Megan Guarnier and Karol-Ann Canuel headline a strong Boels-Dolmans squad for a new look La Course. The 2016 Giro Rosa winner and newly crowned Canadian time trial champion will be amongst the contenders up the Izoard on Thursday when La Course ventures into the Alps. The pair will be supported by Dutch road champion Chantal Blaak, British cyclocross champion Nikki Brammeier, British road champion Lizzie Deignan and Luxembourgish champion Christine Majerus.
The opening stage of La Course covers a 67-kilometre route between Biançon and the Col d’Izoard. The 10-kilometre HC-rated climb is the first major summit finish the women’s peloton will contest this season. The climb boasts an average gradient of 7.3% and finishes 2360 metres above sea level.
“On a climb like Izoard, there is no hiding,” said Majerus. “It’s only brutal reality.”
The second stage isn’t quite as straightforward. Two days following the climb up the Izoard, a select group of women will race a 22-kilometre time trial in Marseille. They will share an identical route as the one used for the penultimate stage Tour de France time trial.
The similarities end there. While the men’s time trial format is business as usual, the women’s race is a pursuit-format of sorts. Riders start times and gaps are based on their results from Thursday’s climb up Izoard with the first to summit the HC climb the first to start Saturday’s race.
ASO has indicated the field for Saturday’s race will include around 20 women and/or the women that have finished within five minutes of the Izoard winner.
“This isn’t a race in my eyes but more of a show,” Majerus said. “I don’t know that anyone knows what to expect. I would have loved if it could have been a TT for everyone.”
A LOOK BACK
Now in year four, this La Course is a La Course like no other. Until this year, La Course has been synonymous with a circuit race run on cycling’s most famous boulevard: the Champs Elysees. It catered to the sprinters – although Anna van der Breggen spoilt the party for the sprint trains in year two with a late race attack she held to the line.
“It’s a big change,” said Majerus. “It’s not positive nor negative. It’s only different. For me what would be really positive is if they had made it a three or four day stage race, which they didn’t do. Sprinters will tell you it’s a bad change. Climbers will be happy for something new.”
A LOOK FORWARD
Opportunities to race up a climb like the Izoard are far and few between in women's cycling, so there's an element of the unknown in play heading into Thursday's race. The Giro Rosa, where Guarnier finished fourth, may be the best indicator of form on the steepest slopes.
“We were never really lucky on the Champs Elysees, so our past results aren’t a good reference of our capabilities,” said Majerus. “We have two great climbers in Megan and Karo. Lizzie, Chantal and Nikki have come out of the Giro with climbing in their legs, so it depends on how they recovered there. As far as I can tell, they look good.
“I might not be one of the best climbers in the world, but I still look forward to doing the climb in Tour de France circumstances,” Majerus added. “I climbed it once in training, but it’s not the same. I hope I can help our climbers get into the final ten kilometres in good condition and then it’s up to them.”
HOW TO FOLLOW
La Course offers one of the highest media profiles of any race on the women’s calendar. There’s the #LaCourse hashtag and @UCI_WWT on Twitter but the biggest audience will come from the live broadcast. All TV channels that show the Tour will also show La Course – from start to finish. Tune in on television and online on Thursday from 10AM CET and Saturday from 1PM CET.
“The Tour de France is the biggest race in the world for the men and with La Course, they share a bit with us,” said Majerus. “It will be different viewing then the years before where it was a really active race with lots of attacks which was nice to see. This will be different because it’s a climb. There might be attacks but not a million, just like with the guys, because its just not possible to race like that on a climb like this.
“It’s still important to watch,” Majerus added. “It will show that we can do more then just riding in circles on the Champs. Maybe some day we can show on TV that we can do it all: climb the Izoard, TT in Marseille and sprint in Paris.”
Boels-Dolmans for La Course: