Course in 2015 after holding off a charging bunch sprint on the Champs-Elysees.
Likewise, Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), winner of Amstel Gold, will also be a contender having just spent the opening four days in the maglia rosa at the Giro Rosa. Other riders who were successful in Italy, and who will be on the start line in Pau are Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), Lucinda Brand (Sunweb) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwing (Bigla).
Puncheurs and sprinters look for victory in Pau
The course is not as mountainous as the previous two editions of La Course, however, and many believe it will better-suit puncheurs and sprinters. To that end, we cannot discount Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv), winner of the inaugural edition on the Champs-Elysées, who showed impeccable form after winning four stage at the Giro Rosa. She will certainly be the favourite to win in Pau.
Chloe Hosking (Ale Cippolini) will want to win the race again, also, after her victory in the 2016 edition on the Champs-Elysées. Canyon-SRAM teammates Hannah and Alice Barnes and Alexis Ryan will be a tough-to-beat trio on such a punchy course.
Van der Breggen will have several teammates to look out for in Chantal Blaak, Karol-Ann Canuel and Annika Langvad, who returns to road racing after a summer stretch of mountain biking.
Sunweb offer a range of potential in Leah Kirchmann, Floortje Mackaij and OVO Energy Women's Tour stand-out Liane Lippert.
After winning the OVO Energy Women's Tour, Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) took a break but is listed to return to racing at La Course. The race will likely fit into her plans to reach peak form for the Yorkshire World Championships in September.
WNT-Rotor will also have a card to play in Janneke Ensing, while Valcar Cylance have a strong contender in Elisa Balsamo.
Noticeably absent from the race is Tour of Flanders winner Marta Bastianelli from Virtu Cycling, however, she sustained an over-use knee injury that forced her to skip the Giro Rosa. The team will field rising talent Sofia Bertizzolo.
Other American teams on the start line include Tibco-SVB that field Brodie Chapman and Rally UHC that bring Kristabel Doebel-Hickok and Sara Bergen. The France-based team FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope will line up with contenders in Charlotte Becker and Shara Gillow.
The ever-changing formats of La Course
La Course by Le Tour de France was established by ASO in 2014 as a circuit race on the Champs Elysées on the final day of the Tour de France. Those sprinter-style circuit races were won by Vos, Van der Breggen and Hosking in the first three editions.
Organisers shifted to a two-day experiment in 2017, which saw a summit finish on the Col d'Izoard, held on the same day as stage 18 of the men's race, followed by a handicapped time trial in Marseille. Van Vleuten won both stages and the overall title.
To the disappointment of many, the race shifted back to just one day last year, but what it lacked in length it more than made up for in exciting, tactical racing. The mountainous road race linked Annecy and to Le Grand-Bornand. It came down to a thrilling final won by Van Vleuten in a showdown against runner-up Anna van der Breggen, who she narrowly pipped at the finish line for the prestigious victory.
This year, the race is once again just one day, held on same 27km circuit that the men will use for their stage 13 of the Tour de France. The women will race on a hilly circuit along the same route that the Tour de France men use for their stage 13 time trial.
The women will race is 121km that covers five laps of the circuit which includes a climb over the Côte d'Esquillot and Cite de Gelos, making it challenging but one that could suit the one-day Classics specialists and possibly even the sprinters - one person comes to mind when considering a course like this one, and that is Marianne Vos.
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