Marianne Vos’s second La Course title in Pau on Friday came five years after she won the inaugural edition in Paris, and most questions afterwards were about whether the event has moved on in that time.
The greatest women’s cyclist of her generation powered up the 17 per cent gradients of the final climb to overhaul escapee Amanda Spratt and add yet another title to her incredible palmares.
The race, a one-day event every year except 2017, remains a controversial format, with Tour de France organisers ASO accused of making only a token effort as it plays second fiddle to the Tour stage on the same day.
As demands for a proper women’s edition of the Tour continue, Lizzie Deignan said the event had “stagnated” prior to Friday’s edition, in which the women’s peloton raced 121 kilometres over five laps of the men’s time trial route.
Vos was the most high-profile of the riders who had lobbied ASO to launch the event back in 2013, and the three-time former world champion was quick to credit the group with hosting the first edition only a year later.
Though she acknowledged little had changed since then, the CCC-Liv rider said women’s cycling continues to grow up around the event as it becomes more professional.
The early editions of La Course finished in sprints on the Champs-Elysees but there was a summit finish on the Col d’Izoard in 2017 and this year a punchy race in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
“La Course hasn’t really changed a lot but it’s gone from a sprinter’s race to a climber’s course to a puncher’s course and that’s interesting because a lot of different riders can win La Course,” Vos added.
“This for us is one moment in the year other than the world championships where the whole world is watching and that of course is a big plus for women’s cycling.”
Deignan seemed to agree, saying the sport needs to make the best of it.
“It’s stagnated, probably,” she said. “We’re obviously not moving forward, it’s still one day, but it’s not going backwards.
“It’s got its place in the calendar and we take advantage of the platform it gives us, the media that are here, and take the positives from it. That’s all we can do really.”
Deignan was left to pick out the positives from a frustrating race too as mechanical problems left her unable to contest victory.
“I was pretty unfortunate today,” the Trek-Segafredo rider said. “I had two bike changes, both at the bottom of the climb where everything kicked off, and the second was when all the attacks came so it was pretty much race over for me.”
Deignan, uncertain of her form having not raced since the Women’s Tour in early June, arrived off the back of a training camp in Italy which was part of her preparations for September’s world championships and said she was pleased with her sensations.
“Pretty good, yeah,” she said. “It’s easy for me to say that now but they were better than I expected and I’m pretty happy with myself.”
It was Deignan’s tip Vos who had the best legs of all, though.
Spratt attacked with 26 kilometres remaining and led by 28 seconds with eight kilometres to go as the peloton bickered over who might chase her.
They finally put the power down as they approached Pau and it was Vos who emerged the strongest when the short but sharp climb decided the event.
“I was well positioned just behind the train of (Team) Sunweb as we came to that final corner on to the steep hill,” the Vos said.
“Then on instinct I went through the gears and went full gas to the finish. When I came around the last corner I saw I had quite a nice margin and of course that’s a really good feeling.”