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What is the legend behind cycling’s La Planche des Belles Filles?

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by Damian MCCALL

The Tour de France tackles its first major mountain stage on Thursday with a final ascent to a summit as famous for its difficulty as its catchy name: La Planche des Belles Filles, which literally translated means the Plank of Beautiful Girls.

It is the summit where four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome broke free for a thrilling breakout victory in 2012, proving he was equally adept in the mountains as he was at time-trialling.

Since then two Italians, Vincenzo Nibali in 2014 and Fabio Aru in 2017, have taken emotional wins on the Vosges peak.

But were any of them wondering about the origins of that name?

According to the locals, the story goes back to the Thirty Year War (1618-1648) when the lower part of the mountain was occupied by a band of Swedish mercenaries.

“Their leader fell in love with one of the local girls and to avoid being raped she and other young women took refuge up on the mountain,” Andre Bancala, coordinator of the regional departments organisation team, told AFP.

“But the leader of the mercenaries was unable to control his troops and when the worst came to the worst a group of young ladies committed suicide in the lake.

“They killed themselves by jumping into the lake from a ‘planche’ (plank) on the banks so there you have the Planche des Belles Filles.”

“That’s the first version,” says Bancala.

“The second version, because there are two, is equally heart-wrenching.

“In this version, the girls also drowned themselves in the lake.

“But in this version the mercenary commander was overcome with grief. In the depth of his despair he carved the names of the girls concerned into a plank and placed it beside the lake as a memorial plaque.

“The beautiful girl that he loved was called Ines and that is why the most recent of the skiing piste, the new green piste at the ski resort has been named Ines, in her memory.”

Food for thought for defending champion Geraint Thomas and the rest of the peleton as they battle up the mountain in a bid for Tour glory.

(Agence France-Presse)