This could be the toughest climb of this year’s Tour de France

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Above: French professional cyclist Thibaut Pinot rides La Super Planche des Belles Filles, near his hometown of MeLisey, France.


The Tour de France 2022 will again feature the famous climb La Super Planche des Belles Filles. And while the men will climb it early in the race during Stage 7 on July 8, the women of the newly resurrected women’s Tour de France will climb its grueling slopes on the last day of their race, July 31, during the step 8.

Being the first mountain stage of the men’s Tour de France, things could get very interesting.

“This year as a first time summit finisher, the climb being so steep it is a bit difficult to find your climbing rhythm after so many flatter stages, which makes for quite an explosive climb – at the opposed to long alpine-style climbs later in the Tour,” said American Sepp Kuss of the Jumbo-Visma team, who won stage 15 of the Tour de France last year. Ride a bike.

Chris Horner, the first American to win the Vuelta a España and who now works for NBC Sports as a Tour de France analyst, agrees. “The most important thing is that it is the first mountain peak. Because it is the first peak of the mountain, anyone can climb; everybody’s got a lot of leg power because they’re just coming out of flat scenes,” Horner said. Ride a bike.

Unlike many climbs, where you have a sharp right or left turn to access the actual climb, requiring riders to scrub a little speed, the route up La Planche des Belles Filles goes from flat to steep slopes without any turns. “You carry all your speed, so those fast, loud, flat [terrain] the guys that hurt you through the first week of the Tour are still hurting you right now too,” said Horner.

Bruce Hillenbrand

The paved road from the bottom of the valley to the small ski resort at the top climbs 1,805 feet (547 m) over 3.6 miles (5.9 km) at an average grade of 8.5%. But believing these relatively moderate statistics would be a huge mistake.

The road winds up the mountain in three steep sections, separated by two short and relatively flat “plateaus”. Steep sections present double-digit ratings to runners, with the last being the last 200 meters to the end of the pavement at the top, at 20% leg break. As Phil Liggett likes to say, “it’s the sting in the tail!”

Can’t go to France? Try this American climb instead: According to Strava, the American climb that most closely resembles La Super Planche des Belles Filles is a segment called “Flagstaff Weekin Boulder, Colorado.

the super boards of the beautiful girls tour de france climbs

Bruce Hillenbrand

“You go into this climb at full throttle, 100% speed. The whole peloton is tense, it’s not kerb to kerb and everyone is talking about what they are going to do after the stage. And you go from the big chainring to the small chainring, and your legs are trying that rotation versus the power you’ve been pushing on the pedals on the flats for the first week. All of a sudden your muscles change because you need a little piece of equipment,” Horner said.

“When I did it in 2012 against Team Sky, it was the first time I saw the ‘Sky train.’ I looked at my power meter and it wasn’t on the graph it was reading 600 [watt] numbers down as we sprinted with Sky doing their train up there for Wiggins and Froome,” Horner continued.

And what about the 20% pavement stretch at the top? “You come into this right-hand corner and you look up and you think, ‘Get it over with this thing, will you? ‘” Horner said.

the super boards of the beautiful girls tour de france climbs

Bruce Hillenbrand

This year, for the second time, the climb will continue on a steep gravel section above the roadway, which turns the climb into La Great Board of Beautiful Girls. This lengthens the climb to 4.3 miles (7 km) with an average gradient of 8.7%. How will this affect the race? “It’s pretty smooth, but if you’re in pain, the gravel makes it harder to get out of the saddle, so it fits the characteristics of some riders better than others,” Kuss said.

Horner agrees: “He’s 100% right. If you have the climbing technique – which I use – of standing up, you’re going to be in trouble because you don’t get the same rear wheel traction.

And which of the contenders for the general classification will shine on this stage? “It’s Tadej Pogačar for sure. It’s great for his style,” said Horner. ‘sit down and spin everyone on his rear wheel.He’ll do his big boost, then sit down and rev up to the line.

The women’s race will most likely be played out on the cruel slopes of La Super Planche des Belles Filles. Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten has arguably been the best climber in the women’s professional peloton in recent years. But riders like South African Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and Americans Kristen Faulkner and Veronica Ewers could also play a role in the lead group. Those two 20% sections at the very top will surely create a very worthy winner.

The story of La Planche des Belles Filles

While most Tour de France fans are familiar with the legendary climbs of the Alps and Pyrenees, the very first official mountain stage of “La Grande Boucle” took place in the Vosges. Nestled in the northeast corner of France, near the German border, the Vosges feature mountain passes that climb to just under 5,000 feet.

On this historic 1905 stage above the Ballon d’Alsace at 4,091ft (1,247m), Tour de France organizers realized the riders would struggle to drive their fixed-gear machines up a climb so long and steep. So they introduced a new rule that allowed riders to switch to a bike with lower gears for the climb. It was only the third year of the Tour de France, but the mountain was here to stay.

While the Ballon d’Alsace is still climbed in the race from time to time, women will climb it in the Tour de France Women this year it was the relatively new climb, about eight kilometers as the crow flies, of La Planche des Belles Filles that created some of the most exciting moments of the last editions of the Tour.

the board of the beautiful girls tour de france climbs
Chris Froome rides La Planche des Belles Filles to win stage 5 of the 2017 Tour de France.

Chris Gray thenGetty Images

The Planche des Belles Filles was first included in the Tour de France in 2012, which saw Chris Froome as the stage winner. Controversially, Froome dropped his Team Sky boss Bradley Wiggins, leading to speculation as to which rider was actually the strongest on the team. Wiggins would eventually win this edition of the Tour, but Froome would win the Tour in four of the next five years.

The “shark of Messina”, Vincenzo Nibali, was the next to conquer La Planche de Belles Filles, winning stage 10 of the 2014 Tour de France. He will then wear the yellow jersey in Paris and will be part of a group of riders of an exceptional elite to win all three Grand Tours – the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España.

the board of the beautiful girls tour de france climbs
Fabio Aru reaches the top of La Planche des Belles Filles to win stage 5 of the 2017 Tour de France.

Tim de WaeleGetty Images

In 2017, the climb was included in stage 5 of the Tour. Italian Fabio Aru beat Irishman Dan Martin, but Chris Froome won his fourth Tour de France.

The 2019 Tour de France heralded a significant change in the climb, which was fast approaching legendary status. Race organizers spotted a small dirt road leading to the top of the ridge overlooking the ski resort and decided that the last 200 meters of 20% paved road was not enough to cause the runners any grief. Belgian Dylan Teuns conquered the final gravel section by more than 20% and La Super Planche des Belles Filles was born.

the super boards of the beautiful girls tour de france climbs
Dylan Teuns leads the way in the gravel section at the end of La Super Planche des Belles Filles during stage 6 of the 2019 Tour de France.

ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULATGetty Images

Trek-Segrafredo rider and Latvian national champion Toms Skujins used one word to describe the newly renamed climb: “brutal”.

Perhaps the Tour de France organizers realized they had crossed a line. When La Planche des Belles Filles returned the following year in 2020, the stage ended on the pavement, but in a cruel twist, they made the stage an individual time trial. And moving the stage from the beginning to the end of the race greatly increased its significance.

the board of the beautiful girls tour de france climbs
Tadej Pogachar time trial to overall victory on La Planche des Belles Filles at the 2020 Tour de France.

Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Slovenian Primož Roglič entered the scene with a seemingly insurmountable one-minute lead over his compatriot Tadej Pogačar, who was racing for a rival team. Pogačar was only 21 years old and participating in his first Tour de France. He was supposed to be riding to support his teammate Fabio Aru, but he crushed the climb and became the second youngest rider to win the Tour de France. Pogačar hasn’t lost since and is well placed in the overall standings of this year’s Tour as he prepares to race down the mountains.

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