Stage 6: Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 06:00. Transfer: before stage 0h45, after stage 0h45. Start time: 07:38. Distance: 157km. Terrain: mountain (3,740 metres climbing). Climbs: four Cat 1, one Cat 2, two Cat 3. Finish: 18:16. Time in saddle: 8h57. Temp: 30C (25C in the forests). Drinks: 6 litres.

Dinners: 2. Tarte aux myrtilles: 2.

Suffer scores: John 7/10. Roomie – see below.

Local lowdown

We are very close to Germany (and indeed to Switzerland also) when we are in Mulhouse and the whole area has a very Germanic feel because, well, it was once German. Today we end up at the very top of La Planche des Belles Filles, with the final few hundred metres now having been gravelled. If you check back to my post from May this year, you will see that I did not like this final climb very much so it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen today.

Are we nearly there yet?

Tale from the Tour

Well what a superb day today was! Some early group riding again and we don’t seem to have annoyed people. After the first feedstop I mostly rode on my own as I gradually slipped off the back of my group, which was fine and to be expected. I can only climb and descend at my own speed and on this kind of terrain there’s not much drafting benefit to be had anyway.

Grand Ballon refers to the mountain, not the sphere

We approached the Grand Ballon via Markstein which I have only descended before. Decided to go into the cafe at the top where I had taken refuge from a thunderstorm two years ago. The tarte aux myrtilles was just as delicious as before.

The Vosges never fails to disappoint. I have previously referred to it as the cyclists’ playground and it’s just got even better with so much new tarmac. Sometimes it’s so fresh that stones stick to the tyres, which ultimately could cause a problem. The trick while still riding is to put your hand on the tyre lightly and knock the stones off without slicing your fingers open!

The next major climb was the Ballon d’Alsace, which again I have ridden but from the opposite direction – today I think we did the steeper side. Hard work, but enjoyable.

Celebrating the first winner of the climb to Ballon d’Alsace in 1904. The organiser thought the climb would be impossible

Lunch, and time to eat again. Delicious as usual and I was ready for it – unlike this morning at breakfast when I knew I had to eat but had to force it down as my body just wasn’t ready for it. First time that has happened this tour.

Before we hit our final climb of the Planche des Belles Filles, there was the small matter of Col des Chevreres which I had overlooked. Only 3.5km (short for a Cat 1) but horribly steep and with lots of loose gravel which seems like it has only recently been put down. A real challenge, especially with the lack of shade and temperatures hitting 34C at times though mostly it was less than that today.

My time was nearly double that!

Then finally finally, the Planche. I was not quick up that climb, determined to keep something in reserve to at least have a crack at doing the top section. In the event, it turned out that the surface was now a smaller grade of gravel and closely packed. Wheel still slipped at times, but I was delighted with the condition of the road because I now thought that completing it was achievable – and I did it!

Thoroughly chuffed with my achievement

Only had 20 minutes to consume my dinner (which I wasn’t ready for), but on the plus side it meant that I was on the first bus down to our hotel in Belfort, from where we start our ride tomorrow, meaning that we get a bit of a lie in. Oh, and when we got to the hotel it was time for beer, burger and massage. Probably only one of those was absolutely necessary. I will leave you to work out which one!

I’m scoring this as 7 because of the unexpected toughness of the penultimate climb. Wim has left me for James to share with him for a few nights (they rode and roomed together last year, so fair enough). Richard, my roommate tonight arrived back more than two hours after me, so now is not the time to ask him foolish questions about suffer scores!

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