Stage 21: Round-up

 

Vache!

 

Our jerseys:

 

 


 

 

Wheelie!

 

Moutons clearly lack loyalty.

 

Mike looks as distraught as the couch peloton at the end of Le Tour.

 

*Sigh*

 

Merci beaucoup…

…and so say all of us!

 

Well-earned…

 

PHEW!

For a much more detailed wrap-up…

 

Puffin.

 

Here’s hoping next year’s finale isn’t on sooooooo late!

Thanks for all your wit and wisdom. It’s been a hoot. Now…

Stage 21: Sèvres > Paris Champs-Élysées

The only question to be answered in the final stage is “Who will take stage honours?”. All the jerseys are decided: Chris Froome has both the Maillot Jaune and the Polka Dots; Peter Sagan has the Green Jersey under control and Nairo Quintana  has the white jersey. Of course, the Tour overall has most likely left us all with a number of questions over which we might argue for the next 342 days. I doubt that one of those will be “Did Qhubeka deserve a wildcard?”. Hopefully they will become regular participants.

As we watch the procession towards Paris we should join the leaders in celebrating with a glass of champagne. If you still have some aged alpine cheese in the fridge, this is the match of choice at Serious Eats. More traditionally, rich triple-cream cheeses are matched with sparkling wines – seems like a good excuse for something oozy and decadent!

Unless something extraordinary happens, there will be no cattle to spot today. I’ll leave you with this painting; there may be a couple of unseen vaches behind  the hedgerows.

Road to Sèvres, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, 1855-1865

Road to Sèvres, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, 1855-1865

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Stage 20: Modane Valfrejus > Alpe d’Huez

It’s the final stage in the Alps, and the last stage where anybody is likely to do something unexpected. The organisers have managed to squeeze the Télégraphe, Galibier and Alpe d’Huez into a 110km stage. This time yesterday, I figured it was going to be a stage to watch the climbers fight over the King of the Mountains points and bemoan the lack of interest in the GC after week one. Quintana’s attack on La Toussuire yesterday showed that Froome was vulnerable… but is it too little, too late, or has Nairo saved his box of matches just for this stage? It’s a very outside chance.

We’re still in the Savoie so let’s hope there are some cows attached to the cowbells we hear. Today’s route is not too far from the birthplace of the Villard de Lans so I’m willing to call the Alpe d’Huez cows VdLs.

Some of Alpe d'Huez's many cows... could they be Villard-de-Lans?

Image: M Vache

Tip: if the video doesn’t load, refresh the page.

Video: Alrom Niverno

The Villard de Lans is a dual-purpose breed, described as “spirited, with a lively disposition”. Their milk is used for the Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage cheese which is celebrated in an annual festival in August – “20,000 visiteurs… 2 tonnes de fromage”. It’s worth checking out their website for the collection of posters promoting the event over the past few years. TrollDJ would be particularly interested in the 2012 poster. The breed is on the conservation list of France Génétique Elevage with the current population recorded as 403 cows.

Speaking of blue cheeses, there is another Savoie cheese that is probably more endangered than the Villard de Lans. The Bleu de Termignon is made from the milk of the Tarentaise and Abondance cows by three producers high in the Alps. One producer has started to modernise production, but the other two producers are using the same techniques as their forefathers. The story is told beautifully here.  If you can’t find any of these blue cheeses, feel free to substitute any of the other delicious alpine cheeses or start doing the end-of-Tour fridge clean-out. Oh, and if you think you can manage one more cheese-and-potatoes dish this Tour, here’s the local version.

 

Stage 19: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne > La Toussuire

This is the sharp end of the Tour even if judging only by all those alpine climbs that look incredibly symmetrical in the route profile. Froome continues to hold on to the yellow jersey and it would take a miracle – or a catastrophe – to dislodge it from his grip. I’m sure no cycling fan wants to see either of those. There is still a lot of life left in the climbers’  competition, though, and we can expect the motos to stick closely to Bardet, Voeckler, Rolland and Pinot.

There will no doubt be a point during this 138km stage – say, at kilometre zero – when the sprinters will look over their shoulders and wonder if it’s worth going the long way ’round. It’s 3.8 km to Saint-Pancrace – they could stop for a spot of lunch and meet up with the race for the last 20km. Alas, that option is not open to them so it will be a matter of doing those infernal calculations while they drag themselves up and down the Col du Chaussy, the Col de la Croix de Fer and the Col du Mollard, quite probably humming Helter Skelter to themselves as they go.

Hopefully whilst they are doing that, we will see some cattle. We know we will see Tarantaise cows as long as we tune in to the Taste le Tour segment.

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Image: SBS, Taste le Tour

These gorgeous beasts produce the milk that makes the equally gorgeous Beaufort cheese, known as Prince of the Gruyères. This cheese is made in large wheels which are then matured in caves or cellars for up to two years. For more on its manufacture, watch tonight or check out this lovely post. It is definitely worth seeking out some of this delicious cheese (and yes, I am saying that in Gabriel Gaté’s accent as I type). We bought some at a street market when we were visiting the stage 16 start two years ago and, even under less than ideal cheese transporting and storage conditions, it was a revelation. Gabriel is cooking with it tonight – an omelette, which seems like the perfect end-of-week dinner. I think I might do the same.

 

Stage 18: Gap > Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne

…I thought that it was nothing more than a path to move sheep or cattle to and from their pastures!

Thierry Gouvenou, The Official Tour de France Guide 2015

The road he’s talking about is 10km from the finish of today’s stage and contains 17 (or 18, depending which part of page 201 you’re looking at) hairpins. And, presumably, opportunities to spot both vaches and moutons. It’s the last of the seven climbs in today’s stage, coming just after the descent of the HC Col du Glandon.

What cattle are we likely to see? The milk of the Montbéliarde from the last couple of stages, the Tarentaise (also known as Tarine) and the Abondance are used to create one of the region’s star cheeses, Reblochon, so keep an eye out for these alpine breeds.

Vache-tarentaise-et-le-lac-de-roseland-ferme--6614e1T650

Vache Tarentaise

Image: BlackSlash73

800px-Abondance_cow_profile

Abondance

Image: Walpole

If the Ps start muttering about caves again tonight, it might be because they hold some maturing Reblochon rather than a selection of bats. This washed rind cheese has a nutty flavour but a strong odour that is “not for the timid“, apparently. If you are preparing for Run Melbourne on the weekend, you might want to carbo-load with the reblochon-and-potato wonder that is tartiflette.

If Reblochon’s not your speed, there are many other alpine cheeses to choose from. The Savoie-Mont Blanc website proudly showcases the rest of the region’s cheesy wealth. Stock up and spend the rest of the week in a cheese coma. Sweet dreams!

Stage 17: Digne-les-Bains > Pra Loup

We’ve finally made it to the Alps! The riders have had a rest, as have we, so no doubt we’ll attack the five climbs in this 161km stage with vigour. From what I’ve read, the biggest challenge here is less about the fourth ascent (up the Cat 1 Col d’Allos) than it is about the descent before the final climb to Pra Loup. It looks to  head upwards from around the 55km to go mark with the summit of the Col d’Allos 33km later before a “technical” descent “to delight Nibali and cause anxiety for Froome”. The way Chris Froome is looking at the moment, I think it will take a lot to cause him anxiety.

Keep your eyes open for more Montbéliarde in these parts. Interestingly, although the number of farms has decreased sharply – from 106 in 1988 to 37 in 2010 – the amount of agricultural land has increased over the same period – from 1002ha to 2989ha – with farmers turning towards sheep and cattle breeding. I’m hoping this makes for some vache-tastic viewing.

800px-Comtois_et_Montbeliardes_0007

Image: Arnaud 25

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