2022 in Review: The Super Plank of Beautiful Girls

2022 in Review: The Super Plank of Beautiful Girls

As 2022 draws to a close, we're looking back on some of the highlights of the year in the cycling world.

La Super Planche des Belles Filles
07 / 07 / 2022 /
47.7672° N
6.77417° E

The Super Plank of Beautiful Girls, that's the translation of today's stage finish, it wins. There are a couple of very different stories behind this name, although I'll have to remind myself of that later. We transferred another 300km last night, we're cutting swathes through France, start towns are often different to the finish towns. The 2022 race is nothing like the 1903 original, which comprised of six stages and had start and finishes in all the major cities. The first stage was from Paris to Lyon, the shortest stage was 268km and the longest was 471km, the riders were unsupported, on gravel and cobbles roads.

With the boom of gravel riding/racing in the cycling world I'm often asked what the future is for gravel. Well, I'm here now, in the future, and it's the Tour de France. When the Tour de France started it was more akin to the ultra gravel races of today. It was individuals doing crazy things. The first stage of that inaugural TdF was won by Maurice Garin, the eventual overall winner, in a time of 17 hours and 45 minutes. Go back and look at pictures of those original riders, they look more like adventurers than racers. Over the century that passed the sport and the race morphed into what it is today, and here we are, racing around France in speedsuits on smooth roads, marginal gaining our lives away.

Rumour of the Day

Wout was angry. I mean, I think he was, that's not proven yet it would explain how he raced yesterday, it was terrifying and very unexpected. It was the longest stage of the race, 219km, with a howling tailwind on big fast roads. None of these factors are conducive to a breakaway slipping away easily, and sure enough it was a battle royale, and the avant garde was head to toe in yellow. Wout van Aert was like a man possessed, not only was he covering nearly every move he was forcing them. In yesterday's diary I wrote about how Cyrille Guimard had taught me that the peloton always decides, and this is true, because it nearly always comes out on top, although what WvA did yesterday in the first hours of racing ignored that rule. 

He went full Merckx, attack after attack, eventually ripping himself off the front, free of the peloton, only two riders survived to stay with him, Jacob Fulgsang and Quinn Simmons. It was a truly awesome display of power, and kind of nonsensical, which made it even better. I think he had a settle to score with the race after the previous day, emotions kicked in, and when that happens with a rider of his physical and mental strength then crazy things can happen, Tom Pidcock was interviewed after the finish line, he summed it up on behalf of the peloton, "He's playing with our balls isn't he? I don't know what to say to be honest. He's taking the piss isn't he?"

Weird Fact of the Day

Not much weirdness yesterday, so I'll focus on today, and Les Planches des Belle Filles. Here is an excerpt from Ned Boulting's Road Book:
La Planche des Belles Filles! The (Wooden) Board of the Beautiful Girls! Bonkers. This is not a place name. This is like Ashby-de-la-Zouch; it is in fact a loose and ill-fitting assembly of oddly matched words flung together and stuck on the wrong road sign in the wrong place. Now, happily, with the Tour de France returning once again (2012 was its debut on the race) I have been handed a second chance to get my head round this rather puzzling place name.
It got its name in 1635, some say, during the Thirty Years War, when pretty much all of Central Europe was being overrun by a Swedish Army intent on expressing its principled opposition to the doctrines of Catholicism by beheading children, disemboweling, or raping and then disemboweling their parents.
So 1635 it is then. Or, if we simply can’t really be bothered to give the illusion of historical veracity to this legend, then we could go with the official tourist board, who date the story as ‘Il y a bien longtemps…’, or ‘A long, long time ago…’
So now that we know it’s almost certainly utter nonsense, we can sit back and enjoy it in the knowledge that it never really happened.

CHPT3 Moment of the Day

Wout van Aert, again. It's rare we get to see a yellow jersey cut loose and run amok. Normally they're protected till the finale where we are accustomed to seeing them battle it out with the other grands du cyclisme. It was the purist display of how much better the best are, the peloton was stressed to it's limit hunting him down, only a handful of riders in the world can do that - and it's a privilege to witness. Truly awe-inspring. Here's a snippet of him in action at the start of the stage.