It’s been a long, long ride from the western edge of France, to Normandy and right down the centre. Tonight, we finally hit some hills in the Pyrenees. The sprinters have had their time in the sun (and the rail and hail), and now it’s time for the yellow jersey battle to take centre stage.
But before we get to the three substantial climbs of this stage we travel from Cugnaux across the flatlands of Haute-Garonde. Here we are hoping to spot some absolutely gorgeous Mirandaise cattle. These originated next door in Gers area and were bred to be strong, docile and resistant to heat. The oxen were used by farmers to work the fields, and would then be fattened up at the end of their working life, producing tender flavoursome beef. The introduction of tractors reduced their value to the farmers and they all but died out during the 20th century. At the end of the 1970s there were no more than 150 cows and one purebred bull. But .. ta dah! In conjunction with the Slow Food Foundation for BioDiversity a program has been established to increase herd numbers and retain the pure bloodlines by educating consumers about the quality of the meat.
Image: Farming in France
(aren’t you glad they are saving them cow fans?)
These lovely cows used to be known as Gasconne Auréolée and were merged with a close relative the Gasconne Muqueuses Noires(more on these in stage 14) in the 50s. The merged herd became known as Gasconne, but were separated again in the 80s and their name changes to Mirandaise.
They aren’t limited to the flatlands though as you can see here – they quite like the heights as well.
Image: Will Levy, Two Wheel Tours
Which is good cause after grabbing a quick feed, Le Tour is heading up, up and up! A category one climb as a warm up to the infamous Col de Tourmalet (2115m) before dropping into a deep valley and back up to 1715M on Luz-Ardiden. That should spread the pelaton out a bit.
And slow them down enough so that we might be able to spot some more cows.
The Aure et Saint-Girons is one of three severely endangered French Pyrenees breeds (the others, the Lourdais and Béarnais will be featured tomorrow). It is also known as the “Casta” for its chestnut colour. The Aure is one of the oldest of the breeds of southern France. As recently as 1930 there were 30,000 Aure cattle in the area, however numbers had dropped to 9000 by the late 1950s and by the late ’70s there were only 50 cows known to exist. An urgent conservation programme began in 1980 and by 2008 the population had increased to 255 cows in 39 herds. As with the other Pyrenees breeds, these cows have sturdy hooves which allow them to walk over rocky and marshy land without going lame.
The milk of the Aure et Saint-Girons is used to make Bethmale cheese, a traditional cows milk cheese dating back to the 12th century and made about the town of Bethmale.
Cycling wise – we should see the favourites in the yellow jersey competition show their hands with the Schlecks, Cowbell and Cowntador certain to feature. Is Cowntador’s knee up to it? I think we’ll know by the end of tonight’s stage.