Tour de France - 7e étape - Comment la Planche des Belles Filles est devenue incontournable en dix ans

Tour de France – 7e étape – Comment la Planche des Belles Filles est devenue incontournable en dix ans

Little quiz. For ten years, from 2012 to 2022, what are the three places most used by the Tour de France as a stage finish site? Paris is obviously unbeatable in this area with the traditional outcome of the event on the Champs-Elysées. Pau is his runner-up, whether in this decade or in the history of the Tour. In the recent past, only the 2013 and 2022 editions have forgotten the capital of Béarn. Who completes the podium? La Planche des Belles Filles, present this year on the course for the sixth time since 2012.

A rather crazy recurrence for a site that had never been visited by the Grande Boucle before. Even more incredible, the Haute-Saône had never hosted a stage finish. The “70” has long been the big forgotten of the Tour. He had sometimes seen the runners cross the roads of his department. They had even set off there, just once, during the Vesoul – Auxerre stage in 1972. But never finished. Up to the Planche des Belles Filles, which now enjoys a solidly established reputation.

La Planche and the Tour is both a marriage of love and reason. The organizers fell in love with this climb. His website. Its name, too. “It’s an amazing nameenthused Christian Prudhomme in 2020 in the columns of The Republican East. It sounds, even to foreigners“The place is also full of stories and history. That of the young girls of La Planche, who took refuge at the top of the mountain. That of the maquisards, also, during the Second World War, a famous maquis.

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Long before the Tour became interested in it, the locals were not unaware of its sporting potential. La Planche is then the high point of the cyclosportive Les Trois Ballons. It was by reading comments from participants that the boss of the Tour, intrigued, was going to inquire at the end of the 2000s from Yves Krattinger, the president of the departmental council. “What is the Planche des Belles Filles? It looks hard.” “If you want, it’s the next arrival of the Tour“, replied the latter.

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But the great luck of La Planche was also to be located in the heart of the Vosges. The same ascent in the Pyrenees or the Alps would probably not have emerged in the same way. Since taking office in 2007, Christian Prudhomme has had a double obsession, one being linked to the other: unearthing new sites and energizing the course. For this, he wishes to turn more towards the intermediate massifs. But the Vosges are abandoned. They no longer offer sufficiently selective slopes for modern cycling, like the venerable Ballon d’Alsace, mythical stage of the Tour de France, but hardly more borrowed. The discovery of the Planche therefore came at a good time. In the right place at the right time.

A huge logistical challenge

On July 7, 2012, the Tour and the whole of France discovered this brief but ultra-selective ascent: 5.9 kilometers with an average gradient of 8.5%. The challenge was immense. The small Vosges station was not suitable for the arrival of the barnum of the Grande Boucle. His platoon, of course, but also all the followers, the dozens of vehicles, not to mention the caravan.

Jean-Louis Pagès is then the site director (start and finish) of the Tour. In Bistrot Vélo, on Eurosport, he recalled this week the nature and scale of the challenge: “It’s a great discovery the Planche des Belles Filles. Christian had his sporty logic of intermediate mountains, which is completely legitimate, except that when he sent me there, there was a very small plateau, a small platform and… .nothing after“Even so, the potential is there.”This platform, in my opinion, could accommodate the means of the Tour on the condition of putting plates there to stabilize a little bit. Then we created a bitumen ramp of about 500 meters“, he explains.

“La Planche des Belles Filles, a superb discovery”

The costly development work will make environmentalists and part of the population cry out, and they take legal action, in vain. Sportingly, however, the success will be indisputable. From this 2012 edition, the board of Les Belles Filles imposed its two assets which have never been denied since: its spectacular side and its weight in the race. In 2012, the Sky era began in earnest here. Chris Froome won there ahead of his leader, Bradley Wiggins, who put on the yellow jersey and never left it until Paris. La Planche had his birth certificate.

He arrived in the beauty of the Vosges forests

An image strikes. That of the runners seeming to emerge suddenly at the height of the slope. Before being an image, it was a vision. That of Jean-Louis Pagès, who had it in mind in preview during his first virtual visit to the site: “I ‘saw’ the runner out of nowhere. First his helmet, his head, his torso. He arrived in the beauty of the Vosges forests. I saw it before everyone else, even if I’m not a specialist. And it happened. It’s a very beautiful memory.”

The first attempt turned into a master stroke. For everyone, one certainty: the Tour will return. Henri Terreaux, big boss of logistics at Orange, had also experienced coming to La Planche as a challenge. “What I’m asking Christian is if in his mind he plans to come back somewhere in the medium term, he told us a few years ago. In this case, on a complicated site like the Board, we will make sure to leave the fiber for example. It is investment. When you lay 15 to 20 km of optical fibre, this is not negligible. If I know the Tour wants to come back, I let them.” In 2012, he therefore asked Prudhomme about the Board. The boss’s response: “Not in the medium term. We will be back very soon.”

Christian Prudhomme first promises Yves Krattinger to bring the Tour back to la Planche in five to six years. It will only take two. In 2014, Vincenzo Nibali signs a double blow. He won ahead of Thibaut Pinot, the child of the country, to take back the yellow jersey. Like Wiggins, he will keep it until the end. A small myth is born, comparable to that of Alpe d’Huez in the past: in yellow at La Planche, in yellow in Paris. In the first five passes, this was always the case, except in 2019.”She tells in part, and even in large part, the truth of the Tour“, confided Prudhomme during the presentation of the 2022 course last fall.

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2020, the page of history

In ten years, the board has settled. Imposed, even. The initial success was consolidated and the organizers were able to reinvent its use, despite its youth. In 2019, it was the transition to the “Super Board”, the one that will be taken again on Friday. An extremely steep kilometer (up to 24% at the steepest point) on a hard-packed, unpaved track has been added. Compared to previous arrivals, the climb increases to 7 kilometers at an average of 8.7%.

The following year, new innovation. Two for the price of one, even. For the first time, the board is used as the culmination of a time trial. And this one is placed the day before the arrival. Until then, La Planche, as will be the case this year, was served more as a mountain aperitif, as the first peak acting as a detonator. As early as 2014, Jean-François Pescheux, at the time the race director of the Tour, had hypothesized: “It would be a great place for a stopover the day before arriving in Paris, as justice of the peace.”

The least we can say is that he had hit the nail on the head. On Saturday September 9, 2020, La Planche witnessed a bewildering reversal of the situation when the young Tadej Pogacar unbolted his Slovenian compatriot Primoz Roglic to fly over the clock and snatch the yellow jersey 24 hours before Paris. La Planche des Belles Filles, decidedly well born, then holds the last element of its nascent legend: a page in the history of the Tour.

At ten, you’re not yet quite old enough to be a myth. These reputations are built over time. But it is still striking to see the path traveled in such a short time by this rise unknown to the greatest number a short time ago. Failing to be quite worthy of Galibier, Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez and so many others, it is already La Planche. Seductive and unmissable.

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