Tour de France 2022, stage seven
Start location: Tomblaine
Finish location: La Super Planche des Belles Filles
Start time: 12.05 BST
Finish time (approx): 16.17 BST
In her 1911 travelogue, In the Heart of the Vosges, the travel writer Matilda Betham-Edwards wrote that the eastern mountain range, a landscape of low mountains and tall trees, was the sweetest and most pastoral of all of France. “Not a bend of road, of winding mountain path but discloses a new scene,” she wrote. “Here a fairy glen, with graceful birch or alder; there a spinny of larch or Scotch fir cresting a verdant monticule.”
The 2022 Tour de France makes a return visit to one of the region’s most prominent and famous verdant monticules, the Planche des Belles Filles. The trees here are not graceful birch or alder, nor spinny of larch or Scotch fir, but beech trees, which gave the beauty spot its name. The forest was known as the place of ‘belles fahys’ (beautiful beech trees), and over the course of the centuries, the name evolved into the Planche des Belles Filles, in tandem with a local myth. The story goes that marauding barbarians from the north were roaming the lands in the 1630s, and the beautiful maidens of Plancher-Bas went to hide in the forest. Under threat of discovery, they made a pact to hurl themselves into the cold, dark waters of the lake under the mountain, rather than be captured. The story is allegorical, rather than historically accurate, though there were indeed nordic mercenaries marauding around the Holy Roman Empire during the 30 Years War between 1618 and 1648.
You could argue that the Planche des Belles has no real need of myths: the reality of the climb has been entertaining and compelling enough and it has always brought the best out of the Tour. In 2012 it gave us the first episode of the Bradley Wiggins versus Chris Froome psychodrama; in 2014 Vincenzo Nibali dropped everybody to confirm that the yellow jersey would be his; in 2017 Fabio Aru enjoyed the greatest day on the race, winning the stage; in 2019, Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot emerged as the twin hopes of a nation; and in 2020, Tadej Pogačar engineered one of the Tour’s greatest ever turnarounds when he smashed his deficit to Primož Roglič and took the yellow jersey in the Planche time trial one day before the end of the race.
In 2022 the race will include the kilometre-long steep gravel sector which also figured in 2019 and which takes the peloton to the very top of the climb. It’s the first significant mountain of the race, and the Planche has a habit of anointing its winners, no matter when it appears in the race. All but one of the riders to have been presented with the yellow jersey at the top have gone on to win the race - the exception was Giulio Ciccone in 2019. But the nature of the test makes it a natural indicator of Tour-winning form. Including the top section, the Strava KoM, held by local boy Thibaut Pinot, is 20:00, precisely the length of the kind of ramp test that defines race-winning fitness. It’s on the steep ramps of the Super Planche des Belles Filles that the final destination of the 2022 yellow jersey may start to become clear.
Tour de France 2022 stage seven map and profile
The first summit finish of the Tour de France is an intriguing one given it's final severity but lack of difficulty in the build-up. Two category three climbs in the final 75km of the stage may thin out the peloton, but we'll see a bunch approach to the foot of the Planche des Belles Filles. The toughest segments of that climb come in the final two kilometres, hitting 20% gradients before easing and then kicking up to 24% on the final gravel stretch to the line.
Tour de France 2022 predictions and contenders
Super Planche des Belles Filles is unlikely to cause huge time gaps between the overall contenders but we could see one of them win here. A breakaway will find it hard to keep the peloton at bay unless they're given a huge amount of time early on.
It's hard to look past yellow jersey Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) as the clear favourite; the Slovenian is ruthless and the shorter, sharp inclines will suit his punch and we could see him sprinting to a second stage win of the Tour at the top of the climb.
Primož Roglič is often good on these types of finishes but his crash on stage six leaves a question mark over his form. He needs to start gaining time back but will potentially just want to get through safely without shipping more time.
His team-mate Jonas Vingegaard will find it difficult to beat Pogačar in a fast finish and if the last edition of the Tour is anything to go by he may be close but not have enough to beat the defending champion to the line.
Ineos trio Geraint Thomas, Dani Martínez, and Adam Yates all have the potential to win here, and while we suspect they'll be in the mix, it's hard to see them pulling off the victory. Martínez potentially has the current fastest finish of the three, while Yates would need to go long and is unlikely to be allowed that kind of space.
Bora-Hansgrohe's Aleksandr Vlasov is another rider with a good finish and can ride well on the steep stuff, and has shown good form in the build-up to the Tour despite a Covid-19 positive at the Tour de Suisse. The Russian we'll be a threat if the GC group makes it to the finish first.
If a breakaway goes clear there's a plethora of candidates that could secure a stage win here. The last road race victor on this climb Dylan Theuns could go well again, as could his Bahrain-Victorious team-mate Jan Tratnik.
This is Thibaut Pinot's (Groupama-FDJ) favourite climb and, if he has the strength, you'd expect him to try something on the final climb.
Ruben Guerreiro (EF Education) is another strong contender, as is Giulio Ciccone and his Trek-Segafredo team-mate Bauke Mollema.
Rouleur predicts: It's a difficult stage to call but we think the GC contenders will be in the mix for the stage win, and can't look past Tadej Pogačar taking a stage victory at this Tour.