Grace Brown riding for Wiggle High5
Lining up for La Course, I was full of mixed emotions. Adrenaline was bumping with the hype of the Tour de France. I was excited to race after over a month of solid training and keen to see how far I could push myself on the climbs. But I was also anxious about being back in the peloton after crashing and breaking some ribs in my last race.
After 12 km neutral along the western shore of Lake Annecy, the race proper started. Not for long though, as I heard the screeching of brakes ahead and soon found myself tumbling over a pile of girls and bikes in the middle of the road.
I pulled my bike out of the wreckage, fixed the chain back and began my chase back to the bunch. This time I was lucky enough to escape with only a minor graze to the elbow.
It's hard not to let crashes like this knock your confidence a little. I rode on with a cloud of tentativeness hanging over me.
Some early climbs that had appeared benign on the course profile provided a decent challenge, reducing the peloton of 120 to almost half by 40km. I felt good and my confidence was fortified for the real climbs ahead.
The pace was fast descending into Bonneville and beginning the run into the base of the penultimate climb, Col de Romme.
A few riders had escaped off the front and gained an advantage of 2’20”, but I had to trust in the fact that they would likely be brought back on the steep climbs.
Most teams gathered as units to safely launch their climbers into the base of the climb. By this point I was on my own and had to surf the bunch as best I could to get up the front.
I successfully positioned myself up amongst the top 10 wheels and found a rhythm on the climb. I felt comfortable with the pace, but could feel building fatigue as we chipped away at the steep 8.8 km incline. At some point soon someone would attack and I'd be in a world of pain.
As soon as we caught the last of the breakaway, Cecilie Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) attacked. Despite her proven climbing ability, there was no reaction from the group and she was allowed to go ahead on the climb.
Yet it wasn’t long until Amanda Spratt went for it and, while the group did chase, I couldn't find that extra gear to follow. I lost connection with only 2 km left to climb.
Reaching the summit of Col de Romme, I could see the lead group slowing and dug deep to catch back on. But the contact was short lived as we hit a technical descent and that lingering tentativeness let me down. A gap opened up and I was off the back again.
Hitting the last 7.5km climb, I was on my own. I was partly relieved that I could climb at my own pace, but also disappointed that I wasn't fighting to hang on to the group ahead.
I passed a few girls but obviously wasn't climbing anywhere near the pace of the front of the race. The final kilometre was an utter struggle. I could see the top ahead of me, but it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. I tried to take energy from the cheering masses of spectators, gritted my teeth and pushed up over the climb.
If I hadn’t been in a world of pain, I would have loved the descent that followed, flowing down the valley toward Le Grand-Bornand. My abductors were cramping at every switchback.
Finally crossing the line, taking a few last scalps in the final kilometre to finish 21st, I got to hear the news of the exciting race that had unfolded ahead of me.
The front of the race had shattered on the final climb as Annemiek Van Vlueten (Mitchelton Scott), Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) and Anna Van Der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) battled it out, catching escapee Ludwig in the last kilometres.
Van Der Breggen had gapped Van Vlueten at the top and maintained her advantage for the descent. But the Mitchelton-Scott rider would not give up, and seeing her rival tiring ahead, gave every last inch of energy to catch her moments before the finish line.
Moolman-Pasio finished 3rd 1’22” down.
If you missed the live action, be sure to watch this brief highlights package to see the incredible finale:
Stats from the winner:
Distance: 112 km
Winning time: 3h20m (33.4km/h)
The Australians had a great day with a number of riders finishing well:
Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton Scott) - 7th
Brodie Chapman (TIBCO SVB) - 14th
Grace Brown (Wiggle High5) - 21st
Shara Gillow (FDJ) - 22nd
Full results here: