Preview: Your guide to the 2021 La Course by the Tour de France6 min read
Over a month after the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas the Women’s WorldTour peloton will meet in Brest to race the eighth (and potentially last) edition of La Course by the Tour de France.
With the organizers of La Course and the Tour de France turning their attention to the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in 2022 the continuation of the one-day event is unlikely. Despite previous claims La Course would continue during the men’s Tour de France, and a few weeks before the women’s stage race, it is not on the Women’s WorldTour calendar in 2022. Hey, that’s fine. We’d rather have the eight-day race anyway.
La Course has always had a bit of a conflicted reputation. Thanks to the women racing, every year has delivered a spectacle worth tuning in for, even if you’re watching from North America at 2am. Still, the hope was always for a stage race, and La Course always felt a little bit like an afterthought. The 2021 event is no different.
Originally set to take place on Sunday, June 27, in the morning before the men start stage 2, the race was moved from the iconic Mûr-de-Bretagne due to French local elections. The men’s race that takes place on Sunday, on the same course as the women would have raced, was not changed.
Annemiek van Vleuten was one of the riders who spoke out about the route change, stating in a press release that she would skip the race due to the route and date change and so she could focus completely on the upcoming Olympic Games.
In order to keep the route as close to the original as possible, the ASO opted for a race from Brest to Landerneau where the women will then race a hilly town circuit. The winner will be crowned atop the Côte de la Fosse aux Loups.
The first 60 km from Brest to Landerneau is punchy, thanks to the hilly terrain in the Bretagne region of France. Once the race enters the 14 km circuits the road is either climbing or descending until the rise to the finish.
The Côte de la Fosse aux Loups itself is the longest climb on course at 3 km but only 5.7% average grade, with the steepest bits at the bottom. By the top it levels out to a steady grind.
At 107.7 km La Course will be on the short side, which means it’s going to be a start-to-finish watch. With little room for error, the riders who want to win will have to be active from the gun. There are limited opportunities for teams to chase moves, especially with the circuits at the end.
Watch for a strong selection to go on the penultimate lap of the race.
To make the race a little more interesting the weather has decided to throw its hat in the ring. Rain is projected for Saturday, and luckily for those who don’t cope well in high heat, the temperatures should be around 60 ºF (17 ºC).
Unlike other one-day events, La Course has changed its route every year since 2016. We’ve seen technical circuits, longer ascents, and what was basically a mass-start hill climb.
Because of the changing terrain, La Course has always favoured different types of riders. Marianne Vos, who won the inaugural edition of La Course when it took place on the Champs-Élysées in 2014, also won on a technical circuit in Pau in 2019. Annemiek van Vleuten won back-to-back editions in 2017 and 2018.
Last year the race came down to a selection of six sprinting for the win in Nice. Lizzie Deignan came away victorious.
In 2021 the course favours those who excel at the fast one-days like Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo)
Lizzie Deignan returns to racing after her overall win at the inaugural Tour de Suisse in early June. Even though she missed out on a stage win she looked to be on a lot better form than at the Spring Classics earlier in the year.
Deignan hasn’t been shy about her goal for 2021. The British rider is targetting the Olympic road race in Tokyo. With that in mind, La Course is her last chance to test out the racing legs and head in a one-day event ahead of the games in July.
Next to Deignan on the Trek-Segafredo start list is Lucinda Brand. The cyclocross world champion was recently third in the Dutch nationals ITT behind Anna van der Breggen and Ellen van Dijk. She was sixth on the first stage of the Tour de Suisse after winning the overall and two stages of the Internationale Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour in May.
Both Deignan and Brand could pull out a win in Landerneau, but with Deignan’s Olympic ambitions closing in and with so much training time at home behind her, it would be no surprise to see Deignan take her second La Course victory on Saturday.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)
Kasia Niewiadoma hasn’t raced her bike since the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas. In Spain, she notched a second-place finish on stage 3, a stage with a very similar final climb to that of La Course. Niewiadoma’s best result in the spring was second at La Flèche Wallonne behind Van der Breggen. She also recently finished fourth at Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria.
The course is great for Niewiadoma, especially if the descent on the circuits is a bit technical. The Polish rider will also have Elise Chabbey with her. Chabbey outsprinted Deignan to win the first stage of the Tour de Suisse, her first major professional victory. All season Chabbey has proved a game-changing addition to Canyon-SRAM.
Unfortunately, Chabbey lost her national champion’s jersey to Marlen Reusser over the weekend so she will no longer be rocking the incredible Rapha Swiss champion’s kit at La Course.
Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma)
Prior to the Dutch National Championship on June 19 Vos hadn’t raced since Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April. Vos will return to the Women’s WorldTour on Saturday for a shot at her third La Course victory. Depending on her form, and if she can get over the steepest parts of the final climb, Vos is a great shout to win on Saturday. With the Olympics coming up in a month and a good block of training in her legs it will be interesting to see how Vos reacts to the high-pressure racing.
Of course, she’s still Vos the Boss … she won Amstel Gold Race and Gent-Wevelgem in 2021. Anything is possible.
Anna van der Breggen and Demi Vollering (SD Worx)
SD Worx, per usual, will line up with the strongest team in the race. Between world champion Anna van der Breggen, Strade Bianche winner Chantal van der Broek-Blaak, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Demi Vollering SD Worx has multiple options to win on Saturday.
Van der Breggen hasn’t won La Course since its rainiest edition in 2015 on the Champs-Élysées. Van der Breggen retained her Dutch ITT title over the weekend, won the final stage and general classification at the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas, and won two of the Spanish one-days in May; Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria and Gran Premio Ciudad de Eibar. She continues to be a favourite no matter what the factors are.
Vollering, one of the breakout stars of 2020 and 2021, finished third on the final stage of Vuelta a Burgos so she is apparently not a punchy sprinter as we were led to believe when she won LBL. The rising star can climb, and she has a kick. So for a finish like that on Saturday, she will be a huge asset to SD Worx.
La Course by the Tour de France can be watched live in Europe on GCN+. Viewers in the USA will be able to watch on NBC Sports, and for Australian viewers, the race will be on SBS with a delayed feed. For Canadians check FloBikes for live coverage.