Stage 6: Mulhouse - La Planche Des Belles Filles
Date: July 11, 2019
Stage type: Mountain
As it has on the three previous occasions the Tour has finished on its slopes, the super-steep finish at La Planche des Belles Filles will bring the GC contenders out of the shadows and establish an initial hierarchy in the battle for the yellow jersey. No fewer than seven categorised climbs have been squeezed into 157km, four of them first-cat including the final rise up to the finish.
Soon after setting out from Mulhouse, the riders will find themselves heading into the heart of the Vosges via the 11km ascent of the first-category Markstein, which then climbs a little further to the Grand Ballon, at 1,336m the stage's high point. Having descended into the valley, the road immediately climbs again to the second-cat Hundsruck pass, which is followed by the day's longest climb of the Ballon d'Alsace, the first mountain pass the Tour ever tackled back in 1905.
It heralds a succession of sharp ups and downs. The third-category Col des Croix doesn't present too serious an obstacle, but the combination of the Col des Chevrères and La Planche des Belles Filles is far more daunting. The former isn't long, extending to a mere 3.5km, but these average almost 10%. Assuming the break has been caught by this point, the placing of a point-bonus at the summit could produce a tasty contest before the leaders plunge into Plancher-Les-Mines and straight onto the initial ramps of the final climb.
Chris Froome won on the first visit to its slopes in 2012 and took the yellow jersey when Fabio Aru claimed victory the last time the Tour finished at La Planche des Belles Filles in 2017. Since then, however, race director Thierry Gouvenou has uncovered an extra kilometre of ascent to test the Briton and his rivals. Rising from the "landing" where the race has previously ended, the new finish follows a forest road averaging almost 10%, but with one section twice as steep. As a consequence, the gaps between the favourites could be far more significant than those we've seen in the past.
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