Skirmishes within the Vosges: Balloon d & # 39; Alsace towards Planche des Belles Filles
As early as 1905, before the Tour de France dared to venture over the high passes of the Pyrenees and Alps, his mastermind Henri Desgrange chose the Ballon d & # 39; Alsace in the Vosges as the first real mountain of the race in his third run.
Up until then, the Col de la République had been the highest peak, but this new climb, while only slightly higher, was significantly steeper, leading Desgrange to determine that no rider could cross it without walking.
Big words and strange, one might think for someone who organizes a bike race. Of course, he was proven otherwise, and the first man to climb the summit that day (without setting foot) was René Pottier.
During the next nine years the Ballon d & # 39; Alsace was featured, but when Desgrange found steeper, longer passes in the high mountains further south, it fell out of favor and has only been recorded ten times to date. The classic route to the summit leads from Saint-Maurice-sur-Moselle over nine kilometers of climbing pleasure, packed with serpentines on a steady gradient of six to seven percent.
After four stages in the 60s and 70s, he was granted another rare appearance in 2005 on the 100th anniversary of his first recording. The last visit was last year, where, along with a slew of famous Vosges climbs leading up to the finale, it only played a small part on stage on one of the tour's new stars, La Planche des Belles Filles.
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Planche des Belles Filles
A few years ago, following the trend of the organizers of the Vuelta and the Giro, the Tour de France began to look beyond the more traditional climbs to look for new, slightly crazy and certainly wilder climbs that would bring them here.
Less than six kilometers in length, the Planche des Belles Filles is not a monster, but with many kilometers of double-digit incline and its vicious 20 percent ramp to the summit, it has become a classic in eight short years, especially for British cycling fans. On this climb, when it was first recorded in 2012, we began to believe in something we never thought possible – that there could be a British winner the race.
Future star Chris Froome took the stage that day, cementing his place at the forefront of cycling. However, it was Bradley Wiggins who crossed the finish line third on a mountain and took off the yellow jersey that made us all scream with excitement.
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It immediately returned in 2014 when Vincenzo Nibali won and in 2017 when Fabio Aru took the win.
Not happy with the madness of the slope to the finish, and in the true spirit of Desgrange, the organizers turned the screw a little further in 2019 by adding a kilometer of gravel at the top, up to 24 percent steep in places.
Regardless of the story, the winner has to be La Planche des Belles Filles for the spectacle it brings to fans both on the roadside and on screen.
This feature originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, which is available in newsagents and supermarkets for £ 3.25.