Stage 17: Embrun > Chorges

It’s another individual time trial, this time over 32km from Embrun to Chorges. It’s not a flat course, like the first one, with two Cat 2 climbs snuck in. It starts at 789m and finishes at 861m, with the Côte de Puy Sanières peaking at 1137m and the Côte de Réallon at 1227m. Add all those together, multiply by your age, subtract the year Chris Froome was born in and divide by a mystery digit, and you get the altitude at which the winner was born. No, truly. Try it.

The more important question is: will there be cows. There has been some speculation about the correlation between our presence in France and the lack of vaches this Tour. We’ve eaten our fair share, but I don’t think we’ve decimated the herd. Rather, when I first looked at the course, I did scratch my head and think “hmmm, Prudhomme didn’t have vaches in mind when he planned this, did he?”.

Still, we are in the alps and you’re never too far from a doe-eyed, bell-bedecked bovine beauty here. Keep your eyes peeled and your larder stashed. I’ll be eating the amazing Beaufort we picked up at the street market in Vaison-la-Romaine yesterday. We had many choices, trying a delicious Comté, a subtle Gruyère and probably the nicest Brebis I’ve ever tasted, but we opted for the Beaufort which may or may not be three years old. (My French is still dodgy, obviously.) Still, it is utterly fabulous and we may have eaten half the piece waiting for the stage to start.

We’ve met this cheese before and it is possible to track down some nicely matured examples of the style if you go to specialist cheesemongers. If you see any Tarantaise or Abondance cattle – we saw a lot of the latter during the Dauphiné – they are the ones responsible for this delicious cheese.

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Tarantaise

Image: Olive White Photography

Abondance-Cows

Abondance

Image: Americans in France

Stage 16: Round-up

Armed with very helpful map put together by the Département de Vaucluse, M Vache and I set off in our Ooropcar to see our first start for the Tour. Our hotel manager had explained about parking à Sablet and navettes gratuites, but we decided to head straight for Vaison-la-Romaine and take our chances with the free parking in town (also marked on the map). Our sat-nav lady had conniptions as we headed dangerously off-road at the behest of a friendly parking marshall and soon we were headed down the Rue Piège à Touristes, past pop-up stalls and buskers, towards the Village.

People were crowded around a place that seemed to contain… nothing at all. We walked past them into a crush of more people and decided to try a back way to the start. Easy.

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Image: M Vache

 

 

 

Stage 16: Vaison-la-Romaine > Gap

Today the Tour leaves Provence and heads to the Alps. Remember how people were saying the race was all but over in the first week, but then we had some spine-tinglingly exciting stages? Well, even if you believe Froome has wrapped up the yellow jersey, tied a ribbon around it and written the Congratulations card to himself, there will likely still be contests worth seeing as teams fight for stage wins and future sponsorships.

The stage itself is a punchy 168km with three climbs. The Cat 3 Côte de la Montagne de Bluye is early on at 17.5 km – riders will start the climb at the 11.8km mark – and the first of the Cat 2 climbs, the Col de Macuègne, is at 48km. The final climb  – the Cat 2 Col de Manse – comes after the first descent into Gap.

We’ll be judging whether the start town of Vaison-la-Romaine is truly worthy of 100 most beautiful detours of France. Hello, Route Barrée… Our helpful hotel manager has furnished us with a map, translated the shuttle bus instructions and given us advice on when to present ourselves for breakfast and leave. I’m not sure that we are going to try to leave enough time to sample the olive sausage, though.

Is there a chance of cows today? Signs point to “yes”, as we are entering the region of those fabulous alpine cheeses. In fact, the official site notes that Gap is home to Tomme, a semi-hard cheese made from the milk left over from butter- and full-cream cheese-making. Well, it’s home to one of the many versions of this alpine cheese, at least. You should be able to pick up a tomme from your local cheesemonger, but if they are offering Tomme de Savoie, save that for later in the alps! Where there’s a cows milk cheese, there be cows… although (and I feel as though I should have made a macro for this statement this tour) there are no breeds specific to this area. Let’s look out for some likely milkers – extra points for bells.

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Image: Methow Bikes France

Stage 15: Round-up

Les Vaches en France were envying the peloton their easy start to the day. They only had to be rolling by 10.30 in Givors; we had to get to St Exupéry, pick up the Ooropcar, and find something to eat and drink on Bastille Day Sunday before making it to Montélier to watch them pass by. Still, we figured we’d easily get to our nominated roundabout. Probably with time to spare for coffee. After all, they’d hardly be hammering it from the word “go” with the Beast of Provence looming. Right?

In hindsight, I’d recommend not picking up a rental car on Bastille Day. Schlepping out to the airport to do so because it’s the only place open means you get to experience the frustrations of air travel with none of the excitement. The station at Lyon airport is gorgeous but it’s a fair trek from there to the navette service that takes you far away to the location voiture depot. Anyway, we picked up our Renault-Megane-or-similar (where similar means a strange little box called an Opel Meriva) and proceeded to drive in ever-decreasing circles around the airport for around an hour whilst the sat nav beeped at us and the Tour Tracker taunted us with news of a blindingly fast start to the stage.
= = = = = = = = =

The longest stage, France’s national day and the iconic Mont Ventoux climb. Surely the riders would ease into it?

CLA_IMGImage: Tour de France

 

Stage 15: Givors > Mont Ventoux

It’s Bastille Day, the longest stage of the Tour, and a summit finish on Mont Ventoux. Honestly, what more can I say? Whatever there is to say will be said on the road tomorrow. In the meantime, if you haven’t had a read of The Inner Ring’s article about the mountain, do so.

As for cows, this is another cleverly designed stage with no indigenous breed to discuss. If we see cattle, they might even be Salers or even Aubrac, both of which originate west of the route but whose meat has been spotted in local butchers in these parts. Yes, I’m clutching at straws. Stage 12 last year finished in Annonay and we did see Charolais along that route, although further east than what the riders will be going today. Let’s hope for some field art!

The bovine-related food specialties for this particular corridor of the Rhône-Alpes and Provence are scarce. Further east and we’ll be talking about all the wonderful alpine cheeses; north has more of the beefy stews. There is a dish, though, that is a mainstay on the menus of Lyonnaise bouchons: raie au beurre noir. It’s a fish dish, but butter is probably the key ingredient. It’s also absolutely delicious.

Where's the beef?

Where’s the beef?

M Vache and I won’t be at the start in Givors, but we’ll be zooming around in our Oooropcar trying to catch glimpses of the race as it heads towards the Big Climb. Wish us luck with navigating all the Routes Barrées.

 

Stage 14: Round-up

Croix Rousse

Would the riders appreciate the view as they came into Lyon over the Croix Rousse? Once again, M Vache and I accidentally spent the morning previewing the course as we wandered around Lyon.

The gendarmes suddenly cleared out from the road and the cheering rolled closer. Who was in front? Desperate craning of necks and frantic photo taking and we really were none the wiser.

There goes Rojas

There goes Rojas

Once the lead group raced past, there was a wait for the chasers, and then the main peloton rolled in. We had to rely on Twitter to find out who won and it was Trentin for the Omooga Farmers over Albasini for OGE. Talansky, who was threatening to build enough of a lead to take the white jersey, came in third but didn’t dislodge the Cow that Won’t Quit as best young rider.

Sky and the Saxos.

Sky and the Saxos.

Argonauts cruising in

Argonauts cruising in

Having a stretch

Having a stretch

David Millar and Jens

David Millar and Jens

Image: Meowclank

 

Game face on for Tomo

Game face on for Tomo

Next stop… somewhere along the way to Ventoux. Keep up the cow spotting, Team Vaches! I hope stage 15 has something for us.

 

Stage 14: Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule > Lyon

The official site describes the stage profile as flat, however there are seven opportunities for the climbers to take points, with five Cat 4 climbs and two Cat 3. It will be interesting to see how Rolland approaches the day – will he chasing KOM points to stay in spots or will he be keeping his legs relatively fresh for a big Bastille Day/Mont Ventoux effort? The climbs shouldn’t be enough to leave the sprinters behind; we’d hope to see a close fought finish in Lyon between the main contenders for the green jersey. After yesterday’s stage, however, who is willing to make any predictions?

Well, apart from predictions about cows, of course. You’re probably all heartily sick of Charolais and Limousin by now, but they are the cows we’re likely to see today, particularly the former. Zooming down on the TGV yesterday we saw oodles of them, mostly seeking shade under trees in the paddocks. At 300km an hour it was a bit of a challenge to gather pictorial evidence, but here it is.

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Image: M Vache

There is, however, another local breed. The Ferrandaise is from the Puy-de-Dôme and we looked for it – without success, I believe – in stage 9 of the 2011 Tour. Back then we discovered that it was on the endangered list, but that breeding programs were working to save the herd. If this restaurant is anything to go by, it’s popularity is increasing, so perhaps we’ll catch a glimpse of some. I’ll do my bit by looking out for it on local menus.

FerrandaiseImage: La Ferrandaise Restaurant

Lyon is more famous for porky delights than vachetastic victuals. The restaurant we ate at tonight had a bowl deep fried pork rinds on each table just as a pre-dinner nibble. Cattle were represented on the menu – a steak and some veal kidneys – but the main attraction was the andouillette. Still, the butchers around here are serious about their meat and the type of meat and provided further evidence that charolais and limousin rule.

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Anyway, if you want something to eat and you are determined to maintain your focus on the cow, I’ve found this recipe. Is it authentic? Who knows, but it has beef and cheese and the word “Lyonnaise”. Bon appetit!

 

Stage 13: Tours > Saint-Amand-Montrond

Today’s 173km stage down into the centre of France might seem like a doddle compared to yesterday’s nearly 50km longer course, but I’m sure it won’t seem like that for the sprinters desperate to claim a win. There are some KOM points on offer at 77.5km at the Cat 4 Côte de Crotz, but otherwise it could be another stage where distractions take their toll (and I’m not just talking about flicking over to the Ashes…).

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Image: M Vache

We are heading closer to Charolais country, so it’s likely that the majority of cattle we’ll see will be these creamy, slightly pig-faced cows. The charolais is best known for its meat, however the dish of the stage is a Piquechagne, a local cake featuring butter and cream. I apologise to the lactose intolerant. I haven’t tried this, but anything with the instruction

Just before serving, pour the whipped cream into the center.

is alright by me. Of course, feel free to whip up a Boeuf Bourgignon from the Charolais link and open a nice bottle of pinot noir if it suits your climate!