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Tour de France

Riders expect fireworks on La Planche des Belles Filles climb

The first summit finish of this year's Tour will see GC contenders come to the fore to battle for precious seconds.

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COLMAR, France (VN) — Fans and riders can expect a significant shake up in the general classification after the first summit finish of the Tour de France on Thursday, say riders. Those who have previewed the climb say that the Planche des Belles Filles is enough to cause cracks in the top end of the peloton.

Most riders believe Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) will continue to lead the race after the seven-kilometer climb, but that the overall classification riders will play for everything.

“It’s going to be a difficult stage and it’s going to find a couple of guys out,” Michael Woods (EF Education First) told VeloNews. “There are about 20 guys in the mix right now who can contend for the win, and we are going to get a better sense for which of those 20 guys is actually a real contender, and hopefully me and my teammates Rigo [Urán] and Tejay [van Garderen] can put our hands up as contenders in that group.”

Woods said he feels good and that he wants to try to win the stage.

“It’s a gravel finish, super steep; on paper it’s a good one for me,” he continued. “We’ll have to see how Urán is feeling, but I’d like to give it a dig as well.”

Urán is equally excited to see how the stage plays out.

“Tomorrow should be great, a hard stage, one that kicks off the climbs, so it should be a good stage and you’ll see who’s in form,” Urán said. “It’s still early in the race but the stage is beautiful. It’s a hard finish, so you’ll see something happen.”

At the 2017 Tour, Italian national champion and race favorite Fabio Aru made a solo escape in the last kilometers of the summit to La Planche des Belle Filles and managed to keep his distance to the line in dramatic fashion. Photo: Iri Greco / BrakeThrough Media

The 160.5km stage through the Vosges Mountains features six categorized climbs before the final summit finish. This year, the climb has been extended and will include an unpaved section of road that reaches 24 percent gradients. The climb has been used on three previous occasions — Chris Froome won in 2012, Vincenzo Nibali in 2014, and Fabio Aru in 2017.

“They added another K, I heard that’s pretty filthy there with the gravel,” said George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma), who is working for teammate Steven Kruijswijk. “It’s a hard stage before [the finale] and a hard final climb, so I think we’ll see some gaps, 20 to 30 seconds, maybe not to the top top guys, but the top 15.”

Alaphilippe leads by 14 seconds over Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), who gained bonus time in Wednesday’s sprint finish. GC contender Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) sits at 25 seconds back, while Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) is placed sixth at 40 seconds, and this teammate Geraint Thomas sits seventh at 45 seconds.

“It’ll be stressful,” said Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida). “I think some [classification] guys may be gunning for that win. For sure it’ll be exciting either way. It’s short, but it’s steep, and at the finish, it’s going to be very hard.”

Bennett noted that there’s always more stress in the run into the climb on the first summit finish of any grand tour.

“Once the top 10 is a bit more sorted out, it tends to relax quite a bit going into the lead-ins, but this one is going to be a real fight,” he said. “After that, those guys are going to be less stressed out going into the other run-ins. So this one is going to be the most stressful run-in of the race.”

Vincenzo Nibali rode to victory in stage 10 of the 2014 Tour and regained the overall lead. Photo: Tim De Waele/Getty Images

Many eyes will be on Thomas, the 2018 Tour de France winner, and his Ineos teammate Bernal. The two sit towards the top of the virtual classification after the team finished second in the stage 2 time trial to Jumbo-Visma.

“I feel ready for stage 6,” Thomas said. “I’ve been training hard, working hard, and I think stage 6 will be a bit more like what we do in training, rather than stage 3, which had the really explosive finish. There are a lot of other bigger stages, but there will be gaps.

“I’m sure some riders will aim to make the most of that stage, but I think the other summit finishes are a lot harder and they’re at the back end of the race, as is the TT as well. I’m sure there will be gaps and people will go hell for leather to try to win the stage.”

After stage 6, the next summit finish won’t take place until stage 14, on the Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees. The 2019 Tour concludes with three mountainous Alpine stages before the traditional stage into Paris for stage 21.