We deserve better says Deignan after ‘weird’ race
‘After thought’ women’s event is limited success Briton finishes second behind Van Vleuten
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