“La Course” sounds as made up as Pulp Fiction's “Le Big Mac,” but it's real, it's happening soon, and it's a serious game-changer for women in sports.
As we've been reporting since the story first broke in early February, women will be allowed to compete in the legendary Tour de France as part of an inaugural one-day competition on Sunday, July 27, the last day of this year's tour. Just hours before the men roll in for the last 13 laps of their three-week, 2,200-plus-mile journey, the ladies will cross the famous finish line on Paris' Champs-Élysées, completing a fast and furious 56-mile race. This won't be the first time in history that women have been invited to the tour (they competed for a few years in the 1980s as well), but it may be the first time the world (media, sponsors, and spectators alike) is ready to receive and embrace them.
“The one-day race in Paris this year is a great first step toward building a more prominent presence for women at the world's biggest race. La Course brings women's cycling to a wider audience, who will get to see that women race bikes too,” says Jen See, a prolific pro cycling reporter who contributes regularly to cycling publications such as Bicycling and Velonews. Her advice to the 120 female riders on the 20 teams entered in La Course: Stay in the front of the peloton (the main group of riders in the race).
“In a flat, technical, urban circuit with lots of corners, its more important than ever to stay in front to avoid getting dropped. There's a 180-degree corner at one end of the Champs Elysées, which is never easy to navigate for a group of riders. The road surface is uneven, and square stone pavers cover the historic roads of central Paris. If it rains, it will be extremely slippery,” warns See, who shared her five favorite women to watch.
1. With a reputation for dominating just about any terrain (she has 12 world championship titles), Dutch two-time Olympic champion Marianne Vos is, hands down, the favorite. It doesn't hurt that the 27-year-old Rabobank-Liv rider, whose nickname is “Fox,” was behind the campaign that helped make La Course a reality.
2. This flat course was almost made for a serious sprinter like Italy's Giorgia Bronzini. The 30-year-old two-time world champion who rides for Wiggle Honda plans to give Vos a run for the money—the big prize purse is set at $31,208. Watch out for her innovative ways of crossing the finish line. At the early July Giro Rosa race, where she won two stages, she formed a heart with her hands as she pedaled to victory.
3. Carmen Small is a big threat to her peloton peers. Proof: The 2013 national time-trial champion won a similar flat circuit at the Amgen Tour of California this May. The 34-year-old is a star on the American team, Specialized-lululemon, and will likely use her tactical smarts and turn of speed to try to secure her spot on the podium.
4. This may be a redemption ride for American Shelley Olds. The Alé Cipollini rider, 33, was only 30 kilometers from winning at the 2012 Olympics in London when she got a flat tire, which forced her to drop back to seventh place. With a couple of stage wins already under her Lycra this season, she's ready to finally finish first where it counts most.
5. Lizzie Armitstead was one of the gals who edged out Olds at the London Olympics, taking home her first silver Olympic medal. The 25-year-old Brit, who rides on the Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team, has already proved she can hang with Vos, who nabbed gold at the 2012 Summer Games. But does she have what it takes to beat her?