• Froomey likes La Planche… This may be the only view the peloton get of Chris Froome if he rides La Planche like he did in 2012. (AFP)Source: AFP
La Planche des Belles Filles has only been used twice before, yet it is already deeply ingrained in Tour de France folklore.
Cycling Central
5 Jul 2017 - 4:04 PM  UPDATED 5 Jul 2017 - 5:40 PM

It probably has as much to do with the 17th century tale from which the climb took its name as much as what transpired in 2012 and 2014, when Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali made their mark on the mountain en route to overall victory.

According to folk etymology from the Thirty Years' War, “young women from Plancher-les-Mines fled into the mountains to escape Swedish mercenaries as they feared being raped and massacred. Rather than surrender, they decided to commit suicide and jumped into a lake far below. One of the soldiers then took a board on which, with his dagger, he engraved an epitaph for the ‘beautiful girls’. A wooden statue, created by a local artist, is a reminder of the legend,” reads the Wikipedia entry.

Tour Leaders
View Overall Standings

The story from five years ago, on the 199 kilometre seventh stage of the Tour from Tomblaine to La Planche des Belles Filles, was almost as dramatic: replace the Swedish mercenaries with Team Sky and the young women with the seven who got away after 20km and the modern-day scene was set. Over the next 175km, the British outfit’s tempo riding slowly but surely saw each escapee fall on his sword, the last man caught just as the remants of the peloton began the never-before-used 5.9km ascent boasting a 8.5 per cent average gradient. Froome, showing what a beast he was and would continue to be over the next four years, rode half of the climb on the front for his leader Bradley Wiggins. Then, when defending champ Cadel Evans led into the final corner, the Kenyan-born Brit accelerated past him as if the former were standing still. He the stage, Wiggins the maillot jaune - and that’s the way things stayed till Paris.

Mountain passes & hills
Km 107.5 - Côte d'Esmoulières: 2.3 kilometre-long climb at 8% - category 3
Km 160.5 - La Planche des Belles Filles (1035 m): 5.9 kilometre-long climb at 8.5% - category 1

Two years later on the tenth leg, Bastille Day 2014, Le Tour headed back into the Vosges. This time the day began in Mulhouse in eastern France, near the border of Switzerland and Germany, and Froome, the defending champion, was already out, having crashed on Stages 4 and 5 and exiting stage right in a Team Sky Jag. Meanwhile Alberto Contador, “in the shape of his life” according to his then Tinkoff-Saxo team manager Bjarne Riis, became another favourite that never made it to La Planche; on the descent of the Petit Ballon the Spaniard took a huge spill, smashing his tibia and with it, any hope of continuing. With Nairo Quintana attempting the Giro-Vuelta double it granted the only remaining bona-fide contender a yellow brick road to Paris - Nibali duly obliged as his stage victory atop Belles Filles saw him re-take the maillot jaune from Tony Gallopin and this time for good.

At 160.5km the stage is almost identical in length to that in the 2014 Tour but it is a vastly different parcours: three years ago, the stage comprised no less than seven categorised climbs; this year there is just one. That said, the terrain en route to La Planche des Belles Filles is far from flat - but without those significant prior obstacles faced in 2012 or 2014 and the earlier placement of this stage on the overall route, it means the fight to the bottom will be intensified, and the contenders, so long as they remain unscathed and upright, will arrive far fresher than before.

The previous two times on La Planche, the top 10 riders arrived at its 1,035 metre summit within a minute of each other. Today, depending on how things play out, we could well see those differences expanded.

Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says:
“It only took two stage finishes for La Planche des Belles Filles to add its name to the history of the Tour. The climb is rather short, however it's extremely demanding, especially on the final part. The gradients indeed reach 20 percent. It'll be a first explanation between the favourites.”

Finish line: D16E, at the end of a 400m finishing straight (100m by line of sight) and after climbing for 5.9km at 8.5%. Width: 5.50m

Weather: 28°C and mostly sunny at start, 0% precipitation, 43% humidity, wind 7km/h ESE; 22°C and partly cloudy at finish, 0% precipitation, 42% humidity, wind 8km/h W.

Who will win Stage 5 of the 2017 TdF?
Thanks for voting*
* Please note percentages are rounded to one decimal place.