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Guest column: 'A longer La Course would be less than optimal for the sport'

Stefan Wyman
13 Nov 2017

Team manager, advocate & husband of cyclocross champ Helen; Stef Wyman gives his thoughts on La Course & the direction of women's cycling

27th July 2014 was the day it all started, with 13 laps of the Champs-Élysees. For something like 10 years before, since I was involved with women’s cycling, there was a non-stop question of why there wasn’t a Women’s Tour de France. There was previously a women’s event, and several French stage races that seemed to be a kind of equivalent. But the major push by Kathryn Bertine to get the ASO to add a new edition finally paid off.

OK, it was a one-day race, and really still a criterium, but it was run by the ASO, it was on Champs-Élysees, it did have all the fans, TV coverage, and a huge prize fund.

So a lot of ticked boxes, the biggest of all was the hope that one day soon a larger, longer event would be put in place.

I was an advocate of a longer La Course, but having taken a team to the 2015 edition in all its rainy glory, I also saw the benefit to the one-day status.

It’s a great event, especially when in Paris. It’s a showcase, and in my opinion should not be a Women’s WorldTour event. But it was a great event, used by most as an opportunity to wine and dine sponsors on the biggest stage of all.

The 2017 edition saw the event take a different turn and head to the mountains with a two-day format. Confusion followed, with an odd pursuit style event for the top finishers on the Izoard, with logistical nightmares for teams taking the final sparkle off it, and leaving fans puzzled.

But with it’s new format came renewed calls for a longer event. Something that I now feel would be less than optimal for the sport.

Over a similar time period since La Course was introduced, we have seen the rise of the Women’s Tour in the UK. A stand-alone women’s race, it’s the sports true showpiece now for many reasons.

Fans

The streets are lined with fans who have chosen to be there for women’s racing. Women’s cycling needs to be able to show sponsors a true return, a real market of people who are prepared to engage with it.

We are long past the time where women’s cycling can exist only on social media. Sponsors deserve better, they need the sport to step up, and the Women’s Tour has done this.

Choice

The sport needs organisers that are engaged in what women’s racing is all about. We need organisers that see the opportunity, commercially, to run a successful and strong women’s race.

We don’t need organisers to have their arms twisted, or to run a race seemingly against their will. We have to remember that the ASO aren’t against women’s racing, as they are responsible for many great women’s races.

However I see the major potential growth area for the sport is to have standalone events. If the ASO want to run a one-day race, let's embrace it.

Let's enjoy it for what it is, and remember everyone has had a victory.

Change

We need a Women's WorldTour that delivers. It feels rushed to market, disjointed, and unhealthily linked to the men’s equivalent without the structures of the sport in anyway aligning.

Until the sport can deliver and support 15 to 20 teams, who can pay a minimum wage to riders and staff, and compete in events with global access to minimum standards of video/television coverage, we aren’t going to see progress, just an odd rebrand that three years later is still not convincing.

Depth

We need a sport that has higher standards, is more familiar to fans and media, more accessible, and has a clear tiered system.

To have, effectively, amateur teams in the same category as giants like Wiggle-High5 and Boels-Dolmans, we are only harming the sport in my opinion.

The introduction of a two-tier system is simple, effectively free, and will transform the sport.

La Course should be icing on the cake for a strong Women's WorldTour, and a dream incentive for women’s Continental teams when approaching prospective partners in their pursuit of a place at the sports top table.

History

Since the introduction of a Women's WorldTour, I’ve seen new women’s events gain WorldTour status, whilst truly historical events are left to suffer with calendar clashes and a cold shoulder.

Thuringen is a race that I’ve always regarded as a true HC event for women. It’s also run by women, which is seemingly pretty rare.

To see these events struggle leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

These issues aren’t going to get fixed with five days at the Tour de France, or eight days, or even 21 days. If we really want the Tour to take on a longer event, we need a stronger sport.

We need a sport that appeals to these organisers, so they see the strength in depth, over time, and commercial opportunities from a new market. So perhaps right now, a one-day showcase is in fact perfect for the sport.

They say don’t fix something that isn’t broken and it seems to me La Course isn’t broken, and it doesn’t need fixing.

Let's repair other areas and let the cracks in La Course fix themselves.

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