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Elinor Barker Blog: La Course

To describe to you my race at La Course this year, you could easily assume that I had a horrible day out. 

A crash in the early, frantic stages of the race led to spending the next 60km in and out of the convoy. Trying as hard as I could to make touch with the ever-decreasing peloton, just in time for another attack to send me right back into the cars. 

By the halfway point of the 120km race I was a goner, and any dreams of finishing in the bunch were long forgotten. I found myself in a group of 10 or so equally exhausted or bloodied riders, all eagerly waiting the broom wagon’s arrival and to be diverted the shorter, flat route home. The plan was that any riders who fell behind the group before the first major mountain at 80km would be escorted away from the course to ensure the roads were clear for the men’s race coming through. 

80km loomed closer and closer with no broom wagon and no diversion. My small gruppetto looked around nervously at one another at the foot of the mountain and seemed to telepathically say “I guess we’re doing this. Good luck.” 

I’ll be honest. When in October I put my name down for La Course I had, stupidly, pictured racing down the Champs-Élysées leading out Kirsten Wild or Annette Edmondson for a win. A race profile which suited my Track Euros build up far better than the French Alps. So, when I heard the news that ASO had decided not to revert back to the kermess-style racing of former years, I could have re-thought my racing schedule. But there’s just something about the gravitational pull of the Tour de France that stopped me sending that email.

The first five minutes of the Col de Romme had me regretting my lack of foresight. The early crash had snapped my bottle cages so I hadn’t had a drink since the convoy drove past. I was tired. There was a long way to go. It was almost all uphill. Urgh.

15 Minutes later I had reached the thick of the crowd and forgotten about all of that. Of course, my legs still hurt. But I thought about them far less when l became surrounded by a 20 strong gang of Dutchmen dressed in orange, drinking beer and dancing to europop blasted out of their van. I thought about it even less when a line of excited strangers ran alongside me, pushing me up the mountain in a conveyor belt of support. The whole route smelt of BBQs and sounded like a party. Hundreds of people emerged from tents, caravans and cars that had clearly been there for days not to cheer on the leaders of the race but to cheer for me, a backmarker, with just as much enthusiasm. By the time I reached the top of the first mountain all I was thinking about was the beautiful view down to Lake Annecy.

I finished 30 minutes down on Annemiek Van Vlueten, who you all know provided one of the most exciting bike race finishes of 2018. Not exactly a palmares worthy result, but an incredible day out and something I’m really proud I was able to be a part of. Since the success and huge public interest of this year’s 1-day edition of La Course there has been a lot of chat on social media about extending the race and eventually giving women a 3 week-long Tour de France. Until now this was admittedly not something I’ve ever thought about from a personal perspective. I’m a track rider at heart and so am far more acclimatised to short, fast paced efforts and working on the power element of the power/weight ratio. The idea of three weeks of continuous uphill challenges was something I would love to happen, if only so that I can watch it from the comfort of my own sofa. But after racing La Course, I would happily have spent the next 20 days repeating the thrill of being amongst some of the most dedicated sporting fans in the world. I’d go as far as to say that if ASO decide to extend the women’s race to a real tour during the course of my career then I would consider sacrificing the track and becoming a full-time road rider. If the wait is longer and I’m no longer racing bikes when the time comes then you can find me roadside, dancing to europop and experiencing the day from a whole new perspective.

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