Stage 19: Bonneval > Chartres

It’s the final chance to shake up the CG placings today in this 53.5km time trail, but is there any shakeability left in this race? Particularly over this course? It’s pretty flat, heading out of Bonneval towards Chartres via country roads, and was always predicted to favour the strong time triallists: Fab, Martin, Evans, Wiggins, Menchov. Well, Fab and Martin are long gone from the Tour (I’ll take a quiet moment to mourn the lost opportunity to admire Fab’s exceptional… power output) and Evans and Menchov are 9’57” and 22’42” behind Wiggins, respectively. We can hope that Evans is strong enough to make a good showing tonight, and it will be interesting to see how van Garderen performs after his strong outing in the Besançon time trial. Clearly Wiggins and Froome have been stand-out competitors in this format so far and they will have the added benefit of knowing exactly what times they are up against. Barring absolute disasters on the course, surely not much will change in the top 10. (Click here for the start schedule and don’t forget to add 8 hours for AEST!)

This could, therefore, be something of a trial for viewers. We have most likely exhausted our supplies of witty skinsuit-related repartee (that is unless the Astana outfitters have read of our disappointment over the low-sheen of this year’s lycra and have ordered replicas of last year’s kit). With riders going out at predetermined times, the likelihood of decent name-mangling by the Ps is low. And there might not be vaches.

That’s right. We could be vache-less.

The Departement of Eure-et-Loir is where we find ourselves for this penultimate stage and its economy is based on agriculture. Unfortunately for Team Vaches, this leadership in agricultural production comes in the form of rapeseed oil and wheat. Other notable contributions to the economy include rubber and plastics, pharmaceuticals and… well just guess what comes out of the Cosmetic Valley cluster. If this excites you, and your enthusiasm is further ignited by wind farms and photovoltaic parks, this might just be the stage for you. For those dedicated to all things cow? Not so much.

The Centre region has a number of gastronomic specialties, none of which involve cows in any way1. There are some lovely goats cheeses, rillettes, tarte tatin and the Andouillette au Vouvray sausage. I like these things as much as the next person (okay, so slightly less if the next person likes andouillette), but the input from cattle is fairly minimal. Things are looking bleak from a vache point of view…

I know I’m drawing a very long bow here, but this little find has given me a glimmer of hope that areas best known for their crops still offer options for cow tragics. Here’s a group of people from a state where the unofficial song is the “Iowa Corn Song” showing their commitment to cows and bikes over a period of several years and many more miles in the saddle. I’m talking about Team Cow Iowa, otherwise known as The Udder Team. They wear their dedication to the cow with pride, and appear to have a healthy – but friendly – rivalry with the Wisconsin DairyAirs.

So, yes… perhaps it is optimistic of me to see this as an omen, but we have to get something vachey out of tonight, don’t we? Maybe a combined effort of positive thinking and the precedent of last night’s donkeys will bring us something like this:

Image: A Twisted Spoke

 We can only hope!

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1. Obviously apart from the butter needed for the taste tatin. Clearly they are shipping that in. And, anyway, it would fail a Masterchef test that required the contestant to “make the cow the hero of the dish”.

Stage 18: Blagnac > Brive-la-Gaillarde

“Long, flat… hot”, according to Stephen Roche, which is just what the remaining riders will be wanting to hear after nearly three weeks in the saddle. This stage has four categorised climbs, which might lead you to view the adjective “flat” with suspicion, but these things are all relative. The first two climbs are 1km long each, with the Côte de Saint-George classified as a 3 and the Côte de Cahors at 4. They start at 66.5 and 116.5km respectively with the intermediate sprint 1.5km before the second climb. The second two climbs – the Côte de Souillac and the Côte de Lissac-sur-Couze – start at around 178km and 210.5km. Expect to see Cowvendish chase some personal glory after nearly two weeks of team sacrifice. Sagan’s internal dialogue over the past few stages might be well-represented by the parody account @TweeterSagan, but hopefully he has also spent time dreaming up a new celebratory dance. If a certain Sandy Casar gets anywhere near a break, stay tuned for another mention of his run-in with a dog, which happened on this stage (which he won) five years ago.

A browse around the web led me to this 2010 Tour de France diary entry from Jens Voigt, which gives me some hope that “long, hot… boring” stages equal quality cow viewing. Quality for us, that is. Jens seemed to have lost interest in the bovine scenery.

But really, it was a long and boring stage. At one point I started thinking of great books that I had read, anything to keep my mind off the racing. I mean we had nothing to do but look at the cows and grass all day, and since looking at cows and grass doesn’t make you any smarter, I thought I would try to help myself by thinking of books.

Jens Voigt Diary, Bicycling

(Please tell me I’m not the only one reading Jens’ diary in his voice…)

Tonight’s stage starts in Mirandaise country and ends in the home of the Limousin. We met the Mirandaise when the Tour travelled from Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden last year. Shortly after the Tour rolled through in 2011 the Madeleine festival took place in Montesqiueu, a couple of hours west of today’s starting point.

Created to celebrate the Mirandaise, a historically important local cattle breed that also attracted Italians and Spanish to the region, this thousand-year-old fair will bring producers and the local communities together over two days.

Terra Madre

The festival was organised in conjunction with Slow Food and the Mirandaise Ox Presidium which they established to promote this beautiful breed.

Fevette

Image: Grasspunk

Last year we used a different photo from the Grasspunk blog to illustrate the post about these cattle. [Click the link for a good overview of the origins of the breed.] When I revisited the blog, I read about bc’s decision to say goodbye to the Mirandaise to focus on Salers. It’s really worth clicking through to the farewell post – it provides a lot of insight into the nature of this breed and it’s also good to know that the Mirandaise have gone to farmers who are extending their own herds.

Essjaymoo talked us through the advantages of the Limousin last year so I won’t repeat her words, but I can’t resist re-posting the gorgeous photo taken by DiscoverVin:

It seems altogether fitting that DiscoverVin’s Tour wine for tonight – the Chateau Haut Monplaisir Prestige-AOC Cahors-Rouge 2006 – is recommended as the perfect foil for a steak. Ideal for a simple Friday night dinner! The local cheese is the Pas de l’Escolette, about which little information is available. Most cheeses from the region tend to be made from goat and sheeps milk – this cows milk cheese is only made in small quantities in spring and summer and is hard to find unless you happen to be in the area. Perhaps this can be your CFD for le Tour?

Stage 17: Round-up

Tonight – tonight we were promised a “Short stage, with a violent start” [cue spooky orchestral music, thunder clashes etc]. Tonight we would see the polka dot jersey decided and by the end of the stage we’d know who we’d be dining with in the Hall of the Mountain King!  Oh yeh! [cymbal clash, thunder crash]

But first, the convenors of this wonderful coverage of Le Tour would surprise, confuse and freak.us.out a bit. One of the little community games that has sprung up around twitter is calling the time when Phil and Paul will “catch” Matt Keenan on the commentary.  Last night though things were a bit shady, a bit “online betting bizarre”. Matt’s dulcet tones started the commentary as usual, to be replaced by Phil and Paul… only to be replaced by Matt Keenan again! wot? When P&P returned they casually mentioned going for a cup of tea.  Some of us mentioned that perhaps the horrible gastro bug that seems to be making it’s way around the peloton had reached the commentary team.  Right then – on with the race.

Today Little Tommy Veau-ckler proved time and time again that he was wearing that polka-dot jersey because he was the best climber. Kessiakoff tried many attacks; sneaking around him, a long sprint time, a short sprint time, just going as hard and as long as he could, waiting for TV to make a move, making the move himself. Nothing worked. TV crossed the summits first and cleared up the points. these two battled each other, fog and stupid spectators to finalise the polka dot jersey comp.

Wiggo did what Wiggo does, and Sky kept the peloton under control for most of the race. But I doubt if Wiggo had a happy day in the team bus as when the drizzle started he had to go and get HIS OWN RAIN VEST! woah!

Valverde took control of the race and won the stage convincingly.  Nibali and Leeky-gas (not a Welsh team as Injera reminded us) tried but were thwarted by the pure power and professionalism that is Team Sky.

Some parts of the stage featured no attacks, no fog, no Vache … thank goodness P&P had #chaingate to fall back on – remember the time when Andy Schleck’s chain slipped off and … *snore*

Vache!

(Thank goodness)

 

74.8

74.7

58.7

Closing Montage

 

#trolldj

  • “Days Like This” – Van Morrison “When it’s not always raining – there’ll be days like this” – Misty, foggy, and I reckon a bit cold.
  • “Here Comes Your Man” – Pixies with pics of Tommy Veau-ckler clearing summits
  • It’s Not Where You Start” Rowlf (Muppets) “Its not where you start it’s where you finish”
  • “Mission Impossible Theme” – pics of Cadel 🙁

 

And no … I’m not mentioning naked guy.

 

Stage 16: Round-up

I guess the question is, can anyone/anything stop the yellow wiggle? I spent quite a lot of last night’s stage waiting in breathless anticipation for the attack that didn’t come until just before the final climb. When it did it came from Nibali, who actually managed to make Wiggins sweat a teeny bit.  Liquigas actually put the foot down at one stage, with Basso setting the pace for Nibali.  I’d forgotten Basso was even riding this tour.

So barring any unfortunate accidents the Yellow Caboose has run a text book tour campaign and will well deserve the winner’s spot. But tonight, the story was about the winner of the stage, and the loser. Tommy Voeckler (Veau-ckler to #TeamVache) finished ahead of Sorensen and Izaguirre in what can only be described as  a bloody hard slog.  Tommy’s facial expressions as he drove on and on became as much a part of the commentary as Jens’ age and “Nibali” mispronunciations. But his tongue must have super powers as he took home another stage in gurning style, earning himself the most combative award for the stage.

At one point I was distracted by something and when I looked back at the screen I saw close ups of trees and someone working their way through the branches – for a moment I thought the live stream has been taken over by Bear Grylls… but no – Chris Horner had taken a detour into the undergrowth. He appeared unharmed though and continued on after shaking the dirt from his ears.

The climbs were HC (have cheese?) and the descents were fast and furious; at one stage the bike riders were travelling faster than the moto carrying cameramen.

A large group of breakies was whittled down to 2 by the hard climbs and at one stage there were 6 groups displayed on tour tracker. One of these groups was labelled Group Evans, but we didn’t see the best from Cadel.  Suffering from a stomach bug (he’s not the first one to mention that in this year’s riders) he was obviously pained to be dragging himself over the hills. Bugger. TJ was in the break and held on to give himself a lead of 3:48 over Pinot in the Young Rider classification.

Good thing I was also on #VacheWatch. And luckily, SBS got into the spirit and provided live streaming from 7:30pm. If they have, we would have had an almost Vache-less stage.  As it was we got to glimpse many Vaches generally ignoring the riders.

This is what I was looking for …a Betizuak in front of snow-capped mountains and .. glitter!  Right.  Thanks @jaybeenesq for the postcard from your last jaunt to the Pyrenees.

 

 

I did tweet wondering where the cows were, and threatened to post pics of horses that we saw instead, but then an amazing thing happened.  Oh yes, as the riders went higher we came across more and more cows! Well that makes sense really as it’s mid-summer and they go higher as the snow melts.  Der.

138.9 km Vache on the crest.

135km with sheep in the background – just cause we can

135km closeup girls!

I really wish SBS had been broadcasting as this lovely Vache was video worthy (or at least a better pic) – appearing from nowhere to walk along next to the peloton for a bit, completely unperturbed by the action.

134.7 km

130.5 km snacking away

130.5km Lovely isn’t she?

79.3 Cows on the right, sheep to the left!

A good night’s spotting all round really.

#trolldj

  • “I’ve Got My Mojo Working” – Manfred Man. Tomas Veau-ckler working his mojo, his tongue, his facial expressions, anything to get him over that line.
  • “The Ending is Just The Beginning” – The Living End.
  • “Foreign Land” – Eskimo Joe.
  • “Every LIttle Bit Hurts” – The Spencer Davis Group – Cadel, showing the strain, trying his hardest, giving it his all.
  • “Far From Over” – Frank Stallone.

Field Art: Ever-loveable smiling sheep!

 

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We’re lucky to have LVDT supporter (and jersey sponsor) Will, from Two Wheel Tours as a cowrespondent again this year and he snapped this gorgeous cow on the slopes of Tourmelet.

Check out Will’s albums over on his Facebook page.

Stage 17: Bagnères-de-Luchon > Peyragudes

Today’s 143.5km, five climb stage is the last chance the climbers will have to grab big points and given that only 4 points separate Europcar’s Veau-ckler and Kessiakoff of Astana, they are bound to be hotly contested. It’s also the last chance the for the weaker time triallists to move up in the GC – Nibali’s moves were all marked last night and it’s doubtful that Sky will let him escape. Tejay might make a play for a higher placing, though, and I’d love to see Moobeldia having a crack. Evans, whilst conceding he’s out of podium contention, has suggested that he would like to make a move, but it’s probably unlikely that he will be allowed.

The course today is “short, but brutal!” according to Technical Director Jean-François Peschaux. The climbing starts early, just after 18km, with the Cat 1 Col de Menté. This 9.3km ascent has an average gradient of 9.1% but the first and third kilometres average 10.3 and 11% respectively and the rest of the climb ranges from 5 to 12%. The descent is described as “tortuous” and the Cat 2 col des Ares and Cat 3 Côte de Burs will no doubt come as a bit of a relief. The day’s toughest climb, the 11.7km of the HC Port de Balès, starts at around 100km. Expect narrow roads, the usual fan kerfuffle, and perhaps picture break-up because of the trees (although we’ve been pretty lucky with that this year). After descending to Saint-Aventin, the final climb of the day commences. It’s really two climbs: riders will tackle the Col de Peyresourde (about 9km), descend briefly and then climb again to finish at the ski station of Peyragudes. Finally – a mountain top finish! They seem to have been few and far between this year. I’ll leave the last of the stage overview to Cycling Weekly:

We can’t emphasise enough how hard today’s roads are. Crashes are a possibility; they’ve been frequent in the past when the Tour has been here and they’ve changed the race. And the climbs a all hard and unforgiving. Anyone who breathed a sigh of relief when they got to Luchon yesterday, thinking they’d got through the Tour, might have to think again.

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Stage 16: Pau > Bagnères-de-Luchon

We come back from the rest day having woken to the now-traditional news of a positive test, this time involving Fränk Schleck. Seems a stretch to think that, given his performance this year, he has been enhanced in any way but I guess all that will unfold over the coming days and weeks. As it stands at the time of writing, 155 riders will start in Pau today. The testing bombshell aside, this is the stage we’ve been waiting for! The 197km route with its four climbs – two HCs and two Cat 1s – will provide opportunities for Evans, Nibali and perhaps even Froome to establish a claim to the yellow jersey. Of course Wiggins will be defending his position, but his result today will possibly be buffered by the calculation that he can make up small losses in the final time trial. For the other GC contenders, today and tomorrow will be key.

The first climb to challenge the riders is the 16.4km Col d’Aubisque, which comes on the heels of the early intermediate sprint point at 26km. The climb starts at around 37km and once the riders reach the summit, there’s a descent – with a bump in the form of the Col du Soulor – to the feed station at Adast. The 19km climb to the summit of the Col du Tourmelet starts just after Luz St Sauveur at 101.5km, although it looks pretty much all uphill from Adast. After descending Tourmelet, the Col d’Aspin climb starts immediately; rinse and repeat for the final climb of the day, the Col de Peyresourde.

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Stage 15: Round-up

I guess you can blame me.

I was lucky enough to score a rest day of my own on Sunday night with Injera taking over the recap reins for the evening (thanks!). Today we’re back to my usual drivel and I guess I’m being punished by Le Tour Overseers as we experienced a very tedious stage. Very late in the telecast I did a twitter roll call and was really proud that some many of #TeamVache had hung in there to spot until the end of a seemingly interminable transition stage. If you haven’t joined us yet on twitter, follow us here and use the hashtag #lvdt plus a km mark when you spot cows, fake cows, men in cow pyjamas, cow patterned wellingtons …

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Rest Day: Pau

Stage 15 seemed like a preliminary rest stage for viewers – the lack of tension in the race prompted Essjaymoo to instigate a late-night roll-call to make sure we hadn’t all nodded off. Still, we can’t be too critical. We’re all worn out from a couple of weeks of late nights; these guys have covered 2760.4km. A day off will do us all good.

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Stage 15: Samatan > Pau

Today’s 160km stage takes us from the Midi-Pyrénées to the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Given the length of the stage, you might be expecting lots of big climbs. If you are, you’ll be as disappointed as I was to see that there are only three, packed into the last third of the stage, and they are a Cat 4, a Cat 3 and another Cat 4. These are followed by a downhill run into the finish at Pau. Transitional stages – how dull. There had better be cows!

There is a local hero in these parts. As we move into the Aquitaine region it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to learn that we are in the home of the relatively new Blonde D’Aquitaine breed.

 Image: Heuvelland Blondes

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Stage 14: Round-up

Stage 14 had it all: an early (ultimately successful) attack; a subtle Chris Lilley tribute; the spectacle of sprinters climbing Cat 1 mountains at the head of the peloton; a dastardly act of sabotage; an ungentlemanly attack; and a gesture of sportsmanship from the yellow jersey that restored our faith in human nature. Wait, there’s something missing from that list… Cows! There were no cows! Now that I think about it, perhaps this was presaged in the Gabriel Gaté segment – for the first time this year he failed to use even a small knob of butter. Let’s tune in to possible subliminal messages from M. Gaté over the coming days.

Before joining the action, Dave McKenzie interviewed BMC’s John “Multitasking” Lelangue and I was disappointed to see that he seemed entirely focussed on the interview.

@ozwinereview pointed out that he was likely texting with his toes.

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