New yellow jersey Tony Gallopin may be the centre of attention as the Tour heads for La Planche des Belles Filles, but most of the support on the roadsides today will be directed towards local riders Thibaut Pinot and Arthur Vichot. The two FDJ.fr riders were schooled on these climbs and still train on them.
Already a victor in the 2012 Tour at not-too-distant Porrentruy, Pinot says that today’s two final climbs evoke particular memories, and not of the best kind. In an interview in the Official Tour de France Guide, the Frenchman recalls going up the Col des Chevrères one evening some years ago with Vichot, and the pair of them painting their names on the road.
“The riders competing in the Tour de Franche-Comté had to climb it the next day. They were all over the place,” Pinot recalls, before going on to highlight the particular difficulty of climbs in this region.
“The end of this stage takes place in what is like the Basque Country of the Vosges Haut-Saônoises,” he says. “They are short passes, from five to eight kilometres in length. The Chevrères reminds me of the Mur de Péguère, which we climbed [on the Tour] in 2012. It’s a narrow forest road where riders can’t go any more than three abreast.
“I go up there very often, it’s on my training route. That’s where I evaluate the extent of my form… The last four kilometres are difficult and will put us to the test before the drop down into Belfahy, the highest village in the Vosges. You will have to be well placed at all times from the foot of the Chevrères otherwise you might not see the front of the race again!”
Pinot believes that the worst is still to come in the form of the final ascent to La Planche des Belles Filles, where Chris Froome took his debut Tour stage win in 2012. “It’s an irregular and disconcerting climb,” he explains. “Whether I’ve been training or racing, I’ve never felt really good there. I think this is true for everyone because it is very difficult to find a rhythm there. In 2012, I tackled it with a stitch in my side. At the top I still had it.”
The FDJ.fr rider, who is lying 15th overall going into the stage 5.06 down on Vincenzo Nibali, continues: “There aren’t a lot of climbs like that one. All those fighting for the overall classification will need to be careful. Certainly, I’m afraid of it, but I’m going to take it on with a good deal of ambition, knowing better than the rest what awaits me on its toughest ramps in between the flatter sections.
“I remember that two years ago I couldn’t get my breath there, that I had to give absolutely everything that I had. The climb comes at the end of a stage that really resembles the one that I won in Porrentruy. Of course the big difference is that this time the finish line will be at the top of a pass!”