Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) won La Course 2019, making the catch of solo leader Amanda Spratt just metres from the line.
The 121 kilometre course, starting and finishing in Pau, had been highlighted as a clear opportunity for Vos' dominant uphill sprint from the beginning, and the Dutch rider did not disappoint.
Tensions were high when, with 25km to go, Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) attacked a select group of favourites, which had been formed earlier by team mate Annemiek van Vleuten. The bunch of 30 or so was a gold standard selection, decorated with hopefuls for the win, which ultimately stunted the chase.
Spratt entered the 15km to go mark with a gap wavering close to 30s, but with 400m to go, it was Vos who stormed past on the 17 per cent slops of the Rue Mulot - accelerating with a speed that no one could match, leaving time to remove her glasses for an eyes-wide victory salute.
Second place went to Leah Kirchmann (Sunweb), with Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla) rounding off the podium.
How it happened
Le Tour de France selected the men's individual time trial course as the stage for the UCI Women's World Tour peloton's appearance at the Tour de France.
The 121km race was comprised of five laps of the ITT parcours, with four ascents of the 1.1km Côte de Gelos, with its 7.8 per cent average and a steep 17 per cent climb of the Rue Mulot 500 metres before the finish line.
The day's break formed early, with seven riders escaping before a technical descent with 112km to go. Their numbers were bolstered by four successful chasers.
The break of 11 consisted of Alexandra Manly and Sara Roy (Mitchelton-Scott), Karol-Ann Canuel (Boels-Dolmans), Jeanne Korevaar (CCC-Liv), Elise Chabbey, Nikola Noskova (Bigla), Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM), Liane Lippert (Sunweb), Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Trek-Segafredo), Évita Muzic (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Sofie de Vuyst (Parkhotel Valkenburg).
With 103km to go, the group had extended their gap to 40 second; come the 95km mark, De Vuyst took the first QOM points.
Behind, Chantel Blaak (Boels-Dolmans), Juliette Labous (Sumweb), Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo) and Kelly van den Steen (Lotto-Soudal) attempted to spring from the peloton. The reaction from the bunch reduced the break's advantage to only 20s, but with the quartet caught, the pace slowed - with the 11 rider group gaining 50s come 90km to go.
A crash in the break took down Roy, but she was soon after back on the bike - whilst team mate Manly dropped from the group as Chabbey took the second set of QOM points atop of the Côte de Gelos.
The ascent saw the break gather steam, holding 1-27 over the peloton, extending to 1-45 at 60km after the technical descent which strung out the group.
Coming into the penultimate lap, the peloton began to apply itself to the chase - the distance to the escapees dropping under a minute at 51.5km to go - largely due to the combined efforts of Lotto-Soudal and WNT, with Mitchelton-Scott ever present towards the front of the bunch.
Not content to stay within the seemingly doomed break, Cordon-Ragot launched an attack with 50km left, powering over the steep climb to the finish line, whilst the peloton sat just 30s in arrears.
Mitchelton-Scott was instrumental in pulling back the break, and with the catch made at 46km, in-form Giro Rosa winner Annemiek van Vleuten finally made herself known on the Côte de Gelos.
Van Veluten ripped herself away from the bunch, with a selection strung out on her wheel, headed up by Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv).
The new leaders included race favourites Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) and Elisa Longo-Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), but not her team mate Lizzie Deignan, who was unique in having missed the Giro Rosa.
Reaching the tip of the climb, Chabbey, who had clung on to the new selection after the break was caught, scooped up the QOM points to lead the competition.
Putting her trust into her time trial skills over her sprint, Movistar's Małgorzata Jasinka attacked the lead bunch during a lull with around 40km to go, very quickly accumulating a sizeable buffer.
She was allowed a margin, but it was a counter attack from Van der Breggen that was the undoing. The World Champion took with her a group of contenders, including Van Vleuten, Vos, Moolman-Pasio, Longo Borghini, Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), Uttrup (Bigla), Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott), plus Lucinda Brand and Kircmann (Sunweb).
However, the group failed to work together, with a new selection of five emerging: Spratt, Moolman-Pasio, Ludwig, Brand (Subweb) and Soraya Paladin (Alé Cipollini), to gain 10s with 32km left.
At the 26km mark, Spratt attacked the other four, to go solo. Leading over the final ascent Côte de Gelos, Spratt had 30s on the bunch, with Chabbey second, securing a win in the climber's competition.
At the 14km mark, Brand, Vos and Van Vleuten set about closing the now 20s gap, Van Vleuten able to surf the wheels and leave the others to work. Uttrup followed, with Paladin tucked in behind - the pair riding past the bridging trio, and eventually bringing the bunch back together.
Coming into Gan, Spratt had 12s, with 10km left. Multiple solo attacks from the bunch saw the gap yo-yo between 15 and 25s, and whilst long straight roads left Spratt exposed, a lack of domestiques remaining in the chase played in her favour.
The bunch was in view at 2km, Spratt looking back to catch a glimpse of the chase behind. However, she was still out front under the 1km mark - with no one in the bunch keen to taste the wind so close to a potential sprint.
Victory was denied to her, when Vos made her move, accelerating away with 400m to go, to reach the line first, ahead of Kirchmann and Uttrup.
Results: La Course 2019 (Pau-Pau), 121km
1 Marianne Vos (CCC - Liv), in 3-15-20
2 Leah Kirchmann (Team Sunweb), at 3s
3 Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla Pro Cycling), at same time
4 Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb), at 4s
5 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC - Liv), at 6s
6 Elisa Longo-Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), at same time
7 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), at 7s
8 Soraya Paldain (Alé Cipollini), at same time
9 Ane Santesteban (WNT-Rotor Pro Cycling), at 9s
10 Anna van der Breggen (Boels - Dolmans), at same time
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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.
Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor.
Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
Michelle is on maternity leave from July 8 2022, until April 2023.
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