With the women's peloton just finished the Giro Rosa, many of the riders are heading straight into La Course with plenty of form already in their legs and others no doubt with some tiredness after having to ascend some of Italy's toughest climbs, including the infamous Monte Zoncolan.
The 2018 edition of La Course is similar to last year's, with a stage in the Alps again taking pride of place with a mountainous day from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand in store. Last year's edition also included a chase-style final time trial, although it proved somewhat anti-climactic after big gaps on the previous day.
This year, there's no additional day, with just the single stage in the mountains. A step back? Partly, but it still represents one of the few times during the season where the women get such global coverage.
This year's edition will be a fun one, there are early climbs on the 112.5 kilometre course which have the potential to see the race split up or a breakaway escape the peloton. The final 28 kilometres sees some fierce climbs on offer, with the Col de Romme, 8.8 kilometres at nine per cent, and the famed Col de la Colombiere, 7.5 kilometres at eight and a half per cent. There's a final downhill run to the line in Le Grand Bornand, but it seems likely that the race will be decided on the final two climbs.
Aussies on show
This year has been one of the best for Australians in the top womens races in recent memory. Not only is Australian-registered team Mitchelton-Scott one of the dominant teams over the season, Australian riders have been coming to the fore all around the world.
Australian Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) currently sits second on the UCI rankings in individual rider rankings, a classification they keep a lot closer eye on in the womens side of the sport as most of the riders attend the vast majority of the races.
They will also be a number of exciting rookies at the race, with Grace Brown (Wiggle-High5) and Brodie Chapman (TIBCO-SVB) both very accomplished climbers that are set to make their mark at their debut La Course appearance. Cycling Central reached out to both Brown and Chapman as they prepare to face the best in the world over the Alps.
"I'm really excited to race La Course,' said Brown. 'It's such a big platform for women's cycling. So it's both awesome and a little nerve-wracking to race under the gaze of such a large audience."
Brown is the Amy Gillet scholarship holder and was given the opportunity to race with the Rochelle Gilmore-owned Wiggle-High5 squad after strong performances in the National Road Series for Holden Team Gusto and at the Australian Nationals, where she was fourth in the time trial and third in the road race.
"I've had a really big training block leading into this race," said Brown, "and I'm looking forward to seeing how I can go on the climbs. It's going to be a brutally tough race, but I think I'm ready."
Chapman had an explosive start to the season, pulling off an unexpected ride at Nationals before backing it up with a superb win at the Herald Sun Tour, where she held off one of the world's best riders in Annemiek van Vleuten to win.
"La Course is one of the biggest races on the calendar,' said Chapman 'it means so much to be racing on such iconic roads. I am looking forward to the whole atmosphere of the race and aim to get to the big climbs safely so I can let my legs do their thing."
Chapman is well-known for her enthusiasm for all things bike racing, racing across the disciplines of cross-country mountain bike, downhill and cyclocross in addition to her road career. The climbs of Col de Romme and Col de la Colombiere are what Chapman is most looking forward to at La Course.
"This is what I love most," said Chapman, "racing up steep curvy roads so although I’m nervous, especially about the sheer talent I’m up against, I’m mostly just excited to reward all my prep and fight for a finish at the pointy end.”
The fight for first
Brown and Chapman both represent very good chances if they are given any leeway by the peloton in the race, but as Chapman referenced, the quality of the riders present is superb.
The rider that everyone is talking about at the moment is Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott). She is fresh off her overall win at the Giro Rosa which included three stage wins to go with her pink jersey.
This included a ridiculous domination of the uphill time trial, where she finished two minutes and twenty-eight seconds ahead of the next best rider over the 15.4 kilometre course. She backed that up with a win atop the Monte Zoncolan and a seemingly effortless win on the final stage, where she said she was just trying to get ahead so she wasn't in any danger of the descents.
She's been nicknamed 'the Cannibal' in recent days for the ruthlessness of her wins and, of course, in reference to the exploits of former great Eddy Merckx. Van Vleuten will be the favourite to back up her win atop the Col d'Izoard in last year's La Course.
The one question mark over the Giro Rosa win was the absence of fellow Dutch rider Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans). The Olympic champion and current UCI Womens World Tour leader wasn't present at the event, opting instead to focus on events later in the season, including a run at the World Championships road race. She did ride a mountain bike World Cup event in the interim where she placed 30th, keeping her legs ticking over.
With two Giro Rosa overall victories to her name and dominant showings throughout the classics season, van der Breggen arguably holds the title as the best rider in the world, though that would probably depend on who you ask. She won't be in the same shape as van Vleuten at La Course, but she won't be as fatigued either.
The pair from the Netherlands have a low-key rivalry going, as they often meet head-to-head in the major races of the season, and have to be considered joint leaders in any events involving the national team.
While it's likely that the winner will be one of the two Dutch superstars, there are a number of riders who have the potential to upset the applecart.
Perhaps the best chance is Amanda Spratt, who could use team tactics in combination with van Vleuten to take that race to the rest of the field. She's also in superb form at the moment after her Stage 6 at the Giro Rosa.
Then again, Megan Guarnier of Boels-Dolmans is no slouch either in the steep mountains and will no doubt looking to be doing something similar in concert with van der Breggen.
It certainly will be thrilling viewing, and a rare opportunity to watch top quality racing in primetime for Australian viewers.
SBS will be broadcasting the 2018 edition of La Course by Le Tour de France, with coverage starting from 7.00 PM AEST (WA, SA, check local guides).