Stage 20: Rambouillet > Paris Champs-Élysées

We’re heading into Paris today. The jersey wearers are all sorted, so this 120km stage is bound to feel a bit flat for more than just topographic reasons. Let’s try to think back 12 months to get a feeling for how excited British fans will be as they watch the usual final day champagne-and-posing antics while the peloton cruises towards the Champs-Élysées. And let’s all get behind Matt Goss to break up Sky’s domination of the day and finish the Tour with a stage win for Orica GreenEdge.

Rough outline of the Stage 20 route

If you select photos in Google Maps, you will see that there are some nice architectural features that have been shot along the route. There’s even a rather large goose in a field, but no vaches. As Essjaymoo discovered when researching last year’s roll into Paris, this is not an area that is rich in the bounty of the bovine. The LVDT team was reduced to sampling a range of processed cheeses last year. Those cows may laugh, but it’s a task I’m not willing to endure again, even in the name of LVDT research. I’m sure nothing has changed in those tried and *ahem* true recipes, anyway. What corporation is willing to risk a New Coke debacle these days?

What I’m planning to do to honour all the lovely cows we’ve seen over the past few weeks is to bring beef and dairy together by cooking a simple steak with a locationally-appropriate Café de Paris butter. This recipe from Australian Gourmet Traveller even includes frites. Well, why not?

It would be a bit of an anti-climax to have a final stage preview with no pictures of cows, so here is a photo from the 1926 Tour de France:

She looks like a Montbéliarde – what say you, Team Vaches?

 Image: Museum Syndicate

Thanks for joining us on our second Tour de France avec vaches. It’s been a fun ride.  Of course, there’ll be a round-up post tomorrow, as well as the announcement of the winning team in the Fantasy League!

And stay tuned for our wrap-up competition, which will go live on the blog on Tuesday at 8.30pm AEST.

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.


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: 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: 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: Limoux > Foix

You may think we’ve already hit the wall with this year’s Tour, but we haven’t. The riders enter the Pyrenees in this 192km stage and will face The Wall today in the form of a brutal new Cat 1 climb, the Mur de Péguère, which starts at around the 143km mark. This 9.4km climb is described by the Cycling Weekly guide as a “killer”. The last 4km, with an average of 11% and sections kicking up to 18%, are “an absolute leg-breaker”. Prior to the wall is the Cat 2 Col du Portel at 30km and then the Cat 1 Port de Lers at 126.5km. The 38km into Foix which follows the summit of The Wall might soften the impact of the killer climb at the finish line. Cycling Weekly predicts that Wiggins could struggle with the ascent against Cowdell. Let’s hope that this is true and that the longer descent – chosen over the more direct 26km option for safety reasons – doesn’t allow him to get back into it!

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Stage 13: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux > Le Cap d’Agde

This is the stage the remaining sprinters have been waiting for: a relatively flat 217km ride down to the Mediterranean. French riders in the peloton will be looking for a piece of Bastille Day glory – look for early breakaways! – and all will be hoping that the potentially strong winds will help rather than hinder today.

We are back in the home of the Camargue cattle, profiled by Essjaymoo in detail for Stage 15 last year. Unlike the Herens, which we saw fighting each other, these ones have another enemy in mind. This might add a little to the urgency with which the peloton attacks the route today.

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Stage 12: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne > Annonay Davézieux

From a relatively short stage yesterday to the longest of the Tour today: a 226km route taking us over the last of the Alpine climbs.  The first climb, the Cat 1 Col du Grand Cucheron, is a 9.7km ascent commencing at around the 21km mark with the summit at 34km. It starts slowly, at around 4-5%, but keeps on building with the final 500m at 10%. The Col du Granier – another Cat 1 – follows at 71km. This 9.7km climb has an average gradient of 8.6%, but from kilometre five it is closer to 10%. The final climb is the Cat 3 Côte d’Ardoix, starting at 201.6km. Cycling Weekly’s guide notes that the descents this stage are longer than their preceding climbs, which should give the sprinters the opportunity to stay in touch with the climbers and the GC contenders. After last night’s sorting out, it will be interesting to see what Nibali does and who will have a crack at a break. SBS is live streaming from 7pm so you don’t have to miss any of the cycling action.

Onto the vache action. There is no breed indigenous to this region, but I’m not leaving anything to chance: there are cows in the vicinity! Google Maps has been remarkably helpful with this shot taken on the route the riders will follow today:

Image: Mr Jalili

Let’s just hope they are out and about for Le Tour.

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Stage 11: Albertville > La Toussuire – Les Sybelles

We’re in the Rhône-Alpes today and here we’ll stay for the next couple of stages. This punchy 140km route takes in four climbs. The ascent of the 2000m Col de la Madeleine (HC) begins just 15km into the stage with the summit at 40km. Hopefully we won’t miss too much of the action whilst M. Gaté explores the regional cuisine! The 40 hairpin bend descent leads to the intermediate sprint point at the 61.5km mark, after which the Col du Glandon/Col de la Croix de Fer combination – another HC climb – commences. It’s 22.4km up at an average of 7% – towards the top riders will encounter 8% gradients, with the last two kilometres at 10%. Ouch. The Cat 2 Col du Mollard follows, and riders finish on the Cat 1 La Toussuire.

Vaches to watch out for

Image: Tom Douglas

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