He hasn’t visited the Tour de France La Planche des Belles Filles since Tadig Bogar crowned himself the race’s champion with a stunning penultimate stage victory two years ago.
On Friday, the race reconsidered climbing, a relatively new addition to the Tour’s reliable and often used mountain stable, for the sixth time since Chris Froome started winning as his Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins climbed to yellow again in 2012.
Despite its place as a barely constant component of the tour’s long history, the climb itself – whether it was a time to end trial, a tarmac version, or a ‘Super Blanche’ – has often been predicted an overall winner. .
First was Wiggins, who didn’t concede yellow after that, then Nibali during his dominant run in 2014. Three years later, Froome declared his fourth victories, then after his debut at the 2019 Super Blanche came another Poogar stunner. .
From the start of climbing to racing a decade ago, it has been a taste of the major mountain challenges of the Alps and the Pyrenees yet to come, and the Vosges itself has never climbed despite the reputation it has earned.
Come Friday, that’s set to be the case again, although even at this early stage, few will put their necks on the line and bet against race leader Pogačar to finally claim another all-out victory in two weeks’ time.
The Slovenian is taking to the stage after proving to be the strongest of the GC contenders on three different terrains without climbing anything harder than climbing in Class 3. He spent time on his rivals at the Copenhagen Trial, on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, and now on the hills of the South Ardennes.
Perhaps the biggest question being asked around this year’s stage is whether he will show his strength and force his will to race again, or – as the GC men did on their Super Planche debut in 2019 – the spoils will be left to break up.
Jumbo-Visma’s Jonas Vingegaard, 31 seconds off the back, is Bogar’s biggest threat, while Ineos has a strong-for-many quartet of men – Adam Yates, Tom Bidcock, Geriant Thomas and Danny Martinez – within a minute.
The Ineos train, as successful as it has been in the past, is unlikely to cause any trouble in Pogačar when climbing 7 km, even if they can boast three contenders for the podium among their ranks. Moving the team’s aggressive tactics in the spring to the mountain could cause more trouble for the yellow jersey, although of course that’s easier said than done.
Meanwhile, Vingegaard hopes to show the same kind that made him turn away from Pogačar, albeit briefly, at Mont Ventoux last summer. Since Pogačar’s rise to stardom in France two years ago, Dane’s dash at Ventoux has been the only moment he hasn’t looked the strongest rising man in a race on stage. Is it too early to say Vingegaard remains the tour’s only hope of preventing another dominant Pogačar’s march to victory?
Behind him and Eneos, albeit not too far back, lie the likes of Alexander Vlasov, Roman Bardet, David Gaudo, Nairo Quintana and Enrique Mas. They are a group of riders here in France striving for a podium or top five, although on a good day anyone could surprise, it would probably be Vlasov given the form he has shown since joining Bora-Hansgrohe.
As for Roglic, well at 2:27 down, he appears to be far from any sort of contention. He could fall into line behind Vingegaard, or his team could use it as a kind of wildcard with little to lose. However, it is unlikely that any GC escalation attacks will come from the Slovenian on the Super Planche.
Road – 24% inclusion in the tail after 176 km of the race
LA PLANCHE FRANCE July 11 Julio Ciccone from Italy Trek Segafredo Dylan Tunes from Belgium and Bahrain Merida La Blanche de Belle Ville 1140m during the 106th round of the French Tour 2019 Stage 6 Stage 1605 km from Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles 1140m TDF at TDF2019 LeTour July 11, 2019 in La Planche France Photo by Anne-Christine Pogolat Getty Images
Dylan Teuns and Giulio Ciccone battle a gravel road at the top of their climb in 2019 (Photo Credit: Anne Christine PoujoulatPool Getty Images)
The climb itself comes at the end of 176.3 kilometers southeast of the Nancy suburb of Tomblin down into the Vosges Mountains, on a day that is, for the most part, a carbon copy of the 2012 cycle.
At that time, the race started and finished at the same place – except for the ‘super’ section of the climb – visiting Gerrarmer and climbing Class 3 for Col de la Grosse Pierre all the way, with a ride east to the final.
The 2022 stage is 22km less wide than 2012, and despite swapping the third class Col du Mont de Fourche with the similarly insignificant Col des Croix, there are no changes that would make any material difference in what happens.