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After Paris and Bordeaux, Pau is the third-most visited city in the history of the men’s Tour de France, with 67 stages starting or finishing there. Its strategic position at the foot of the Pyrenees makes it an obvious stopping point. Stages to Pau have rarely been decisive in the general classification, but they often represent the calm before the mountain storm.
To celebrate its place in Tour history, last year the city unveiled its Tour of Giants installation in the Bois Louis park, a series of aluminum and glass monuments dedicated to Tour winners. Visitors can learn about each of the featured riders by scanning a QR code and listening to lyrical stories about their legendary exploits.
The geography of the area surrounding Pau is versatile enough that the race organizers can design stages to suit sprinters, puncheurs or climbers. This year Pau will host the final stage of the Tour de France Femmes Avec Zwift, a race whose history is so short it hasn’t yet generated any meaningful statistics, with a 22-kilometer time trial on the mainly flat roads to the south of the city.
The first three editions of La Course, the predecessor to the Tour de France Femmes Avec Zwift, were circuit races on the Champs-Élysées. ASO then dragged the race around France, following the men’s race, as if it wasn’t quite sure of how to find the women’s peloton a home. In 2019 the men’s Tour de France arrived in Pau for a 27-kilometer time trial, with the charismatic Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe in the yellow jersey. Alaphilippe was expected to relinquish his lead but somehow produced the best time trial of his career, not only saving the jersey, but winning the stage too. On the same day and the same roads, La Course 2019 proved to be equally exciting.
The circuit was punchy, with two climbs — the Côte de Gelos and the Côte d’Esquillot. Between them the roads were flat or rolling, and there was a sting in the final kilometer — the short but very steep ramp of Rue Mulot, just 350 meters before the finish line. The women faced five laps, totaling 121 kilometers. On the first lap a break of 11 riders formed, though the peloton never let them get too far ahead. Annemiek Van Vleuten single handedly reeled in the escapees on the third lap, shredding the peloton in the process.
On the next lap another group of 11 formed, this time containing most of the favorites. That group then split into two, and for a while indecision seemed to grip the leading riders. There were many attacks, but none stuck. The leading riders looked at each other. With one lap to go the Australian Amanda Spratt decided she’d had enough of the messy tactics around her. She took off alone and quickly built a lead of half a minute. Her attack galvanized a chase from the CCC – Liv and Sunweb teams, though they were hampered by Spratt’s teammate Van Vleuten playing the role of super-domestique.
Spratt fought valiantly on the final flat roads coming back into Pau and it looked like her lead might just be sufficient for victory. In the final kilometer she hit the 17-percent wall of Rue Mulot, giving everything to maintain as much momentum as possible. But behind her the Greatest Of All Time was ready to pounce. Marianne Vos repaid the work done by her CCC – Liv team by jumping clear of the group and storming past Spratt in a merciless display of power and timing. Behind Vos the rest of the group were powerless to resist the attack. At the line Vos had plenty of time to celebrate yet another win. Leah Kirchmann came second, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig third.
The City of Giants installation celebrates the heroes of the men’s race. Now it is time to start telling the stories of the giants of the women’s peloton. Marianne Vos would be the first monument to be erected.