The Planche des Belles Filles promised plenty of drama in this Tour de France. Not the beautiful girls throwing themselves off the mountain to their death to avoid evil mercenaries. No, that was during the Thirty Years War.
The modern day drama was the brutal climb up La Planche Des Belles on stage six of the Tour de France. The reigning Tour champion Geraint Thomas said it would be “100%” full on,, serious racing and he was right. There was action up and down the mountain.
First, the breakaway actually succeeded as a group of four left early and then the two strongest, Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) waged a battle on the hard packed dirt and gravel of the final kilometer to the summit finish.
Teuns would prove the strongest but Ciccone received the Tour’s best consolation prize. With the bonus seconds he earned for second place, he took over the yellow jersey from a hard-charging Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck Quickstep) who did everything inhumanly possible to keep it.
That storyline by itself was riveting but of course the GC battle further down the Belles Filles climb also provided plenty of fireworks and answered many questions about who in ready to challenge for the final yellow and who will now be aiming for stage wins instead.
The big winners in the hunt for the maillot juane were Geraint Thomas and Thibaut Pinot. Thomas silenced the doubters about his form and provided all the evidence required to claim the lead spot ahead of teammate Egan Bernal — who finished nine seconds behind.
It was revealing to look at the facial expressions of Thomas and Bernal when the Welshman launched his attack. On a climb more suited to the young Colombian, he grimaced with the effort while Thomas had the look of a man well in control. This race within the race between the two Ineos teammates will continue to fascinate.
In past Tours de France, Thibaut Pinot has struggled with the pressures of being the great French hope. That pressure was perhaps even higher since he was racing on local roads not 20 kilometers from his home. Pinot proved up to the challenge, pulling close to Thomas at the finish line, just two seconds back. This was a huge accomplishment on several levels — physically and psychologically — and sets Pinot up with plenty of confidence for the Pyrenees and Alps.
Welcome back, Nairo Quintana! Good to see you at the front on a big climb in the Tour de France. The Movistar captain was just seven seconds off Thomas’ time. A strong showing and also good news for the team as back-up plan Mikel Landa came in a couple of seconds later. For once it appeared that Movistar’s aggressive riding on a Tour mountain stage had been rewarded.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Richie Porte (Trek Segafredo) will also be pleased with their day at Les Belles Filles. The Dane has clearly recovered from a significant crash on stage one. Porte has also rebounded from his own disaster — an underwhelming team time trial that left him a minute behind his rivals at Ineos. However, he still has 1:56 to make up on GC.
Contenders such as Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) and George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) ended the day probably feeling guardedly optimistic. It wasn’t the performance they’d hoped for but all thing considered, it was pretty good. They had keep the damage to under twenty seconds on GC to the man everyone calls G.
While Thibaut Pinot rose to the occasion on La Planche des Belles Filles, the same could not be said for Romain Bardet (AG2R). This was an ugly shock for Bardet, his team and his fans. Already at a deficit after a lackluster team time trial, the skinny climber now finds himself a cumulative three minutes behind. What is the french translation for stage hunter? It’s a terrible blow for Bardet in a Tour de France tailor made for a climber.
And finally, let’s bid a fond and wistful farewell to Vincenzo Nibali — who has proved once again that racing to win the Giro d’Italia is awful prep for the Tour de France. We’ll expect to see the Shark battling with Bardet for a face-saving stage win in the final week. They were not the big boys of the Belles Filles.