Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team returns to Paris on Sunday for the third edition of La Course by Le Tour on 24 July. The 89-kilometre, 13-lap circuit race is hosted on cycling most iconic boulevard -- the Champs Élysées. Round 12 of the UCI Women's World Tour series sends the women's peloton on a loop around the Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde at several hours before the men's squad arrives in Paris for the conclusion of the final stage of the Tour de France.
"It's a fancy race," said Christine Majerus. "It makes me proud to race on the boulevard where cycling history has been made over so many years. It gives extra motivation."
The Luxembourg champion calls Paris her second home. Come Sunday, she'll line up alongside Chantal Blaak, Demi de Jong, Romy Kasper, Kasia Pawlowska and Ellen van Dijk.
"Home races are always special," said Majerus. "I do not have to think about travel and everything else is relaxed and easy. I know the cobbles of this race probably better than anyone else in the bunch. I train on them for fun in traffic from time to time. When you can race where you train, it's something special. "
La Course borrows heavily from the infrastructure already in place for the Tour. The famous circuit, the deafening fans, the pomp and circumstance - the women's peloton enjoy it all.
"When you see all the hype around men's cycling - the fans, the media, the sponsors - you realise how different women's cycling is," said Majerus. "We only have a few races in the year where the atmosphere kind of goes into the same direction, but we are still miles away from what goes on during the Tour de France. To be able to race under the same conditions as the men on the the Champs Élysées obviously is a great feeling even if I would love to have more of those days than just the one.”
The one-day French race offers an unprecedented opportunity for the women's squad to attract new fans, sponsors and media attention as the race is broadcast live worldwide from start to finish. Every team is eager to make the most of one of a handful of opportunities on offer during the season to get the sport in front of a global audience and in real time - which makes for an aggressive race.
"Everyone wants to show the jersey or show that women's cycling is exciting to watch, so we know it's going to be a tough and interesting racing," said Majerus. "It's way more interesting than the men's race on Sunday. You already know they're going to finish in a bunch sprint so if you tune in for the last lap that's enough. Our race, however, is worth watching over the entire distance. "
Sunday's event came about in part from a call for equality from the masses. Four years ago, four women - Marianne Vos, Emma Pooley, Chrissie Wellington and Kathryn Bertine - formed La Tour Entier (The Entire Tour) and launched a petition against Tour de France organizers, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), calling for a women's Tour de France. The petition garnered 97,000+ signatures and marked the start of renewed conversations about a women’s race held in conjunction with the Tour.
ASO announced a new women's one day race in February 2014. Five months later, women raced on the Champs Élysées. Response to the announcement was mixed, especially because La Course is not the first race billed as the women's Tour de France.
From 1984-1988, women raced the Tour Feminin, a multi-day race held throughout France. At its maximum, the race included 15 stages. The Women’s Tour de France, as it was known, was not held from 1989-1992. It was revived in 1993 and re-branded as ‘Le Grand Boucle’ in 1998. The newly named event ran for six years before it disappeared for one year and returned as a smaller event, with significantly fewer stages and a lower UCI ranking. In 2009, it was removed from the calendar entirely.
“To me, this is all part of the process,” said Majerus. “As long as the process keeps moving, I think it’s fine. Starting with a one-day race was the most logical step, but I hope that the UCI and ASO take the next steps, too – meaning that they make it a stage race. Does it really need to be a three-week tour? I don’t think that’s actually the real question. I think a stage race, regardless of number days, is definitely the next step forward.”
How to follow La Course by Le Tour:
You can watch the women's race live worldwide. Follow us @LaCoursebyTDF or ( @boelsdolmansct ) for broadcast details. The official hashtag is #LaCourse. Some May be usefull using #UCIWWT alongwith #LaCourse.
Boels-Dolmans for La Course by Le Tour:
Demi de Jong
Ellen van Dijk