The 2019 Tour de France could feature a previously unused route up the Planche des Belles Filles, according to a report on the France Bleu website. The route, which is currently an unpaved hiking path, hits gradients of 24 per cent in the final 100 metres.
The 2018 Tour de France has hardly finished and plans for next year’s race are already being worked out ahead of the route announcement in October.
General Commissioner for finishes, Stephane Boury has been investigating a few potential finish locations for next year’s race and posted a picture on Twitter of his notebook and a distance measuring device. The picture was accompanied by a caption reading, "Here will be considered a new finish for the TDF 2019… moving to 24 per cent... At 100m from the line… there’s going to be some show."
The picture did not indicate just where in France Boury was but rumours had already been circulating that the Tour de France organisation would be at La Planche des Belles Filles. France Blue took up the challenge and headed to the climb in the Vosges mountains to find the spot Boury had pictured.
La Planche des Belles Filles is a new addition to the Tour de France itself, after it was introduced in 2012. It has been back twice since then in 2014 and in 2017, with Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru winning atop it respectively. The current route, which is entirely tarmacked, averages 8.5 per cent but the final 200 metres average a leg-sapping 20 per cent.
At the top, there are few other exit points off the mountain and riders usually have to ride back down the same road they have just climbed to get to their team buses midway down the ascent.
France Bleu took on what they called a ‘treasure hunt’ to seek out the spot the Twitter picture was taken. Shortly after the current finish line, there is a gravel hiking trail that veers off towards the left and takes you higher up the mountain. The climb is steep already but gets tougher as the route rounds a final corner. Wooden stakes on the side of the road mark where the finish line, at the highest point of this climb, will be in just under 12 months’ time.
The route to this new part of the climb is not yet known, but given the roads it seems likely that the riders will head up the original ascent before carrying on to the new finish line.