The anticipation was excessive because the route of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift was introduced again in October final yr, with hopes that the course would supply a problem that led to a worthy wearer of the yellow jersey on the long-awaited return of a ladies’s version of the French Grand Tour. Because the route from Paris to the Vosges mountains was revealed there was no query the characteristic that supplied the crowning glory of the eight-stage race was the La Tremendous Planche des Belles Filles.
It will not be a climb that resonates in Tour de France folklore fairly as loudly because the Alpe d’Huez, Tourmalet or Ventoux however it has an thrilling, if more moderen, historical past however. Moreover, the terrain it presents to riders as they create 1,029 kilometres of racing from Paris to the Vosges mountains to a detailed means Sunday ought to absolutely add one other unforgettable chapter.
Something might occur on La Tremendous Planche des Belles Filles, the ultimate seven kilometre check of the 2022 Tour de France Femmes, which saves the toughest half for the dying levels with two brutal stings – gravel and gradient.
The “Tremendous” a part of the climb extends onto an unpaved floor and a brutally steep ending ramp. It’s a check that can go away no room for doubt that the rider who climbs onto that remaining podium on the prime of the summit and into the yellow jersey could have earnt her prize and place in historical past.
Heading into the stage Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) is in prime place, after a long-range assault on stage 7, with Demi Vollering (SD Worx) going alongside for a part of the journey. Van Vleuten is now in yellow with a 3:14 lead on Vollering and 4:33 on Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), although stage 8 will current each alternative for GC challengers to use any weak spot or mishap, with two categorised ascents to set the scene earlier than the crowning climb.
Cyclingnews takes a more in-depth have a look at the ascent which has the potential to flip the GC order proper on the final second.
The historical past of the climb
Though not so well-known, the tales of battles on the fabled slopes of the legendary mountains so many biking followers know from the Tour de France additionally exist inside the ladies’s peloton.
A ladies’s version of the race ran from 1984 to 1989 alongside the boys’s race, with the rider from United States Marianne Martin happening within the historical past books as the primary winner after 1,059km throughout 18 levels, which took within the Alps and Pyrenees.
Then got here the occasions that, though not formally a ladies’s Tour de France, included key climbs related to the boys’s race. There was the Tour Cycliste Féminin from 1992-1997, the place Fabiana Luperini in 1996 crashed but when her teammates introduced her again to the peloton sore and bleeding on the base of the Tourmalet, she nonetheless managed to battle on and win on the prime to tug on the yellow jersey. Then from 1998-2009, there was the Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale, the place in 2006 Nicole Cooke went on a solo raid on Mount Ventoux to clinch the title.
Nonetheless, La Tremendous Planche des Belles Filles was launched to the Tour de France within the years when there have been no comparable ladies’s race, so 2022 would be the yr the ladies will begin constructing their tales of the climb. The historical past of the boys’s race on the slopes of the mountain, nevertheless, will present a body of reference.
“Folks will perceive what we’re doing once we can say that we end on La Planche des Belles Filles,” mentioned Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) in a Cyclingnews weblog after the route announcement. “So many followers have watched it through the earlier editions of the boys’s Tour de France, in order that they know it is a onerous climb.”
The Planche des Belles Filles was launched to the Tour de France in 2012 on stage 7, offering the primary mountaintop end of that yr’s Tour. It was at that stage that the then-young British rider Chris Froome took the victory and drew the admiration of defending champion Cadel Evans: “Froome was unbelievable – he rode the entrance the final 3km or one thing and he was in a position to comply with me and speed up previous me.”
It’s subsequent look was in 2014 on stage 10, reshuffling the GC as Vincenzo Nibali reigned supreme on the climb and moving into the yellow jersey which he additionally donned on the Champs-Élysées. In 2017 it was again on stage 5, with Fabio Aru springing away from the GC group 2km from the summit and taking victory whereas Chris Froome this time got here in third and stepped into the yellow jersey, which he additionally completed with on stage 21.
By 2019 the climb had been used typically sufficient to turn out to be acquainted, however then there was an additional twist. This was the yr the Planche des Belles Filles turned La Tremendous Planche des Belles Filles. Organisers added an additional part on the prime, taking the end line past the paved highway and onto an unpaved dusty floor and steep part past. On the entrance because the tarmac turned to gravel, two riders with greater than a minute clear battled for the stage victory, with Dylan Teuns beating Giulio Ciccone to the road. Additional again among the many GC rivals the battle was working sizzling with Romain Bardet slipping out the again and Geraint Thomas besting the 2 Frenchmen, Thibaut Pinot and Julian Alaphillipe, who gave the yellow jersey as much as Ciccone that day.
The Planche des Belles Filles joined the race once more in one other type in 2020, offering the finale of the 36 kilometre time trial the place Tadej Pogačar overhauled Primož Roglič, taking virtually two minutes on his compatriot and the yellow jersey when it counted most.
Freshening the reminiscences of the climb, it additionally made its sixth look within the males’s version of the race in 2022, offering the primary summit end on stage 7 and a battle between two riders who had been head and shoulders above the remaining. Right here Pogačar reeled in an assault by Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), reinforcing his favorite standing by reigning supreme on the climb which had been such an important a part of his journey to take yellow two years in the past.
Nonetheless, this was however the first summit end of the race so whereas Pogačar had yellow on the finish of the day Vingegaard didn’t have to attend lengthy for his subsequent probability to take the race lead, which he then stored all the way in which to Paris. The ladies, then again, after cresting La Tremendous Planche des Belles Filles could have a much more remaining end result, with the following probability within the chase for yellow having to attend an entire yr.
The Planche des Belles Filles is located within the Vosges mountains within the east of France, near the intersection of the French, German and Swiss borders and situated between Strasbourg and Besançon.
The place of the decrease vary of mountains implies that it has typically supplied the primary summit end of the Tour, delivering an entree earlier than the Alps and Pyrenees. Nonetheless, it turned a remaining cease earlier than Paris in 2020, when it was residence to a pivotal time trial.
For the Tour de France Femmes, it supplies a mountainous finale comfortably inside attain of Paris for the eight-stage occasion which began on the Eiffel Tower on July 24, the identical day the Tour de France ended.
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The Vosges mountains might not attain the heights of the Alps of the Pyrenees however there ought to be no underestimating La Tremendous Planches des Belles Filles, which stands at 1,140 metres above sea degree. Coming on the finish of eight robust days within the saddle – and with the class 2 Côte d’Esmoulières and the robust class 1 Ballon d’Alsace already of their legs from earlier within the 123km stage – the seven-kilometre ending climb serves a median gradient of 8.7%.
There isn’t a easing into the ultimate class 1 climb as the primary kilometre of the tree-lined highway zig zags its manner up the mountain and delivers a median gradient of 9.4%. The climb then peaks at 13% earlier than a slight reprieve within the second kilometre, when you can name a median gradient of 6.7% a reprieve. There’s even a small flattish part, and what appears to be like like a momentary dip, earlier than the gradient then picks up once more by the following two kilometres again to a median of 9.4% and 9.5%.
Again to eight.3% for kilometre 5 of the climb, after which a median gradient of 8% for what can be the run into the end line if the climb hadn’t been stretched onto the gravel. It’s removed from a good 8% although, with a few flat ramps sandwiching a bit with pitches of as much as 20%.
That remaining part doesn’t look that ridiculously steep initially however the begin isn’t an indicator of what’s to return. The mud and unfastened floor of some hundred metres of unpaved highway provides one layer of drama after which the gradients of the ultimate paved part that the riders flip onto with round 300 metres to go provides one other.
The end line could also be ever so shut, however with the gradient peaking at 24% in these remaining brutal metres of the eight-stage race it might, for some riders, really feel like an eternity.
“It’s a killer,” mentioned Demi Vollering of the climb after doing a reconnaissance journey within the months earlier than the Tour de France Femmes. “There usually are not a lot ways anymore, it’s simply the strongest rider who comes first on prime right here.”