Below is what this blog is for. Riders often give me so much information at races I have too much for whatever I am writing for other people.
Here I speak to Lizzie Deignan and Tiffany Cromwell about La Course 2017. It’s a long one, but I could have written much more.
There has been much water under the bridge since La Course. There’s even been another WorldTour race. But La Course has huge international reach and it is worth talking about its successes and failures.
Neither Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) and Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM) saw it as a total failure, though it is clear the organisation leaves a lot to be desired.
When organisers Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) announced the race’s fourth edition would move from its previous home on the Champs Elysées to the Alps there was much comment about the 67.5km distance. Those criticisms may well have been valid, but if the start and finish were to be the same as the Queen stage of the Tour de France the route was geographically restricted to either 67.5 or 179.5km.
(A point on distances, I have heard or read no criticism of the Prudential Ride London Classique which is 66km on a flat city course. From a sporting angle which is the token gesture?)
In the wake of that criticism from fans, media and who knows, perhaps even the UCI, ASO added a second stage to the race. The innovative, experimental format seemed cobbled together, during the press conference launching the race even organisers seemed uncertain it wold work.
In the end what emerged was a curious amalgam of a one day WorldTour event and a non-UCI classified invitational competition all under the banner of a single stage race.
It is fair to say it could have gone better.
“It was a nice event,” Tiff Cromwell said of the race up Col d’Izoard. “Sure it was a short race, but it was raced hard and the atmosphere was really cool. We put on a good display, people saw that, but I think the event still has some work to do. There are some things missing, but it turned out to be a lot better than I was expecting.”
In my Cycling Weekly piece Lizzie Deignan said, “Racing in Paris felt like the biggest stage in the world, I felt like I was at the Tour de France and the Col d’Izoard felt the same,” adding, “Yes absolutely,” when asked if it worked as a stand alone race.
She was less complimentary about the organisation
“It is unfortunate, you don’t want to be negative about it, because when you [the public] are sat there watching you don’t see the behind the scenes bits.” All participating teams were forced to stay hours away from Briançon, and after the race there was nowhere for riders to take a shower. While other teams stayed in the Alps, Boels-Dolmans travelled to Marseille, having to negotiate road closures in place for the men’s Tour stage, making the drive six hours. Without a shower.
“Perhaps ASO aren’t quite aware of the difference in budgets for women’s teams. Our logistics budget is well thought out and planned in advance because it costs so much. How are our team management supposed to book flights and accommodation for people who may or not need it because we don’t know if they are going to be in the top 20?”
Listen to the Cycling Podcast Féminin and you’ll hear how Canyon-SRAM’s manager Ronny Lauke was booking flights during the mountain stage as it became clear which riders would not be racing in Marseille.
When that stage was announced many riders felt they were being experimented on, like guinea pigs.
“My instinct was to feel quite trivialised by it,” continued Deignan. “I realise it is important to be open minded to a modern approach, the men had the Hammer Series, entertainment type events, and perhaps cycling needs to take an approach like that, but in terms of logistics and organisation, it was nowhere near good enough for what we deserve.
“As a professional athlete there are certain things that you need. Because you want to be well hydrated so you go to the toilet a lot, so I was looking for a toilet and someone from the organisation gave me a ‘she-wee.’”
As for the competition the time gap accrued by Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) on the Col d’Izoard ensured the result on day two was all but a foregone conclusion.
“Annemiek is a time trial and climbing specialist, maybe I am under-estimating my time trial ability, but not to the extent I can close 43 seconds on someone like Annemiek.
“I am open to something like it, but it’s not quite right. Potentially it could work if I were, say, ten seconds behind Annemiek and the idea was that you catch each other and there were tactics involved. But then don’t finish it in a stadium where it is impossible to have a group of women in a sprint.”
“I think the concept was there,” said Cromwell. “But it definitely needs some tweaking. “I watched it and it wasn’t too bad, but I heard it wasn’t on the TV in the stadium, if you’re going to fully embrace it have it on in the stadium.”
That only the final kilometres of Van Vleuten’s success were shown in the very place the event was staged is perhaps an indication ASO were unconvinced by their own idea.
La Course is a huge event for women’s team sponsors, something all riders and managers I speak to acknowledge without reservation. There was more media at both the start and finish of the Col d’Izoard stage than previous La Course editions I have attended. The race therefore has its place.
Innovations which may further commercial success should be accepted and this one might have worked had one rider not been so dominant. However, shoddy, disrespectful administration and organisation which treats competitors like second class citizens undermines the racing.