The first summit finish of the Tour de France. Sure it’s not high altitude but the climb’s usually very revealing of form.
Longwy à votre vélo: a wild start to the stage with 104km covered in the first two hours, they covered the 220km stage in under four and half hours – quicker than taking the train from Binche to Longy – and arriving 45 minutes ahead of the fastest schedule. The tailwind helped but a large part of this was down to Wout van Aert who kept making moves. At one point he was towing away a group with Pogačar and Vingegaard but obviously nobody could let this go clear. Finally the peloton gave in and Van Aert was away with Quinn Simmons and Jakob Fuglsang for company but it was a doomed move, the peloton kept them on a leash and Fuglsang even sat up realising resistance was futile. Van Aert kept toiling, each time he took a pull on the front you could see Simmons shoulders rock in response to the pace and finally the American cracked on a section of open road. Van Aert continued but was caught and dropped, his spell in the yellow jersey over. It’s hard to know what to make of his raid, if he’d sat back in the peloton he was probably the only rider who could have beaten Pogačar for the stage win, or at least pushed him to the line. But if he’s out of yellow it’s just a day earlier and in the green jersey he came for.
Coming into Longwy and Alexis Vuillermoz made a darting attack that enlivened the finish. He wasn’t a priority to mark nor to close down but it kept the suspense going. Climbing through Longwy Michael Matthews did everything right but couldn’t do anything about Pogačar’s jump in the final straight, he left everyone behind and collected the yellow jersey. Pogačar is now in yellow, this feels almost as familiar as fields of sunflowers in July. Will he keep it all the way to Paris? He’s looking strong but his team much less on.
The Route: first Tomblaine to Gérardmer in 100km, it was 160km in 2014 with more climbing when Blel Kadri won the Tour stage here… and vanished from the sport a couple of years after. This time there are two small mountain passes to scale soon after. The second has a mountains classification point but it’s only 3km at 6%, although steep at the start. Then come a succession of unmarked mountain passes, they’d be certain KoM points earlier in the week but the race is going up in the world today. The final one is the Col de la Chevestraye, a warm-up for what is to come at 10km at 3-4% most of the way before a quicker, steeper descent. The Tour’s visited the Planche des Belles Filles five times before and sometimes there’s more climbing before, today is a more direct approach.
The Finish: a sharp right turn and the road soars. The climb is only 7km long and averages 8.7%, steep enough. The reality is that it’s frequently much steeper, the opening ramp is 14% and that first red part of the climb on the profile? It includes a brief descent. After a long steep ramp to the first hairpin, things then ease with a variety of steep inclines and flatter sections. Higher up and the road gets progressively steeper. In the past the final straight was 300 metres between 14 and 20% but now that’s just part of the road leading to the flamme rouge and the “Super Planche” which is 900m longer and involves a gravel section around the side of the mountain where the final section is tarmac… but little relief as the road reaches 22% for the last 150m to the line.
The Contenders: the breakaway has a good chance. UAE have a yellow jersey to defend but Bjerg, Hirschi and Laengen were dropped yesterday so the team is lacking horsepower and they might well be happy to loan the maillot jaune to another team for a few days. Ineos and Jumbo-Visma might pick up the pace on the approach to the final climb but there’s time to build up a lead.
Yes Thibaut Pinot is stage hunting and this is his local mountain… but Marc Madiot sounded firm when he said the team is 100% behind David Gaudu for now and Pinot can guide Gaudu on the final climb. Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) was second here in 2019, but form is unknown and team mate Bauke Mollema could be more reliable but a steep summit finish isn’t ideal for him either. Ruben Guerreiro (EF Education-Easypost) is climbing very well but can he float up the road when Neilson Powless is sitting second overall? Yes because Powless is unlikely to overhaul Pogačar today so they can spare him for the breakaway. Geoffroy Bouchard (Ag2r Citroën) climbs well but a summit finish win is a tall order. Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies) is having problems descending so today’s course suits if he can make the breakaway. Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) and Dylan Teuns (Bahrain) suit but are only three minutes down on GC. Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty), Ben O’Connor (Ag2r Citroën) and Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) have more room.
Michael Woods (Israel) is perfect for this steep climb and five minutes down in GC so he’s the ideal rider today, however getting in the break and covering the moves doesn’t make it formality, far from it.
Otherwise if the breakaway can’t stick, it’s hard to see past Tadej Pogačar (UAE) who returns to the climb where he sacked Primož Roglic but how will he do in match against others on the steep slope? Adam Yates returns to the climb where he held the Strava KoM for many years (normal, not the Super version) and rode as an U23 nearby, more importantly he’s in shape and good on sharp climbs and it’ll be interesting to see how Tom Pidcock does. David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) is riding well and also suited to shorter climbs like today.
|Tadej Pogačar, Adam Yates
|Woods, Guerreiro, O’Connor, Gaudu, Bouchard, Teuns
Weather: sunny and a light S wind, 25°C.
TV: the finish is forecast for 5.30pm CEST. Check in early to see if it’s another bar fight for the breakaway, then be sure to tune in for the final 45 minutes for the approach to the climb.
The Super Plank of the Beautiful Girls: that’s the literal translation of today’s finish. “Super” just means higher up, some ski stations do this, think Superbagnères above Bagnères de Luchon. Planche comes from the nearby town of Plancher-les-Mines and whose name is an old word for a bridge, a village that grew up around a river crossing. The mountain above Plancher does have the Etang des Belles Filles, a small lake where legend says some beautiful girls, the belles filles, threw themselves rather than face Swedish invaders in 1635; but the mountain has been covered in beech trees which were called fahys in an old dialect. So today’s finish might really be “the nice trees above Plancher” but that would never sound as good. Either way it’s a fixture for the Tour de France because it offers a sharp summit finish that’s just 20 minutes long, enough for a big test at the end of the first week while still leaving room for next week’s giant Alpine summit finishes of the Col du Granon and Alpe d’Huez.