The climb to La Planche des Belles Filles ski resort will make for a gruelling finish to Stage 6 of the Tour de France that flagged off from the eastern town of Mulhouse on Thursday.
Julian Alaphilippe, in the leader's yellow jersey for the past three days, can expect stiff competition from fellow Frenchman Thibaut Pinot and the Colombian Egan Bernal – both accomplished climbers.
Slovakia's Peter Sagan won his first stage of the Tour on Wednesday, and will be eyeing another stage win. But for stage 6, he remains cautious: “These are still early days. The real battle will be with myself,” Sagan told reporters in Colmar.
Riders will race 160 kilometres from the eastern city of Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles, a ski resort with a peak of 1,500 metres. This year the finish line is an additional kilometer further up the mountain on a gravel path.
La Planche des Belles Filles is by no means the highest peak in the Tour de France, but the ascent is a tangle of hairpin bends that goes on for 7 kilometres at an average 8.7 percent incline.
Stage 6 favourites
Having grown up in the area, Pinot is expected to thrive on a stage that is in many ways his playground. Locals have painted his name on the road no fewer than 47 times on the ascent to the mountain finish.
Another favourite is Bernal, the 22-year-old Colombian. He has become recent a phenomenon on the circuit after winning the 2018 Tour of California and the Tour de Suisse in June. He was born at 2,600 metres above sea level close to the capital Bogota, and also loves the hills.
Over the years, several big names have taken the lead of the Tour on La Planche des Belles Filles. Chris Froome won his first stage here in 2012. Two years later Vincenzo Nibali won the stage here and went on to win the Tour.
The stage has attracted thousands of spectators, many parking camper vans at the foot of the mountain and the walking or cycling for hours to the fibertrst summit finish of the 2019 Tour to welcome the winner.