The story goes that the beautiful young women of Plancher-Bas, in the Vosges mountains, fled to a lake in a nearby forest to hide from Swedish invaders in 1635. Their pursuers found them, but rather than submit, they followed the lead of Inès, a farmer's daughter who was the most beautiful of them all, and leapt into the icy depths of the lake. (In a ratings-grabbing tangent, the legend also hints at a moment of fatal attraction between Inès and a young Swedish soldier.) The reality is more prosaic – the forest was known as the place of 'belles fahys', the beautiful beech trees. Where the story of powerful Swedes comes from no-one is sure, although Fredrik Kessiakoff, the Swedish Astana rider, did come 56th here in 2012.
Planche des Belles Filles, which comes at the end of stage five and is the first category-one climb of the 2017 Tour, has recently been written into the race's narrative. It was first included in 2012, and again in 2014. A third appearance in six Tours, and the fact that both previous times it has been an early but important battleground, has made it one of the most anticipated climbs of 2017.
Though it hasn't been a place to make significant time gains – in 2012, 22 riders finished within two minutes of stage winner Chris Froome; in 2014, 21 finished within two minutes of Vincenzo Nibali – it is a tone-setter for the overall race. And with its appearance as early as stage five, how could it be any different this year? The 2017 visit has more in common with 2012. In 2014, this was the final climb of a roller coaster day with many climbs; this year, as with 2012, it's a rolling stage with only a single categorised climb beforehand. Expect small time gains and more significant psychological advantages at the top.
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Cadel Evans says
"The first summit finish of any Grand Tour is always important and an important indicator of how everyone is going and how the GC contenders stack up. On the Planche des Belles Filles stage in 2012, I remember Steve Morabito and I went and did a course recon and did everything for the stage that we could. One problem we encountered was that the road and the finish hadn't yet been built. I don't know if Chris Froome had seen the course via video or something, but it was only that I didn't know the last corner. I was second on the stage, but I think it could have been one that I could have won.
"The entrance to the climb requites a good team to get through as it's a narrow, windy road to get to the bottom of the climb. On the climb, I think it will be quite a close between the GC guys. The main thing will be not to lose time and get a look at your competitors as then you can make a better race plan from then onwards."