It's been exactly a decade since Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) tackled La Planche des Belles Filles for the first time in a Tour de France, but as the Frenchman reflected on Thursday morning's stage 6 start, the climb remains both "different and special", both to him and the race.
Born and raised locally in the Vosges mountains region and present for all five previous ascents of the ultra-steep wooded ascent on the Tour, Pinot's best result on the Planches came in 2014, when he took second behind Vincenzo Nibali.
However, the Frenchman also claimed a notable fifth place in 2019, when La Planche des Belles Filles became La Super Planche des Belles Filles, with an extra segment of off-road added to the top.
"It's different and special, partly because of its location and partly because it is so often the first big climb of the race," Pinot said, referring to the summit’s regular first week slot. La Planche has featured in the first week of all the previous Tours it has appeared in, barring the last, in 2020, when it played host to the decisive final uphill time trial.
"So each time it's a very key part of the route, all the leaders have to be up there, they have to be well-positioned from when they get on the climb. It's the first major climbing rendezvous of the race."
Pinot said that taking such a prestigious win on home soil would be a major result, but perhaps because he has a team role to play supporting Groupama-FDJ leader David Gaudu, he said he was not too focused on a personal result. Rather, he said, a break could well be likely to make it to the finish, "but either way the leaders will have to be really careful." Pinot currently lies 40th overall, 5:11 behind Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).
Regardless of the outcome, Pinot said that La Planche des Belles Filles had other important consequences for his region, bringing the southern part of the Vosges into focus for an international sports audience. On top of which the La Super Planche des Belles Filles will play host to the Tour de France Femmes final stage this July, Pinot pointed out, "so it's a key finish for both races."
"Though for me, in any case, it's also a massive bonus to be at home, in the mountains where I live."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent,