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La Course 2018: Van Vleuten leaves it late in spectacular finish

Joe Robinson
17 Jul 2018

An attack on the final climb of the day was not enough for Van Der Breggen who was caught by Van Vleuten in the final few metres

Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) caught Anna Van Der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) in the final 50m to win the 2018 La Course by the Tour de France in Le Grand-Bornand. The Dutchwoman chased Van Der Breggen all the way down the final 14km descent to the finish, making the catch within the final 100m to win the event for the second year running.

At 1km before the summit of the Col de la Colombiere, the final climb of the day, Van Der Breggen had attacked rivals Van Vleuten and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (Cervelo-Bigla), taking advantage when the latter pair started to fade, the effects of the recent women's Giro d'Italia clearly taking their toll.

Van Der Breggen crested the summit alone, and was able to hold the gap to the chasing Van Vleuten on the descent only to be caught with just metres to spare in the final rise to the line.

In winning the race Van Vleuten becomes the first multiple La Course champion, and adds the win to her recent Giro d'Italia victory.

What happened on the day 

The 2018 La Course by the Tour de France took the women's peloton on a 112.5km one day race from the lakeside town of Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand. 

Compare to last year's event, La Course had been reduced to a single day in the mountains, dropping the unpopular pursuit-style time trial that concluded the race 12 months ago. Today, the peloton was facing a single day of riding that included four categorised climbs starting with the Col de Bluffy and Cote de Saint-Jean-de-Sixt, a fourth and second category climb respectively.

The decisive moves, however, were likely to come on the final two climbs, the Col de Romme (8.8km at 8.9%) and the Col de la Colombiere (7.5km at 8.5%). After the final ascent there would be a  fast 14km descent to the finish. 

The outright favourite for the day was Van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), the best female climber in the world right now. At last week's women's Giro d'Italia she dominated taking the overall victory and three individual stages including the summit finish atop the Monte Zoncolan.

Van Vlueten also started the race as the defending La Course champion after producing one of the performances of the season on the Col d'Izoard, setting one of the fastest times ever by a woman or man.

Her chief rival was expected to be Van Der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans), the dominant Dutch one-day racer who has arguably the strongest team in the peloton.

The flag drop saw some aggressive racing in the early stages as the group hit the base of the Col de Bluffy all together. Clearing the first climb, no-one had managed to escape the group with all riders climbing the second ascent of the day, Cote de Saint-Jean-de-Sixt, still together.

It was not until 70km to go that a small group managed to form clear of the peloton. Five riders went clear to build a small 37 second gap initially. Within this group was Lotta Lepisto (Cervelo-Bigla) and Leah Kirchmann (Team Sunweb). 

The gap grew to over two minutes as the race approached the final 40km of racing. Anna Christian (Trek-Drops) dropped from the breakaway to reduce the lead group to four as the peloton began to turn the screw.

United Healthcare were the team putting on the hurt closely followed by Canyon-Sram and Team Sunweb. The speed at which they hit the base of the Col de Romme was ferocious, almost like the approach to a short Flandrien climb rather than a long, Alpine pass.

The lower slopes saw the main field disintegrate as the gap to the breakaway, which was now just Kirchmann and Leah Thomas, plummeted. Kirchmann soon began to struggle on the gradient as Thomas pushed on alone.

A group of favourites formed in the peloton behind. Van Vleuten was there with teammate Amanda Spratt while Giro d'Italia runner up Moolman Pasio sat close by. Van Der Breggen was towards the rear of the group although she looked fairly comfortable.

An attack came from the bunch as Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervelo-Bigla) attempted to chase down firstly Kirchmann and then Thomas. 

Thomas was looking strong, keeping a solid cadence to hold the gap to the peloton at around 50 seconds. Riders were finding themselves spat out the back of the chasing peloton as Kirchmann was reabsorbed.

A big push from Ludwig helped her bridge to Thomas with 2km remaining on the Romme. Behind, Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) began to soften up the large group for teammate Van Der Breggen. The American increased the pace dropping Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb).

The climb began to bite for Thomas who had launched a valiant effort. Ludwig had gone alone knowing she was within touching distance of the summit. She crossed the summit first taking top points on the Romme, holding a 30 second gap as she began the penultimate descent.

Brand realised that she was not the strongest climber in the bunch so went on the attack on the downhill. She managed to get a slight advantage which soon came more significant as the race rolled onto the Colombiere.

Ludwig's face was one of pain as she continued alone. Her gap was now 1 minute 20 seconds from the group of favourites. The gap held steady despite attacks from Spratt behind.

This attack filtered the main group further with just three riders able to continue the pace: Van Der Breggen, Van Vleuten and Moolman. 

Both Moolman and Van Vleuten began to lean on Van Der Breggen to chase as they swept up Brand fairly comfortably, who then proved unable to match their pace. Ludwig behind was being reeled in slowly too, with just 30 seconds between the sole leader and chasing trio.

Van Vleuten decided to faux-attack before launching a more concerted effort. She wanted to drop Van Der Breggen before the descent as she was the faster sprinter. This pace increase absorbed Ludwig, dropping her instantly.

Just 1km from the summit, Van Der Breggen began to crank up the speed dropping first Moolman and then Van Vleuten.

Van Der Breggen came over the top of the final climb of the day first, but Van Vleuten had dug deep and succeeded in keeping her within range.

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