Lizzie Deignan climbed to second place atop Izoard, 48-seconds behind La Course stage one winner Annemiek van Vleuten (ORICA-SCOTT). The British road champion had domestique duties in her legs when Van Vleuten attacked an elite selection of three riders in the final four kilometers. Deignan earned the iconic red numbers awarded to most aggressive for her work done on the 67-kilometre stage.
“I didn’t expect this,” said Deignan. “I was hoping for a top 20 maybe. It’s a big surprise for me.
“I maybe should have been a little more confident going into this race and have said I was good enough be a leader here as well, because I think did too much early work. We came into the race with Megan [Guarnier] as leader and perhaps it was a mistake to just have one – but that’s my mistake not to be more confident.”
Boels-Dolmans took charge of the new look La Course early with Dutch road champion Chantal Blaak covering the first handful of escapes. When Linda Villumsen (VéloConcept) slipped away solo and quickly pocketed a 30-second advantage. Deignan, acting as road caption, called all six riders to the front of the peloton to set pace behind the 2015 time trial world champion.
A punishing pace combined with the rising roads produced a quick attrition rate. Blaak pulled and then pulled off. Nikki Brammeier and Christine Majerus followed suit. Deigan was the last to take her turn on the front, setting such a fierce tempo that only 20 riders remained in contention under the 10-kilometre arch.
Deignan’s work whittled the group down to 15 by the time she reached Villumsen with nine kilometres still to race.
Guarnier struggled to stay in contact as Deignan continued to play pace-maker. Deignan, realising Guarnier was under pressure, eased off the gas to allow Guarnier to reconnect. Six kilometres from the top of the Izoard, Deignan continued to lead the charge up the climb with nine riders clinging to her wheel.
Van Vleuten attacked just beyond the five kilometre mark. Deignan immediately marked the move. Shara Gillow (FDJ) followed Deignan.
And then there were three.
A second attack from Van Vleuten proved the race winning move. Deignan was unable to respond quite as quickly and settled into her own rhythm with Gillow in her wheel.
“When Van Vleuten attacked, I was already pretty on my limit, having done quite a bit of work,” noted Deignan. “I knew at that point I had to pace myself rather than try to follow.”
Two kilometres from the finish, Deignan used a dip in the road to distance Gillow. She managed to reduce the gap to Van Vleuten ever-so-slightly, but it opened again in the final steep kilometre to the summit.
Guarnier fought her way up the Izoard to claim fourth place between Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) in third and Gillow in fifth.
Deignan will be the second to set off from Marseille on the second stage of La Course on Saturday. The pursuit-style time trial will include the top 19 finishers from Thursday’s race. Boels-Dolmans has three starters in Deignan, Guarnier and Karol-Ann Canuel.
“I think this race definitely offered something different, something exciting, something new,” said Deignan. “For me, it was about taking today seriously, and I think Marsille for our team is perhaps a little bit of fun. We’re not really sure what to think about it yet. We have an open mind to it, but for us, it was about being a professional team, racing professionally, today.”