World champion Annemiek van Vleuten sprinted to fifth place in a tense finale to La Course by Le Tour de France in Nice.
The two-winner of the event forced a selection on the second lap of the race, but didn’t have the speed to match the fast finishers in the kick for the line.
There was a fierce pace set as soon as the riders headed out of Nice and into the foot of the Cote de Rimiez for the first time. The high tempo put a number of riders into difficulty on the climb, and by the time the race hit the descent the numbers in the peloton had reduced significantly.
The twisty downhill run saw numerous splits open up, and six riders took advantage as they edged clear on the run back towards the coast. The escapees opened up a gap of 48 seconds over a small chase group containing Van Vlueten, but when that group doubled in size, the gap quickly began to fall.
It was all back together as the pack crossed the finish line for the first time, as attentions turned to the second ascent of the Cote de Rimiez. It wasn’t long before the race burst into life as Van Vlueten blew the bunch apart at the foot of the climb.
The world champion launched her move on the lower slopes, initially drawing seven riders with her before another acceleration left just five riders for company. The newly crowned European road race champion continued to set the tempo up the climb, with none of her rivals willing to give the 37-year-old a turn on the front.
As the summit approached Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) attacked over the top, but the Brit was quickly shutdown before Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon SRAM Racing) looked to escape on the descent.
However, there was no escaping as the leaders hit the flat run towards the finish, with the winner looking set to come from one of the six out front. As the finish line approached, Van Vleuten attacked in the closing kilometres, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a sprint finish with Deignan pipping Marianne Vos (CCC – Liv) to the win.
Annemiek van Vleuten:
“It was the plan to attack at the bottom of the climb, I was hoping that someone else would make it hard. I had to go from the bottom because it wasn’t a steep climb, and when we did it already I knew that it would be hard to make the difference because it was only four or five percent.”
“There wasn’t really a moment where it was a little bit steeper, unfortunately, so that didn’t help. I didn’t look back, I just did 15km all by myself, I didn’t ask anyone for help because I knew they wouldn’t do that, so I just continued and was hoping that everyone was suffering as much as I was, because I was suffering.
“I knew that when I saw the course of La Course that it was not really my race, but there were opportunities and you never know. This time we were a little bit unlucky with two Trek riders there, because if you have only one Trek rider it is easier to attack.
“Everyone said that it would be a sprinters race, so I am quite proud of what I did. I helped a little bit to make the race spectacular. I was happy that I was there, I was happy to show the rainbow jersey and it was also nice to have the combativity prize.”
Alejandro Gonzalez-Tablas (Sports Director):
“The climb was just not hard enough today and Annemiek did her best for a top result on a course that didn’t suit her, so we should be happy with the show we displayed.”
La Course by Le Tour de France – Results:
1. Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) 2:22:51
2. Marianne Vos (CCC – Liv) ST
3. Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenburg) ST
5. Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-SCOTT) ST
Photos courtesy of Getty Images.