LONGWY, France (VN) — It’s time for the first mountain showdown in the 2022 Tour de France with Friday’s 176.3-kilometer stage 7 between Tomblaine and La Super Planche des Belles Filles.
After a first week of traps — the threat of crosswinds, cobblestones and punchy hills — this will be a first offering for the true climbers and a switch in pace.
The fight for the yellow jersey can begin in earnest. Rather than trying to not lose the race, challengers can truly begin to try to win it on the offensive.
A steep ask
The road rises gently for the day’s first 100 kilometers with a couple of sharp category-3 climbs coming in the Vosges.
But really, everyone is waiting for the final climb — 7 kilometers at 8.7% average — and especially its final two kilometers, to make a difference. There are stretches at 20% and 24% in the cruel, fluctuating last stretch, including gravel road.
Woods wants a break
After a frenetic first six stages and the scorching pace of stage 6, it also seems likely that a group of frontrunners might have the opportunity to fight out the stage win.
“Typically, it’s been won from there in the past so I’m hoping I can infiltrate the breakaway and challenge for the win,” Michael Woods of Israel-Premier Tech told VeloNews.
“It’s a hard one, especially with the steep grade at the finish. And the gravel really creates a bit more instability between the group and forces you to think of positioning earlier than you’re supposed to. Physically, it’s not just a challenging climb, mentally it is too.”
A contemporary Tour classic
The first finish at Planche des Belles Filles in the Tour de France came in 2012, where Chris Froome sprinted to his maiden Tour de France stage victory. It has featured regularly in the race since then, with wins for Vincenzo Nibali (2014), Fabio Aru (2017), Dylan Teuns (2019) and, of course, Tadej Pogačar (2020).
Who can forget how the Slovenian overturned his deficit to rival Primož Roglič on the race’s penultimate day against the clock, relying on this climb to turn the screw? No wonder the race leader has a soft spot for this extreme test in eastern France.
It has also developed a reputation in recent times: the winner — or person in the ascendancy — on La Planche tends to go on to Tour glory.
No big losses
However, in the past, the road stages to this climb usually see more selective climbs included than the 2022 route.
There will be time gaps between the contenders, but it is likely to be between 5 and 30 seconds, rather than a chasm.
“It’s a simple stage, and there is only one climb at the end. It’s not a true mountain stage,” Jumbo-Visma climber Sepp Kuss said.
“The final climb is steep and there will be some differences, but I don’t see it being a decisive stage unless someone is really struggling.”
It’s a good climb for Tadej Pogačar, and we’re likely to see him battling with Kuss’ teammate Jonas Vingegaard to extend his lead. Let battle commence.
It’s set to be a sunny day of racing through the Vosges and Haute-Saône departments, with temperatures getting to 21 degrees Celsius (70 F). A wind coming from the east blowing at around 13km/h is expected.