We de­serve bet­ter says Deignan af­ter ‘weird’ race

‘Af­ter thought’ women’s event is lim­ited suc­cess Bri­ton fin­ishes sec­ond be­hind Van Vleuten

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport - By Tom Cary in Mar­seille

It was dogged by al­le­ga­tions of to­kenism, branded an “af­ter thought” by riders in the build-up and la­belled a dis­grace yes­ter­day for the lack of live cov­er­age on the big screens in­side the Stade Vélo­drome where the race started and ended.

But the new-look, two-day La Course by Le Tour ended up re­ceiv­ing guarded praise from riders af­ter it con­cluded, with the pro­viso that or­gan­is­ers ASO now build on it and give the women’s pelo­ton “a proper stage race” in the near fu­ture.

Af­ter three one-day crit races on the Champs-Élysées, to co­in­cide with the fi­nale of the men’s Tour de France, ASO de­cided to move La Course down to the Alps this year, with the women tak­ing on the Col d’Izoard on Thurs­day, the same day the men’s pelo­ton rode it as part of stage 18.

Not only did they lose the prime time TV ex­po­sure that a Sun­day fin­ish in Paris would have given them, how­ever, they also only rode 67 kilo­me­tres of Thurs­day’s route com­pared with

180km for the men.

To make mat­ters even more odd, ASO an­nounced they would take the top 19 fin­ish­ers from Thurs­day to Mar­seille yes­ter­day for a “chase”-style race, with the riders go­ing off in the or­der in which they fin­ished on the Izoard, and with the same time gaps.

That meant that Dutch rider An­ne­miek van Vleuten [Orica-Scott] be­gan in the Stade Vélo­drome in Mar­seille yes­ter­day with a 43-sec­ond ad­van­tage over Bri­tain’s Lizzie Deignan [Boel­sDol­mans] who, in­stead of set­ting off in pur­suit of her ri­val, chose to wait for her Boels-Dol­mans team-mate Me­gan Guarnier and the Ital­ian cham­pion, Wig­gle-High5’s Elisa Longo Borgh­ini, in or­der to work to­gether to close the gap to Van Vleuten.

The tac­tic did not work, how­ever, with Van Vleuten ex­tend­ing her ad­van­tage and win­ning by 1min 52sec.

“Half the fun was think­ing about what the oth­ers will do,” Van Vleuten said af­ter­wards. “There were a lot of tac­ti­cal sce­nar­ios. I talked too with my DS [sport­ing di­rec­tor]. For me it was log­i­cal that if they want to win they will have to come to­gether and chase.”

Deignan won a sprint for sec­ond but ad­mit­ted af­ter­wards that she had not re­ally done a full “re­con” of the route, de­scrib­ing the whole ex­pe­ri­ence as a bit “weird”. She said: “The for­mat needs some work – it was good but there is def­i­nitely work to be done. I’m open-minded to the con­cept but it needs tidy­ing up.

“I wish I had done a re­con to­day – I was not ex­pect­ing that climb. I thought of Thurs­day as a race but to­day was a bit of fun.

“We got a lot of ex­po­sure for our spon­sors, a lot of peo­ple talk­ing, which is a good thing. But, from an ath­lete’s point of view, it was a weird race and dif­fi­cult to re­ally take it se­ri­ously when we didn’t know what to ex­pect.”

Deignan added that there needed to be changes in mod­ern women’s cy­cling, with the whole thing need­ing to be far more pro­fes­sional. The lack of live cov­er­age in­side the Stade Vélo­drome, de­spite Olympique de Mar­seille’s ground be­ing packed ahead of the men’s race, was just one ex­am­ple of a lack of fore­thought. “You’ve got to give the con­sumer some­thing new,” Deignan ac­knowl­edged of the for­mat. “We got ex­po­sure to­day but it’s not where it needs to be – be­hind the scenes, in terms of lo­gis­tics, we were left won­der­ing what was go­ing to hap­pen at times but I en­joyed the crowds, it’s not some­thing we get that of­ten.”

Joanna Rowsell-Shand, the two-time Olympic team pur­suit cham­pion, agreed with Deignan. “We’ve seen that it wasn’t per­haps the race that peo­ple thought it might have been,” she said, speak­ing in her ca­pac­ity as a Eurosport com­men­ta­tor. “It’s good that we’ve got prime time TV on the last Satur­day of the Tour de France but we do need a proper stage race.

“We need moun­tain climbs, flat stages, time tri­als and a Champs-Élysées fin­ish. That would have a bit of ev­ery­thing and I think that would get peo­ple ex­cited about watch­ing.

“There’s been a lot of talk about to­kenism and it’s been re­ally in­ter­est­ing for me to be out here this week. I think that women’s sport needs TV cov­er­age, that’s def­i­nitely re­ally im­por­tant to grow the sport and at­tract more sportswomen.

“That’s what we’re get­ting here but it does have that air of riders think­ing, ‘we de­serve more, we could put on a re­ally good spec­ta­cle with a proper bike race’. This is great but we def­i­nitely want more in the fu­ture.”

The win­ner: An­ne­miek van Vleuten crosses the line (left), and with Elisa Longo Borgh­ini, left, and Lizzie Deignan

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