Watching La Course (the women’s race by The Tour de France)

Earlier this year a significant announcement was made that there would be a women’s race at the Tour de France.  It wouldn’t be the entirety of the Grand Tour, nor even a multiday event – but – it would be a start.  And for this year anyway, it would be a single day on the same stage.

The race was set to start at 12:45PM local time in Paris.  Unlike the men’s stage that’d be starting a bit later, the women’s stage would take place entirely on the circuit within Paris.  Whereas the men started hours away and rode their way to the city before beginning the famous 7KM loop within the city.

Thus instead of warming up in some town far away they warmed up right in the city.

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Unfortunately, unlike virtually all stages in the men’s race which are easily accessible (within just a few feet of fans) – the women’s warm-up area was about as far as you can get from fans.  Yes, that’s it – over there in the middle of spare space in Concorde.

After a lot of walking later, and with a 300mm lens, I was able to get these shots of the warm-up area.  Do keep in mind how close you can normally get with these posts.

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Of course, the women don’t quite have as nice of digs as their male counterparts.  The team arrangements ranged from rented trucks…

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…to small RV’s….

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…and slightly larger RV’s:

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Interestingly, Team Specialized Lululemon just put themselves up on Indiegogo (like Kickstarter) in order to raise funding.  The funding period just opened up on Friday.

The team however that clearly had the most funding was team United Healthcare.  They have a full-on bus on par with the men’s team, and even the red caution tape to boot!  As an aside, almost al of the trainers I saw on the women’s teams were Tacx units – appearing to be Bushido’s of some variant (too far away to tell exactly).

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Some of the women also warmed up on the course itself, and occasionally stopped by to talk to friends and fans.

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With 12:45PM start time approaching the lead-out police motorcycles and neutral vehicle headed out ahead of the racers.  Unlike the men’s race there was no caravan (parade) ahead of the riders.

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Interestingly, all of the police motorcycles were driven by women – nice touch!

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Trailing about 30 seconds behind them was the lead race official car and then all the riders.  The first lap was done at quite a bit slower pace than all the remaining laps.

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After they passed by I worked my way down the river a bit, while still staying in the park.  People were already out enjoying the day spectating from the balcony overlooking the course.  I suspect this couple was in it for the long haul, having dragged the chairs up there and broken out the expensive bubbly.

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Soon the women came by again.  You can see the speed has picked up as the pack has elongated over several hundred meters (including beyond the frame).

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I then zipped across the park, in time to find a spot and catch them some 1.5 laps later.  Just like the men, the ladies had a police escort ahead of them at all times (even on the closed course).

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It’s here that the 1KM banner is stationed.  This is 1KM (1,000 meters) to the finish line, though, beyond that is also a sprint line which was/is used to award points for sprinters.

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It was while this was going down that one of the team cars got pulled into action – swapping out a wheel for one of the United Healthcare riders.

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As is usually the case – he swapped the wheel quickly and gave her a push before jumping back in the car.

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The race was set to take about 2 hours, with each of the twelve 6.5KM laps taking about 8 minutes.  So my goal was to move to a different position each time.  But of course, I got distracted in the Norwegian corner.  After all, they had kegs and BBQ’s going already.

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Adding to that was that there’s a lot of walking involved – especially in completing something as simple as getting from this side of the street to the opposite, which added about 2/3rds of a mile of walking – though, I managed to do it in between the two passes.

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Next I worked my way down the outside of Rivoli street, past the 1KM banner again.

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Which, is a great place to illustrate just how many team cars there are with spare bikes and wheels.  It was about equal to the men’s race actually.  See, while the men’s race has far more cars overall, once they hit the circuit they reduce the number significantly so there isn’t a multi-mile tail behind the riders.

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After speeding down the smooth pavement of Rivoli – likely the place where the fastest speeds are achieved – they then zig-zag across the massive intersection at Concorde.

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It’s just after making the turn onto the famous cobblestones of the Champs-Élysées that they’d many laps later find that finish line.  You can see it off to the left in the below photo where the yellow grandstands are.

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They had numerous TV’s setup along the course, with almost all of them tuned to the race (albeit in this photo the speed of the camera shutter snapped nothing).

Interestingly however, in the VIP arrival plaza at Concorde, they did not have the women’s race on.  I wasn’t in said plaza, but could see the TV’s from across the Place de la Concorde.  Though, said VIP arrival plaza was largely empty.  As were many of the stands in the VIP area.  Which in some ways served to underscore the subtle ways that the TdF didn’t quite treat the race on the same level.  Surely plenty of people would have been excited to have such incredible seats.  And surely it would have been easy to allow close-in fan-access to the riders during warm-up.  After all, it’s those types of things that drive memories in young girls thinking about racing.  And ultimately – isn’t that the real long-term goal of this event?

Similarly – while there were official stores for TdF merchandise approximately every 100-meters around the course, there was not a single place to buy a single La Course branded item.  Not even the official La Course website appears to list such items (the ‘shop’ link simply goes to the generic TdF store).  I was specifically looking for the rather cool La Course poster seen in many adverts and web images.  But no luck.  And trust me – I walked the entire perimeter of the course accessible to the public…interior and exterior fences.

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In any case, back to the race.

I continued working my way up the Champs-Élysées.  It’s here that the cobbles really set in, as it’s all uphill to the Arch.  This is particularly devastating though if you fell off the back of the group, as you were essentially suffering not only in the heat solo, but on the cobbles solo.

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Coming back down however, the riders scream down the cobbles – though I’d still be curious to see where the fastest speeds are typically achieved on the course.  I suspect the cobbles slows things down compared to the smooth pavement found on the flats.  At least, it does for me when I’m riding it every week.

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I finally found myself at the highest point of the loop at the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile (the Arch).  It’s here the riders make a sweeping and famous loop around the grand monument that sits at the intersection of 12 grand avenues (and one hilariously awesome traffic mess every other day of the year).

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Today however, it was just for the riders.  In most cases they’d only go 2-3 wide around the massive circle, but the speeds they carry and the length of the peloton as it snakes through there was impressive.

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And it’s on the above photo that represented the last loop of the women’s race.  Just a few minutes later they’d be celebrating on the same finish line as the men would be some 4 hours later.  And, they’d be doing so in front of the same crowds that would be waiting and watching for the rest of the day as well, hanging out in the unrelenting sun to see cycling from both genders finish on what is unquestionably the greatest cycling stage in the world.

Hopefully next year we’ll see just a few more stages as part of La Course – I know I’d look forward to it!

Thanks for reading!

31 Comments

  1. Danish television (DR) hit the nail on the head as to how much uphill this is going to be... after 25 minutes of Tour de France (DR have exemplary TDF coverage) interspersed with more or less unrelated clips of earliere tours, the anchor begins talking about Le Course, announces a feature and then apologises for being out of time and consequently unable to show the feature.

    Nice to see that we can rely on our favourite sports gadgeteer to cover it! Thumbs up!

    Reply
    • Paul S replied

      Here in the US, NBCSports was showing a rerun of TdF Stage 20, the time trial, rather than La Course. I think they may have put it on one of their other networks, but it would have made sense to put it on before the coverage of the Tour itself started.

      Reply
    • Aaron S replied

      They showed La Course on Universal Sports in the US, which was pretty cool.

      Reply
  2. James

    Not tour related but an amazing ladies tri result this weekend. Daniela Ryf won the Zurich womens olympic distance tri on Saturday and then went on to win the women ironman race on the Sunday!

    link to ironman.com

    Reply
  3. hdb

    She doesn't have it up yet, but Mariane Vos (winner of La Course) generally posts her rides/races on Strava. If it shows up in the next day or so, I'll put the link up here.

    Reply
  4. René Rolighed

    Whatever happended to link to media1.roseversand.de ?

    Reply
  5. Thanks for posting this, I didn't get to see any of La Course in the US. Women's racing is always exciting, especially their 'cross events. Wish they had aired it over here.

    Reply
  6. Tom

    I'd greatly encourage you to check out Hlaf The Road (if you haven't already), which is available on iTunes. It's a great documentary about women's pro cycling and the discrepancies you highlighted. Such a shame they didn't even create any merchandise, talk about missed opportunity.

    Reply
  7. Dave F

    Thank you for the photo-documentary of 'La Course'. Main stream media on both sides of the Atlantic don't appear to realize that 50% of their viewers are not men.

    Reply
  8. Kelly

    Thanks for this excellent article, Ray, and the top-notch photos that really give you a sense of the day. I would have loved to be there! For those who'd like to watch (most of) the race, the second half was aired live on francetvsport. You can find the video here: link to francetvsport.fr (Or here's a direct link: link to francetvsport.fr If you're in the US, you'll need to first download a VPN app or you'll get a message that the video doesn't exist. TunnelBear worked great for me for watching the Tour de France live from France and the women's Giro d'Italia (daily recaps from Italy). It's easy to use and you can download it free here: link to tunnelbear.com The commentary is in French, of course, and some of the stupid comments by the 2 male commentators made me wince a few times but the female commentator (former professional cyclist for the Futuroscope/Poitou-Charentes team) is good. It's too bad that you have to work so hard to watch women's cycling but interest is growing, so hopefully that will change. Vive "La Course by le Tour de France" (And let's hope they come up with a better name...)

    Reply
  9. M

    Excellent photo documentary Ray with some interesting snippets of information about how it appeared to be held. The coverage of La Course for the US was only done by Universal Sports Network. Here in the UK we were lucky enough to get a specific show from ITV broadcast just before Stage 21, but then there has been attempts by British TV (namely ITV and Eurosport) to provide more coverage of women's cycle races over the past year. The inaugural Women's Tour held in England in May this year (won by Vos too) was excellent, very well organised and better than La Course IMHO with many hundreds of people lining the streets for that alone (it wasn't bolted onto any other race as a sideshow). There were highlights every night too. The Giro Rosa also surpassed La Course in terms of length as a tour, although lacked any TV coverage beyond highlights on Italian TV. But I guess it's a start and maybe eventually they will have another Tour de France for women as they used to - I believe the final stage used to also finish on the Champs-Élysées before the men's race back in the 1980s.

    Reply
  10. Valerie

    Thanks for this coverage of La Course. I am a long time cycling fan and was very disappionted in the lack of coverage here in the US. NBC gave a tiny interview (along with comments about her looks) of Shelley Olds. My service provider DirecTV carries the channel La Couse was on, Universal, but for unknown reasons had coverage blocked.

    There is a long way to go for equality in women's cycling.

    Reply
  11. Simon Saunders

    In contrast to some of the comments posted above, here in the UK it was broadcast live on the ITV4 network. Good, concise commentary with feed-in by experienced female pro cyclist Rochelle Gilmore. It was a great race and deserved a wider audience-as indeed all female cycle racing does. Shame that merchandising opportunities were missed and riders areas so far from spectators. I really hope the UCI take this forward and help develop and promote a wonderful example of sport.

    Great pictures Ray, BTW.

    Reply
  12. Ben

    Great photos! Especially the last one, and several others.

    Reply
  13. Thank you so much for posting and sharing. I echo the sentiment of others - I had hoped for better coverage here in the U.S. I would have been willing to pay to watch it.

    Reply
  14. McDonald

    DSTV in South Africa has dedicated HD channel for the Tour, the showed the entire women's race

    Reply
  15. Kelly

    My comment is still "awaiting moderation" , maybe because of links I added, so I'm reposting it here without the links. You can Google the sites if you want to find them:

    Thanks for this excellent article, Ray, and the top-notch photos that really give you a sense of the day. I would have loved to be there! For those who'd like to watch (most of) the race, the second half was aired live on francetvsport. If you're in the US, you'll need to first download a VPN app or you'll get a message that the video doesn't exist. TunnelBear worked great for me for watching the Tour de France live from France and the women's Giro d'Italia (daily recaps from Italy). It's easy to use and you can download it free. The commentary is in French, of course, and some of the stupid comments by the 2 male commentators made me wince a few times but the female commentator (former professional cyclist for the Poitou-Charentes/Futuroscope team) is good. It's too bad that you have to work so hard to watch women's cycling but interest is growing, so hopefully that will change. Vive "La Course by le Tour de France" (And let's hope they come up with a better name...)

    Reply
  16. Steve

    You mentioned that at least one of the team cars was driven by a man ("he swapped the wheel quickly and gave her a push"). Were there any female drivers or mechanics?

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      I'm honestly not sure, I didn't look to closely in the cars. The only reason I noted this one was that he was visible outside in the photo changing the wheel.

      Reply
  17. Happy runner

    The warmup area, second photo from the top. There's a woman in a wedding gown. Maybe you needed a wedding invitation to get into that area!

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Nah, that's just Paris Sunday style! It's how we roll to bike races here...

      Reply
  18. Ted H

    As I scrolled down the pics, I notice that the police motorcyclist may have been all women... and then you commented exactly the same. Too bad the VIP areas weren't filled with women VIPs... I always like your photo documentaries. I feel like I was "there"...

    Reply
  19. hdb

    Marianne has posted her race on Strava now: link to strava.com You can also see the final few Ks from her perspective here: link to youtube.com The cobbles are a bit scary to watch!

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Very cool. And also answers the speed question - which is that they peak out each lap about half-way down the Champs. Interesting.

      Reply
    • Rob replied

      Also of interest; according to that Strava activity, she's using the Pioneer power meter. I don't suppose you were able to confirm that Ray?

      Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      I can't quite seem to find a good clean photo (either of mine, or from anyone else) where her foot isn't blocking the drive side spider. If riding stock Pioneer, it'd be neon green if the older version, and firetruck red if the newer version. Though, both can be swapped out with custom plates - which means all bets are off there.

      Reply
  20. Henri Spronk

    Great story and good pics. Perhaps of interest is the movie taken by Marianne Vos during the race and final sprint. Unfortunately, it's a web site in Dutch, but the movie is without spoken word ;). link to m.nieuwsblad.be

    Reply
  21. Some history about La Course -- check out link to halftheroad.com

    link to facebook.com

    Reply
  22. Lynda

    Thanks for sharing the great photos and wonderful commentary! You captured so much that we couldn't see on TV (luckily we were able to get Universal Sports to see the race itself.) Good insights, too.

    Reply
  23. Michael

    In Australia SBS (national multicultural broadcaster) show La Course in full including interviews with several Australian post race. Due to time differences it was on about 9.00 pm on the Sunday night. Great to see Marianne Vos win the first La Course.

    Reply
  24. Luise

    Thanks for the coverage! Great photos!

    Reply

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