Bring The Hammer: Women’s La Course in 2021, a new stage race in 2022

To begin with, I read SRAM as Spam, so this whole thing did not get off to the best start. Suddenly, I had so many questions. What is Spam made of? Who invented it? Then I had twenty tabs open. Hormel Foods created Spam in 1937. It is cooked pork. It now also comes in other flavors.

This has nothing to do with bike racing.

On Saturday, June 26, the Women’s World Tour races La Course avec FDJ which begins in Brest. La Course is the one-day event that the ASO created to make women shut up already about the Tour de France. They threw in an equal prize purse to a men’s stage victory and media coverage to sweeten the deal. Next year, women will race an eight-day race. Equity inches forward.

For 2021, La Course finishes on a circuit in Landerneuthe. The circuit is what the French call “accidenté,” which means rugged or broken, and includes three ascents of colorfully named côte de la Fosse aux Loups. The finish line arrives after a fourth and final trip up the climb.

Pit of Wolves. This might be the best part of this race right here. The climb is called the Pit of Wolves. This is even better than Spam, if I’m honest, and I always am, totally.

The Pit of Wolves covers three kilometers at an average gradient of 5.6-percent, which sounds all rainbows and unicorns. As usual, the devil lurks in the details. Near the base of the climb, a nasty bit of 14-percent gradient awaits to crush souls — or at least, the legs of the pure sprinters. The final 500 meters or so are mostly flat.

Unless you live in a cave, you know that women do not need this sort of condescending, bullshit special handling. They are strong. They are capable. They will show up and kick ass.

As has become typical of La Course, the race is short at just 107.7 kilometers. Apparently, the ASO still believes that women are so super fragile that they could not possibly race a kilometer further. Obviously, their uteruses would totally fall out or some other disaster would occur. Like, they might get sweaty or something.

Unless you live in a cave, you know that women do not need this sort of condescending, bullshit special handling. They are strong. They are capable. They will show up and kick ass. But the patriarchy is damn persistent. I keep a hammer on my desk, ready at all times to smash that fucking thing. Don’t make me come over there.

Anyway. That bike race. You’ll be wondering about time zones, and I am here to help. La Course departs from Brest at 8 a.m. France time. If you’re on the west coast, US, stock up on some favorite beverages and stay awake. The start time is at 11pm west coast/2am east. (Y’all in the middle are on your own.) The estimated finish time is 11 a.m. France, which is 2 a.m. west coast/5 a.m. east.

With its accidenté characteristics, this year’s edition of La Course suits the explosive climbers. The flat final 500 meters favors a fast finisher. Certainly, someone could slide up the road early, too.

Defending champ Lizzie Deignan, Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen, Elisa Longo Borghini — they all start as easy favorites. Watch for the new US Pro Champion Lauren Stephens, riding for Tibco, and pocket rocket Coryn Rivera if a larger group reaches the finish.

On paper, bike racing is a simple business. There’s a start and a finish; the riders race from one to the other. Somebody wins. Fortunately for us, bike racing doesn’t take place on paper and between the start and the finish, there is always something surprising and unexpected. That’s the joy in the whole thing. Who is going to win? The only way to know is to watch and see.

For 2022, we can look forward to a new eight-day shenanigan in place of La Course. The Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift runs directly after the men’s Tour de France and begins with a stage on the Champs Élysées. Current UCI rules limit women’s stage races to eight days. Where’s my hammer?

I am bad at counting on the whole, but I’m pretty sure eight days is more than one day, so that’s some progress. Zwift has signed on as title sponsor for four years, so it won’t be a here today, gone tomorrow sort of affair, as has often been the case in the past for women’s cycling.

In the 1980’s, women raced a three-week Tour de France, a race held together with not much more than duct tape and dreams. The budget hardly existed and the women endured long transfers. Deborah Shumway, who rode the 1984 edition traveled between stages in a French delivery truck full of chocolate sandwiches. Marianne Martin won that first year, after climbing the col de Joux Plan on a 42×21 gear.

While it’s a long way from equity, the new iteration of the Tour de France Femmes appears to be set on a more solid foundation than the 1980’s version. It’ll be a Women’s WorldTour race, for one thing, and television coverage looks to be already in place. And the prize money should be more than the $1,000 that Martin split with her team in 1984.

In women’s sports, there is an enduring tension between whether events should replicate the men’s version, or invent something new. To take an event close to my heart as an example: Red Bull Formation, the women’s freeride event created something new, rather than try to recreate Rampage. It’s an awe-inspiring showcase of women’s skills.

Is an eight-day stage race a better showcase for women’s racing than a three-week Tour? My head says, maybe. My heart, that romantic beating thing that somehow fell in love with road racing in all its ridiculous drama, says… maybe not. The heart wants what it wants, patriarchy, sponsorship, and media coverage, well, they can all get fucked.

The Tour de France unfolds like an intricately plotted novel, the sort of book you take to the beach, become so engrossed that you forget to apply sunscreen, and come home thoroughly sated, and also, completely lobstered.

A three-week Tour for women. It dangles out there, just out of reach. The idea remains inescapably compelling. Why can’t we have nice things?

I’ll bring the hammer.
Join the conversation
  1. jlaudolff says

    Thanks for writing about women’s racing. I’ve been following this closely for a few years, which is much easier now that there is tv coverage and dedicated podcasts (i.e. TCP Feminine and Cyclingtips Freewheeling). One thing I have found very interesting is how those inside women’s racing are keen to sell this sport as having a different flavor compared to men’s racing. Many push the shorter races as being more intense and omitting the aspects of men’s racing which are quite tedious. This includes long transition stages or just long stages in general which lack tactical importance in the race. It can be a very nuanced conversation. There does seem to be room in the sport for a 3-week tour (or perhaps more) but I would bet the teams and riders will try to steer this away from being a copy of the men’s formula and into something unique and valuable for women’s bike racing.

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