La Course 2015: Fortitude and Phenomenal Racing from the Female Peloton

Launched in 2014, La Course is a race that sees some of the top women's racing teams take to the Champs-Élysées. Coming to its conclusion just a few hours before the end of the Tour de France, La Course is a platform for women’s racing that can provide thousands of spectators, mainstream media coverage and sponsorship that women’s racing often lacks, helping to bridge the gap between the support and injection of money that men’s racing attracts.

We were lucky enough this year to be invited by Specialized, who partner the event, to witness the race first hand in Paris.

Rain was expected, making for a tense start

This year’s La Course was an incredible reminder of just how fierce and impressive women’s racing can be. The breakaway sprint led by the Dutch rider, and ultimate winner, Anna van der Breggen epitomises this courage.

The unrelenting rain meant wet and slippery cobbles made for some treacherous racing. By the end of the race many of the remaining riders looked like they’d been through trench warfare, smeared and scraped from 13 laps of grimy spray and peloton clashes. Scenes of carnage set in from the 10km mark right up until the final couple of kilometres, during which there were significant crashes that saw 20 or so riders taken down in one go, making tactical racing hard to accomplish.

Though a lot of umbrellas featured at the roadside

Despite the tough conditions these women meant business and their sheer determination was obvious. Not letting the rain nor hard knocks get them down, countless times we saw rider after rider crash, jump straight back up, remount and dash back into the race with some true grit spirit. Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare) did this not just once, but twice.

It is because of this dedication and drive of the riders themselves that La Course exists at all. Increasingly disheartened by inequality in professional cycling the UK’s Emma Pooley along with Chrissie Wellington, Marianna Vos and Kathryn Bertine created La Tour Entier and set out to petition against the Tour de France organisers (ASO) to form a women’s Tour de France.

With over 97,000 signatures on board and support from the then deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harmon, who added her backing in a letter to the Director of the Tour de France, women’s cycling became a conversation that was hard to ignore and so began discussions about a women’s race alongside the Tour de France. It was from these discussions that La Course was born.

While this isn’t the three-week race that the empowered riders set out to achieve, the founders of La Tour Entier backed the launch of this event, recognising that this could be a significant stepping stone in their rocky quest for equality in cycling.

Even with this year’s harsh conditions, La Course isn’t the toughest race that appears in the women’s calendar, but that’s not to say that it isn’t one of the most important.

As the women in La Course concluded their dicey 89km, two hours later the men stormed in to commence the final sprint of the 2015 Tour de France. With live coverage across the world and thousands of fanatical spectators, you couldn’t really ask for a better platform to promote women’s cycling. As Rochelle Gilmore put it “It’s an opportunity to showcase how we cycle to the world”.

Here Thea Thorsen solos - sadly their sprinter, Wild, was caught up in a crash

During this year’s La Course, I was lucky enough to be invited by Specialized to take a couple of laps in an official car following the peloton. Not only did this give me a startling sense of how fast these ladies were riding, but it was a chance to take in (albeit at a hurtling pace) just how enthused the crowd was for this race. Despite the trying wet weather, spectator spirits remained high and it was incredible to see the public truly getting behind the women taking on La Course.

We were happy to be warm and dry in the conditions

So what’s next for La Course? Well you only have to glance at these quotes from pro riders on what riding in La Course means to them to understand the importance of this race, even in its infancy.

The Importance of Le Course

“The launch of this race is a revolutionary development in our sport” Marian Vos.

 “It could be great for the future of women’s cycling” Marion Rousse

 Jennifer Capasso of Specialized is hopeful for the race’s future and what it means to women’s cycling. “To have the female athletes racing on the largest stage for cycling, for both men and women makes me hopeful that cycling fans are hungry for more.  The ASO who run the Tour de France are adding La Course to the last stage of La Vuelta this year so they are also on board to push women’s cycling forward to the next level”.

So after years of unequal recognition, is La Course the pinnacle event to change the future of women’s racing? Jennifer, who was involved in last year’s race, thinks it’s looking promising. “If I compare the progress, from year-to-year, I am hopeful that Women’s cycling is continuing to evolve and become more and more popular around the world. Our retailers globally this year were much more excited and involved in La Course. They hosted viewing parties, rides and events to celebrate this amazing race”.

Women’s racing has never been more popular than it is now and having spent a weekend at La Course in the company of a group of inspirational women, who are each pushing the movement of women’s cycling in their respective countries, we’re very optimistic indeed.

 After more pictures from the race? Check out the gallery, here.

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