Commentary: An instant classic on La Planche des Belles Filles
Thursday's sixth stage of the Tour de France produced a classic battle, and helped further the mythology of the Tour's newest great climb: La Planche des Belles Filles
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Dylan Teuns will be now remembered as That Guy, the bloke who managed to reach the top of the dirt road of La Planche de Belles Filles first. He’ll be referenced for years to come and after what we witnessed at the end of stage 6, we can assume he’ll be referenced often.
The Tour has, to a certain extend, run to a formula for years.
We’ve come to know the sites of major conquests and understand what to expect at those places: Tourmalet, Aubisque, Galibier, Izoard, l’Alpe d’Huez. These are all fantastic climbs, each with many tales of exploits past. They are etched into cycling folklore and for good reason.
But there’s a new must-visit destination. When “La Planche’”— as it has already been nicknamed for convenience — is listed on future race routes, people will cheer.
They will remember today, the day Teuns won, when Giulio Ciccone took the yellow jersey, when Geraint Thomas showed he’s back with intent — and absolutely capable of defending his title.
Accommodation in the Vosges will be snapped up moments after the route unveiling in October and even bigger crowds will flock to this region of France.
Young fans of cycling of today will tell their grandchildren in years to come about where they were on the day the dirt road was first used to host a finish of the Tour de France. It will be talked about in a revered tone. And much of the discussion will center around that final kilometer, when the road went from horribly steep to are-you-kidding?
It’s only the fourth time in history that La Planche des Belles Filles has been included on the route of the Tour de France.
“That damned climb,” as the riders surely refer to it, made its debut in 2012. Froomey won that day. It was the first time he burst into prominence at the Tour and it was certainly not the last time.
The race returned in 2014 and the champion that year, Vincenzo Nibali, drummed home the point he made early in the race: He was going to win the yellow jersey!
In 2017, it again featured and Fabio Aru spun his ridiculously rapid cadence up the brutal gradient on the bitumen and enjoyed his first taste of success at the Tour.
All those were epic races, memorable ones, the kind of contest that reminds us of how beautiful cycling can be. But the Tour organizers added a new twist in 2019: dirt!
Gravel grinding, or whatever you want to call it, quickly became a niche only a few years ago. Bike companies started responding to the demand of cyclists around the world: They want to ride but they don’t want the bother of traffic. And so dirt or gravel or unpaved roads — or whatever you care to call it — became cycling’s proverbial New Black.
Sure, there’s still bitumen for around 3,480 kilometers of the the 3,481-kilometer course in 2019, but that tiny fraction of the complete route has changed the aesthetic of the Tour de France.
We don’t need to prompt you to watch it again; you’ve done that already — and you’ll do it again and again and again. You’ll stare at the replay today, probably tomorrow, and likely for many years to come.
“Remember that day Dylan Teuns won on La Planche?” That’s what you’ll say when you’re old and grey and the little ones are asking, “Grandpa (or Grandma), why do you love cycling so much?”
And they’ll ask for more details and, as you start to reminisce, the memories will come flooding back and even the tiny details will spring to mind and make you smile.
Well kids, just look at that photo. He’s got his arms in the air and he’s just crossed the line and that Stefan bloke, the guy working for the Tour organizers, pushing him beyond the finish line only did so because he was afraid he’d fall over if he didn’t prompt Dylan to keep rolling.
And then you’ll giggle and say: Only moments before he reached the line, Teuns was shaking his head. “No, no… no! This isn’t happening,” he seemed to suggest. And we all thought the same. But it was happening. It was hilarious and impressive and emotional.
Oh man, it was actually quite ridiculous. But cycling can be like that. And that’s what’s beautiful about it, kids. Don’t ever forget, as silly as bike riding can be, it’s actually also gorgeous.
But your story will continue after a philosophic speech about the art of cycling.
They found this road, kids. It was steep, very steep. But then they dragged a tractor another kilometer up the gradient and carved a road out of the grass. Back then, at the end of 2018, it was a ski slope, a steep one. But Christian Prudhomme — that clever director of the Tour who first sent the race to the site where they say Vikings threw the locals to their death — he wanted what was already an interesting climb to have an even greater impact.
Prudhomme, you’ll say to your grandkids, had another trick to make La Planche more beautiful. Instead of layering it with bitumen, they just kept it raw, white, and dirt. The same dirt that’s there now, the same dirt that’s now protected by the Cycling Heritage Society.
And yes kids, they agreed then and there, all the way back in 2019 — the moment Dylan crossed the line — that the dirt was so beautiful, that just like happened with that pavé up in the north of France a hundred years earlier, the authorities banned it from ever being upgraded.
Okay, maybe it’s not all going to pan out that way. It’s a little fanciful. It’s only a bike race, right? It won’t change how we live or why we ride our bikes. But come on, smile with me and cherish the fact that you were tuned in and got to see how it was when the extra kilometer of the road up La Planche was added.
It was fun, wasn’t it?
Now, let me consult the results, look back at the replays and pick out some of the other highlights. There’s another report to write but first, an admission: This is the kind of race that will prompt a new generation to fall in love with cycling. And that’s got to be a good thing.