Stage 20: Bergerac > Perigueux

It’s the Race of Truth and it could be quite the unpalatable truth given that Valverde could well out-race at least one of his rivals for the podium. Hopefully the home crowd will give Pinot just the lift he needs to ride the time trial of his life. At least Nibali seems secure in the yellow jersey, unless he has a catastrophic crash or decides to try his luck on a penny farthing. I shall be spending most of the stage wishing Fabs was still in the race. I’m also hoping that Astana have returned to the shiny skin suits of 2011.

As far as cows go, we’re in the Dorgogne and cowrespondent Geert (who calls these parts his second home) assures me that there are vaches to be seen.

 

We are fairly close to the birthplace of the Bazadais, a breed that was developed to work in the vineyards around Bordeaux. No wonder it goes so well with wine! It’s also a good choice for tonight, as I’m sure “strong calves” are key to TT success. Naturally, it is the choice for a steak with bordelaise sauce, which I remember fondly from our stay in the region last year. [If your browser is as tricksy as mine, you might need to refresh to get it to play nice with Instagram.]

 

Of course, we might also see some Limousin, which gives me the opportunity to post one of my favourite photos, from DiscoverVin.

Limousin near Limoges from DiscoverVin

 

What are we eating? Well, we’re a stage behind, having decided that a Saturday would be better to whip the recipe DiscoverVin suggested for Stage 19 – a slow-cooked dish of beef cheeks in red wine. It’ll be too late for you to do the same, but if you have a truffle on hand we’re certainly in the right place for that!

Stage 19: Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour > Bergerac

The end is in sight. We’ve turned north and are heading towards Paris. There’s just this fairly flat 208.5km and the time trial tomorrow before the final stage into Paris. There are points on offer for the climb of the Côte de Monbazillac but it’s only a Cat 4, so Majka’s coronation as King of the Mountains will happen as long as he makes it to Paris. Sagan has control over the green jersey, but is yet to cross the finish line first in it so that might motivate him tonight.

The really big question, though, is “Have we seen enough cows to warrant Cows with Guns?”.  I’m hoping that we have, but we are running out of time to add some more to the showreel if the compilation is looking a bit thin. Perhaps tonight will help.

We start in the region of the Blonde d’Aquitaine and finish close to Limousin territory. These are the third- and second-most popular breeds in France respectively, after the Charolais. Let’s hope France TV gives Sherliggett a break from enthusing about aerials and mines and gives them some lovely cattle to wax lyrical over.

1024px-Blonde_Aquitaine

Blonde d’Aquitaine

Image: Myrabella

Limousin

Limousin

Image: jacme31

Despite the fact that our two local breeds are beef cattle, it’s duck and pig that feature more heavily in the cuisine of the region (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I was tossing up with suggesting steak tartare to round off the week, but that’s not going to warm anybody’s cockles. This dish – Boeuf Cyrano – comes from Tarn, which is 150km east of our route today, but it stipulates prunes from Agen, a mere 24 km from Feugarolles. I’m confident that most of you keep a “tin of mousse de foie gras” in the pantry and you’ll have prunes left over from Gaté’s tart last night, so you should be able to whip this up in time for dinner. Ooh la la!

Stage 18: Pau > Hautacam

Another climbing stage today and another HC summit finish! What more could we ask for? Well, *ahem* vaches, that’s what. Don’t be distracted by the fact that the first marker on the stage profile is Nay, or that Peter Warren has tweeted pictures of moutons, we are climbing Tourmooooolet, goddammit, and we know there are cows in these parts.

Holly's cows 2Image: Agrifoglio

If we catch a glimpse of a local breed today, it will be the Gascon.

1024px-Gasconnes_Antignac_(11)Image: Père Igor

This is a hardy mountain breed that is well adapted to the harsh Pyrenean environment. They usually spend winters in the lowlands, but are found in the highlands during summer. Let’s hope the local farmers let them out to play. Béarnaise sauce is a speciality of the region – ignore the advice to spoon it over poached eggs or roasted fish. A steak is obviously the way to go.

Who to watch? Nibali will no doubt be up there, and – if he keeps his full-pois promise, Majka will want to show off the kit. Doubtless Valverde will give us a chance to hiss and Nico Roche will allow the Ps another chance to reminisce. I’ll be looking out for the French Siamese twins…

 

 

Stage 17: Saint-Gaudens > Pla d’Adet

From the longest stage of the tour we go straight to the shortest. Short (124.5km) but with four sharp climbs. First off there’s the Cat 1 Col du Portillon which starts about 18km after the sprint points for the stage will have been decided. This most likely gives the fast men no incentive to do anything other than get together in a gruppetto, make the calculations, and do what they have to do to survive. Following the Pordillon, there’s the Col de Peyresourde, the Col de Val Louron-Azet and then the HC finish at Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet. Last time the race climbed the Col de Peyresourde, Valverde won the stage. Hmmmm. I hope Troll DJ has “History Never Repeats” lined up for tonight. Majka took the points jersey after yesterday’s stage and I’d enjoy seeing the dots cross the line on a summit finish in first place, so there’s my tip.

To the cows!

This gives me hope:

 

As does this:

 

Upward curving horns? Tick. Pyrenees? Tick. Creamy white? Tick. Could this be a Lourdais? We’re in the right place…

What are we eating? With M Vache away, I paid homage to Ji Cheng with some Chinese takeaway. Probably not regionally appropriate, but for the first time ever it’s at least linked to the race in some way. The specialities of the region, according to the official website, are porky and as we’ve found in past years, a lot of the cheese of the Pyrenees is made of sheep and/or goats milk. Follow Rusty’s lead from last night and get stuck into some Tomme.

Stage 16: Carcassonne > Bagnères-de-Luchon

With the Tour’s longest stage on offer today (237.5km) the riders will know that their rest day is over. Today’s route includes five categorised climbs, the last of which is the HC Port de Balès. From the summit, it’s approximately 20km of descending to the finish at Bagnères-de-Luchon. Nibali wasn’t looking too weary before the rest day but with three Cat 1s and an HC finish on tomorrow’s stage, he won’t want to spend it all today. Still, he doesn’t seem to be able to resist the opportunity to attack and he’s a strong descender. I’d be happy to see a duel between Rodriguez and Majka to break the points tie on the KoM competition although I’d be equally pleased to see Voeckler cross the final climb in a good position just in case he goes off-piste on the descent.

1280px-Casta8-_SIA2010

Image: Roland Darré

We’ve been in these parts before – the home of the endangered breed, the Aure et Saint-Girons. With only 179 of them listed in the most recent census we remain unlikely to spot one but keep your eyes open just in case. It might just be a better stage for those moutons. Two of the dishes listed as specialities of the finish town are “pétéram (a dish prepared from sheep tripe) [and] pistache (mutton based cassoulet)”. Speaking of cassoulet, we ate many versions of this in this region last year but I didn’t see a beef one. Perhaps I just didn’t look hard enough…