Stage 9: Pau - Laruns
Date: September 6, 2020
Stage start: 12:15 p.m. CEST
Stage type: Mountain
The second day in the Pyrenees focuses more on tactical nuance and short, steep climbs. Riders will need descending skills as much as climbing expertise with two of the four categorised climbs being the Col de la Hourcère and the Col de Marie Blancque. Stage 9 may just be a day for the break and for the best climber in that group. There are time bonuses at the finish again.
The opening third of the stage is relatively flat, heading out of the valley city of Pau, which will now have hosted the Tour de France 72 times (third on the list of frequented cities, behind Bordeau, 30, and Paris, 142). Then back-to-back climbs begin to create chaos - the Col de La Hourcère, 11.1km long and averaging 8.8 per cent gradient, followed by the Col de Soudet, 3.8km long and an 8.5 per cent gradient, but much steeper in sections. The Soudet is the highest point of the day at 1,540m, and it means a long descent on the other side for 20km into the valley.
After the category 3 Col d'Ichère, it’s fireworks over the Col de Marie Blanque en route to Laruns, the final six kilometres going slightly uphill. This category 1 ascent is 7.7 kilometres long and the average gradient is 8.6 per cent, although the pitch is closer to 11 or 12 per cent near the top.
In 1990, the Col de Marie Blanque was the final mountain of the whole Tour. Greg LeMond had spent the best part of three weeks systematically and laboriously chipping away at the lead Claudio Chiappucci had taken in a soft break on the very first day of the race, and he now sat just five seconds behind the Italian. On the climb, LeMond haad a puncture at the top that left LeMond on the roadside, and with no team car in sight, he was stranded, while Chiappucci was organising a through-and-off ahead. LeMond had to wait for a bike from teammate Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, who was from Pau, there was enough distance before Pau for him to catch Chiappucci.
The 2020 iteration of the stage favours the break. The Marie Blanque is steep, but it’s still 18km from the finish, and if the break takes the summit bonus seconds, it will neutralise the climb a little. However, while GC riders may not need to watch their rivals so closely, they’ll have to be alert for bad luck, as 1990 favourite LeMond almost found to his cost.
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