La Planche des Belles Filles was only in the Tour de France route for the first time in 2012, but the finish of Friday’s stage has very quickly become a Tour classic. NU.nl lists the previous five arrivals on the steep climb in the Vosges, culminating in the time trial in 2020 in which Tadej Pogacar drove compatriot Primoz Roglic from the yellow jersey.
2012: Breakthrough Froome on steepest climb in the Vosges
Since Christian Prudhomme became director of the Tour in 2006, the Frenchman has been continuously looking for ways to make the biggest cycling race in the world (even) more spectacular. “I have been obsessed from the start to find difficult climbs outside the Alps and the Pyrenees,” the Frenchman told the regional newspaper in 2020 Vosges Matin†
The Vosges, a low mountain range in northeastern France, is one of the options, but Prudhomme can’t seem to find a climb that he finds difficult enough. Until he encounters the local cycling tour Les 3 Ballons, which ends on the steepest col in the Vosges: La Planche des Belles Filles.
The first time Prudhomme goes to see for himself, there is no road to the top. Despite opposition from environmental organizations, 300 meters of extra asphalt is being laid. As a result, the seventh stage of the Tour of 2012 can finish for the first time on the 6 kilometer long climb with an average gradient of 8.5 percent.
The scoop immediately provides the spectacle that Prudhomme was hoping for. The pictures on the roads between the trees are beautiful and the battle for the stage victory is even more beautiful. Chris Froome gets his big break by winning a stage for the first time in the Tour de France and his teammate Bradley Wiggins takes the yellow jersey. The top four of the day’s results (Froome, Cadel Evans, Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali) consist entirely of (later) Tour winners.
Chris Froome (left) is on his way to his first stage win in the Tour.
2014: Nibali wins ‘toughest stage ever in Grand Tour’
Immediately after the Tour of 2012, Prudhomme predicts that La Planche des Belles Filles will often return in its round. It will therefore come as no surprise if the col may be the finishing point for the second time in 2014.
Again, the profit goes to a big name in cycling. Nibali drives away from his competitors in the tough final kilometer and lays a very solid foundation for his eventual Tour victory, also because his great competitor Alberto Contador falls before the final climb and breaks his leg. “This was the toughest stage I’ve ever ridden in a Grand Tour,” says Nibali.
Vincenzo Nibali solos to the win at La Planche des Belles Filles.
2017: Froome lays foundation for fourth Tour win
The advantage of a tough climb in the north of France is that it can easily be scheduled in the first week of the Tour. In 2017, La Planche des Belles Filles is already on the program on the fifth day and again the pass in the Vosges provides an early indication of the balance of power.
Fabio Aru attacks more than 2 kilometers from the top and wins his only Tour stage in the Italian championship jersey. Behind the former Vuelta a España winner, Froome finishes third, with the Briton taking over the yellow jersey from Geraint Thomas. It is the third time in a row that the yellow jersey wearer will later become the overall winner in Paris after La Planche des Belles Filles.
The profile of the seventh stage.
2019: La Planche des Belles Filles turns ‘Super’
The Tour organization will find a way in 2019 to make the steepest climb of the Vosges even steeper. For the fourth finish at La Planche des Belles Filles, the climb is extended by 900 meters, so that the final kilometer is partly over unpaved roads and has strips of 24 to even 26 percent.
Riders are not entirely enthusiastic about ‘La Super Planche des Belles Filles’. “I wonder why they have added that piece,” said Steven Kruijswijk. “Because it’s a mystery to me how to get up there without asphalt.”
The fear of chaotic scenes on the extra 900 meters did not materialize, but the super-steep slot ensures that the toppers almost all come in one by one. Refugee Dylan Teuns wins the stage and four months later provides another highlight at La Planche des Belles Filles, when he proposes to his girlfriend Lies Hoeyberghs.
2020: Pogacar causes big shock in time trial
The idea for a decisive time trial at La Planche des Belles Filles comes from two-time Tour winner Bernard Thévenet and is immediately embraced by Prudhomme. The problem is that the only way to the top is a dead end, while a time trial requires a second path to get riders and support cars down safely. The local organization is solving it by making a forest road paved.
It produces one of the most special sports images of 2020: teammates Tom Dumoulin and Wout van Aert comforting a completely exhausted Primoz Roglic at the top of La Planche des Belles Filles. Nobody doubted that the Jumbo-Visma leader would secure his first Tour victory in the climbing time trial on the penultimate day, but Tadej Pogacar has other plans. The Slovenian, who is only 21, downgrades the competition and is honored a day later in Paris as the youngest post-war winner of the Tour de France.
“I have very fond memories of La Planche des Belles Filles,” says Pogacar. “And I hope to add even more beautiful ones on Friday.”
The official start of the seventh stage of the Tour is Friday at 1.15 pm. The finish is expected between 5.15 pm and 5.45 pm.
Primoz Roglic is comforted by Tom Dumoulin and Wout van Aert.
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