October means the release of next year’s Tour de France route by the ASO, pumpkins, and endless nerdy arguments in the Cycling Weekly comments area over which hills will suit which teams the best.
Hidden among lists of hills however, is some news a little less welcome. While for the last three years we have enjoyed a women’s criterium up the Champs Élysées ahead of the men’s peloton on the final day of the tour, 2017 will see ‘La Course’ competed over a 67k mountain stage, finishing half way up the Col d’Izaard.
We were in Paris for the race in 2015 and you can see our review on the event here, as well as our interview with Stephan Wyman, manager and owner of women’s team, Matrix Pro Fitness. Despite accusations of tokenism from some at the time, Wyman was positive toward La Course. It was a long way from the woman’s Tour de France many fans wanted, but it was nonetheless an incredibly high profile event ready for expansion.
“[La Course] gives us a showcase for [women’s cycling]. It would have been very easy for the Tour de France to say they’ll put on a women’s race on the rest day of the Tour de France, not had it on TV, and had it in the finish town of the previous stage or something like that, but they didn’t. They’ve given us the biggest stage possible […] A women’s race, in the morning, on the Champs Elysees”
Despite the ASO’s best attempts to give the new format a positive spin, the overwhelming reception has been that of a downgrade. A world class women’s criterium in the centre of Paris, shifted into the mountains for a road race over a measly 67km .
I always read the WWT regs to mean that a one day race had to be between 120km & 140km (i.e. not 67km). Oh Well. pic.twitter.com/flyXiacs7o
— Stefan Wyman (@ds_stef) 18 October 2016
— Kathryn Bertine (@KathrynBertine) 18 October 2016
We reached out to Stephan Wyman to get his impressions on the new La Course format
“I think that when La Course started 3 years ago, my opinion was split 50/50 on the event. It was clear that having a one-day event on the Champs Elysee would be a huge plus for the sport. Nearly 200 countries would have access to the event on TV and the sponsorship potential for teams was huge. It was certainly a factor in us applying for UCI status as a team in 2015, with the potential of racing in Paris being a massive target for us.
We were extremely lucky to be a part of the race in 2015, and the amazing rain storm that hit the sports biggest stage. Even then in year 2 of the event, voices were being raised about it being tokenism, especially as it hadn’t grown. Having had that opportunity to be there, I was sure it wasn’t a gimmick, it was an opportunity and something we as team owners needed to respect. My hope was that the event would grow into a multi day event, finishing in Paris.
The move for 2017 to me is disappointing. 67km, and finishing part way up a climb, isn’t what I’d dreamed of. It removed the annual and iconic finish in Paris, and moved the event outside of the capital, and to what will essentially become a floating venue depending on the men’s course. I can understand the difficulties for the police in Paris, but I just can’t see it being much different elsewhere.
I’m thrilled for climbers who will have their moment, and I’m sure it will have the same television opportunities for team, but I can’t see the race having the same pull to the biggest teams. A trip to the Alps, logistics might not be as simple as Pais without as many flight and hotel options. 67km is a short event for someone who’ll potentially be looking to either build for Worlds or recover from the Giro. I was also part of the Tour de France, known as the Grand Boucle at the time, in 2008. We had Nicole Cooke in our team and she finished 2nd, on extremely tough terrain, in a multi-day event that started in Belgium, hit the cobbles of the Arenberg, and finished on top of Sestriere. Women’s teams are ready for big events, they were in 2008, and the are in 2016. We need to see that progress very soon, as there is very much a static situation in the sport right now.”
Whether you think it is a backwards step, or an opportunity for an expanded women’s series going forward, get in touch with us on Twitter and let us know.