So many occasions Le Tour has been to Pau - 67 times in case you’re wondering; only Paris and Bordeaux have played host more times - there is now have a museum dedicated to its past winners. Set in the Philippe Tissié stadium, 'Le Tour des Géants' (the Giants of the Tour) is an outdoor exhibit featuring a sculpture for each winner of La Grande Boucle, with the winner's name, their photo, and a summary by author Christian Laborde.
Mountain passes & hills
Km 86.0 - Col du Tourmalet (2,115m) Souvenir Jacques Goddet: 19 kilometre-long climb at 7.4% - category H
Km 120.0 - Hourquette d'Ancizan (1,564m): 8.2 kilometre-long climb at 4.9% - category 2
Km 148.0 - Col de Val Louron-Azet (1,580m): 10.7 kilometre-long climb at 6.8% - category 1
Km 168.5 - Col de Peyresourde (1,569m): 7.1 kilometre-long climb at 7.8% - category 1
Two of the four climbs featured today form part of a classic Pyrenean Tour stage ominously known as ‘The Circle of Death’, which takes in the Tourmalet, Peyresoude, Aspin and Ausbisque. (Whether this means the peloton will only be half-dead by day's end, we'll have to wait and see.)
Probably the hardest thing about the final climb of the Peyresoude is its consistency of gradient; it just doesn't let up. Not to mention there are still 15.5 downhill kilometres to the line in Bagnères-de-Luchon, the town that hosted the first two high mountain stages of the Tour in 1910, both won by Frenchman Octave Lapize, the eventual champion.
Following yesterday’s finish in Lac de Payolle this is the second consecutive valley finish. As mentioned in the previous day’s stage preview, organisers are reluctant to see large time differences at the top of the leaderboard till the final week. Explains technical director Thierry Gouvenou: “It offers further proof that we’ve tried to set up the race so that there’s plenty of attacks, rather than it being decided with just one big knockout punch! This is still a proper, difficult mountain stage that will provoke surprise with some previously unused sections of road,” he says, the latter a reference to the second categorised ascent of the Hourquette d'Ancizan, which the Tour has not travelled in this direction before.
Thomas Voeckler has twice won in Bagnères-de-Luchon, in 2010 and 2012, and Michael Rogers famously recorded his finest hour on Stage 16 of the 2014 Tour (Voeckler was also part of this move). All won in breakaways, and all finishing solo.
Once a centre for the ageing because of its revitalising thermes is now a hotbed for adventure sports; when it comes to bicycle racing, Bagnères-de-Luchon clearly welcomes a winner that is part maverick, part dare-devil, and brimming with panache. Furthermore, today’s stage will undoubtedly provide further clues as to the next geant immortalised outside the Philippe Tissié stadium.
Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says...
“The great classic of the Pyrenees has been reconsidered for this 2016 edition of the Tour. After the Col du Tourmalet, the race will, for the first time, head up the Hourquette d'Ancizan from a different side before taking on the Col de Val-Louron-Azet and Peyresourde! A battle with several levels where anything and everything can happen.”
Weather: Hot summer sun at the start. Cloudy onto the mountains from midday. Rising temperatures, reaching up to 30/34°C in the valleys. More or less the same temperature at the top of the mountains. Light northeasterly wind.