Tomblaine — La Planche des Belles Filles (123.7mi / 199km)
Saturday 7 July
After seven days of racing in the flats and rolling hills, the GC contest will finally begin in earnest on this 199km route that begins in Tomblaine and ends with the race’s first mountaintop finish, at the ski resort of La Planche des Belles Filles. This is a tough opening salvo for the medium mountain stages.
“There is much more to the stage than just the finish, as the Col de la Grosse Pierre and the Col du Mont de Fourche make it a real leg breaker! The result? This stage is going to hurt,” said the race’s technical director, Jean-François Pescheux.
An early break will no doubt get away, and probably stay clear over the Cat. 3 Col de Grosse Pierre, but the peloton should be able to reel them back in by the base of La Planche. The finish climb averages 8.9-percent gradient, with sections at the beginning and middle of up to 13-percent. With 101km of time trials in this year’s race, climbers like Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan) and Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) must take every opportunity to gain time on Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) when the road tilts up. Look for Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Franck Schleck (RadioShack) to attack on those early pitches, where they can make big gains. If the wind is right, an early attack could spring a gap of upwards of a minute on the 5.9km ascent.
The profile of the finish may favor the smaller, punchier climbers like Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) or Sánchez. Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) also excels on these finishes, but he’ll likely be hesitant to show his cards early. A win here could send up red flags to the contenders and require Garmin to control the race to Paris — or until Hesjedal’s rivals crack him.
The stage visits two first-time towns, although Tomblaine is under the influence of the sphere of Nancy which has a long history with the Tour, dating back to 1905, where both Fausto Coppi and Bernard Hinault have been winners. Also a first time host, La Planche des Belles Filles — a ski resort town already popular with cyclosportive riders as the finish of the popular Trois Ballons — should make a memorable premiere with its difficult Cat. 1 climb.