Many climbs have earned their place in cycling folklore across the years. Some have gained their notoriety due to the misfortune of those attempting to conquer them, others due to the scenes of triumph and glory painted by some of the sport's most iconic figures. When you think of Ventoux you think of the late Tom Simpson, the Marmolada in the Giro d’Italia is a climb closely associated with Marco Pantani. Most monoliths of the Dolomites, Alps or Pyrenees are intertwined with an iconic story from a bike race.
La Super Planche des Belles Filles is just one of those climbs. Buried deep in the Vosges Mountains within eastern France, the mountain has played host to some of the most dramatic moments in recent memory at the Tour de France. In 2012 Chris Froome displayed the signs of what was to come in his career as he famously left the winner that year, Bradley Wiggins, behind in pursuit of a memorable stage win.
Eight years later, the climb would become synonymous with the suffering inflicted on Primož Roglič by an almighty Tadej Pogačar. That infamous day at the 2020 Tour de France was one of those sporting moments that reminds you just why you fell in love with the race. Dramatic, edge of the seat viewing that will be remembered for years to come. Each turn of Pogačar's pedals that fateful afternoon twisted the knife in Roglič's torment. A day full of glorious memories for the defending champion and one that turned the Tour de France on its head.
The climb itself is a beast of a mountain. By the time the riders reach the summit, they will have climbed more than 1,035 metres from Plancher Les Mines, averaging at a leg-sapping 8.5% gradient. Although the torture inflicted on sore and aching muscles will not end there. On Friday the finish line will be at the end of a short gravel section previously used in the Tour which rockets up to 24%. A gradient that would generate a shudder in even the most fearless of climbers.
After winning a dramatic stage in 2019 that finished on the mountain gravel, Dylan Teuns (Bahrain Victorious) is a man who knows how difficult the climb is. Teuns told Cycling Weekly that the addition of the gravel section makes it that more challenging.
The Belgian rider said: “It was my first win in the Tour and will always be a special one. It’s a hard climb and then they added the gravel section in. It was the first time they had done that when I won and it made it super special. The gravel section for sure makes it even more difficult, the steepest part is just there at the end.”
Riders who can tackle the short, sharp hills are unlikely to make it to the summit with the favourites, which means we’re likely to potentially see a new polka-dot jersey wearer at the end of the day. Magnus Cort Nielsen (EF-Education EasyPost) took the Polka-Dot jersey over the course of the opening weekend and has held it valiantly all week. Although by the time Saturday morning dawns, it may well have been removed from his shoulders as the Danes time is up.
‘Plank of the Beautiful Women’ as it’s otherwise known, requires a different breed of bike rider. It requires those riders that possess an ability to go so far into the red that nobody else can follow. That’s meant as no disrespect to Cort Nielsen. He will well know that it’s not a climb for him. It’s where those hoping to not allow Pogačar to canter away to overall glory will need to come into their own.
Ineos Grenadiers's pair, Adam Yates and Geraint Thomas, are two of those riders. As is Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma). However the main character who has a score to settle here is Primož Roglič.
In a heavy crash on Wednesdays cobbled stage, Roglic dislocated his shoulder before then putting it back into place himself. Most mere mortals would have packed it up there and then, however Roglič has been there before. He is a purebred warrior who knows exactly how to suffer and still come out fighting. Moments before Tadej Pogačar stormed to victory on stage six, Roglič put in a trademark attack looking to fight back with a stage win and to show he’s not out yet.
In 2022, ‘La Planche’ will have a key role to play in two races. On July 31 it plays host to the final stage of the inaugural Tour de France Femmes, and could well be the theatre for a huge final battle between the race leaders.
Featuring at the end of the first week this year in the Tour de France, it may be too early for ‘La Planche’ to play a decisive role like it did so stunningly two years ago. However, once the gravel of the final few meters arrives Primož Roglič will be more than ready to put his demons to bed and show he’s up for the fight all the way to Paris.
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