Stage 10: Mâcon > Bellegarde-sur-Valserine

Today’s 194.5km stage includes the first Hors Category climb of the 2012 Tour: the 1,501m Col de Grand Colombier, another climb making its debut this year. Before attacking this climb, riders will negotiate the Cat 2 Côte de Corlier (90km). The intermediate sprint point comes at 130.5km and the serious climbing starts almost immediately. It’s not all downhill from Colombier to the finish; the Cat 3 Col de Richemond breaks up the descent into Bellegarde-sur-Valserine. Prior to the Tour starting, this was earmarked as an Andy Schleck stage. With him out, it will be interesting to see if Fränk takes up the attack. He is currently 17th in the general classification (8’19” behind the yellow jersey), so stage wins probably feature in his revised Tour goals. Evans is still in second place, 1’53” behind Wiggins, and Froome is looking very strong in third, with a 2’07” deficit. Nibali and Menchov round out the top five. The peloton is now down to 177 riders, with 20 having withdrawn as a result of injury and one having been arrested. Ah, yes, the magic of le Tour. As The Inner Ring tweeted:

Kudos to the French police who found Rémi di Gregorio because nobody watching the race has seen him.

Onto the vaches!

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Stage 9: Arc-et-Senans > Besançon

It’s time for the race of truth, this time over 41.5km with a strategically placed hill at the 16.5km mark that is designed to bring the strong riders to the fore. Prior to the start of the race, Tony Martin was heavily fancied to take out this stage, but his early Tour scaphoid troubles will no doubt favour Cancellara. The battle we are waiting for is the one between yellow-jersey wearing Wiggins and second-place Cadel Evans. They will be the last two riders to depart, so if you need to nap, set an alarm so you don’t miss the excitement. Evans is scheduled for 12.36am AEST and Wiggins will set off at 12:39am – the full list can be found here. The course is said to be beautiful – which is nice for those of us who will be seeing it in detail over the course of the telecast – and a tailwind is forecast for today.

There are cows common to the greater area and, as usual, we will see them again and again or not at all. The first few riders will sort out the likelihood of vaches, after which we will all be able to relax and focus on the skinsuits race.

The first of the two breeds we will keep a particular eye out for tonight is the Montbéliarde. Strangely enough, we were in Montbéliarde country for the Grenoble time trial last year. Perhaps this is mere coincidence…

Image: Creative Genetics

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Stage 8: Belfort > Porrentruy

We are really in the mountains now. Given the length of the stages we’ve seen so far, you might look at this 157.5km stage and think “well, at least I’ll get some more sleep before the week starts”. Not so fast. There are seven climbs packed into today’s route. The first is a Cat 4 at 20km, and they get progressively steeper (a 3, three 2s and then a 1) as the day progresses. We’ll see some pretty unlikely “sprinters” collecting points today, with the intermediate sprint coming after the day’s fifth climb.

The finish today is in Switzerland, so we should expect a lot of auditory false alarms as fans ring their cowbells. Hopefully it will give our own Cowbell Evans a boost. If we do see any cows, they might be the local Braunvieh (Brown Swiss) or Simmental.

Please don’t draw any SherLiggetism conclusions from the posture of these cows.

Image: Wikimedia (Creative Commons)

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Stage 7: Tomblaine > La Planche des Belles Filles

This 199km stage contains the first category 1 climb of the Tour: a 5.9km climb at an average 8.5% (although some sections are up to 13%) right at the end of the stage. That’s not to say it will necessarily be easy going up until that point; there are two other categorised climbs along the route, both classified as Cat 3.  The first is the Col de Grosse Pierre at 112km, 8km after the intermediate sprint point, and the second is the Col de Mont de Fourche at 150.5km. The final climb up to the ski station at La Planche des Belles Filles is making its Tour debut, which means we will be spared comparisons to the achievements of certain storied competitors of recent years.  It will be interesting to see how the main GC contenders stack up at the end of today’s stage, and if and when a gruppetto forms.  We will miss Didi on the sidelines in the mountain stages this year, but I’m sure there will be many other tifosi – any bets on how long before a mankini makes an appearance?

After yesterday’s horrific crashes, four more riders have withdrawn from the Tour: Poels, Vigano, Danielson and Astarloza. [Edited to add: make that five – Gutiérrez has just been reported as a non-starter. As of 6.33, Jonathan Vaughters has just added Hesjedal to the withdrawals. 7.47 – Mike Tomalaris has just tweeted that Robbie Hunter is also out.] With 27 receiving hospital treatment for injuries sustained during stage 6 we can only hope that the riders who are continuing aren’t in too much pain. The sprint stages are behind us for the time being, so a slower, spread out peloton might (fingers crossed) mean fewer accidents.

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Stage 6: Épernay > Metz

This 207.5km stage is the last of the flats until stage 13, so you can be sure the sprinters will be all over it. The intermediate sprint point comes at 135.5km and the only climb of the day – a Cat 4 – follows less than 10km after it. The final three kilometres have proved treacherous during these sprint-friendly stages; hopefully tonight we’ll break the jinx and have a hard-fought sprint that doesn’t leave us wondering who might have been left on the road and how badly they are injured. The Lotto team will be fired up after Griepel’s second consecutive stage win, but I can’t be alone in wanting to see one last Sagan celebration before the mountains, can I?

We start today in Champagne-Ardenne and finish in the capital of Lorraine. Celebrate the end of the sleep-deprived working week with a glass or two of the region’s eponymous sparkling wine – it would be a pity to waste such a good opportunity, wouldn’t it?

There is no cattle breed specific to this area, however there are a number of cows milk cheeses from the region.  This must be where the Prim’holsteins – which make up about 60% of the dairy herd in France – come in.

Image: Parisbug

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Pie Rouge

Stage 5: Rouen > Saint-Quentin

Today’s 197km is flat. How flat? Pancake flat, according to the BBC. There are no categorised climbs and the intermediate sprint point is a little over halfway, at 109km. This is a day for the sprinters and we can hope to see one of those classic battles of the lead-out trains. Mark Cavendish would look to be a good bet on paper, but he came down in the last 3km of last night’s stage and we’ll have to wait and see what effect that will have today. Peter Sagan might be polishing a new dance move in anticipation of another win and Lotto will be fired up after Greipel’s stage four win.

Leaving the coast means moving away from those treacherous winds and – hopefully – the lumpy roads.  The first week nerves should be starting to settle – perhaps the peloton will stabilise at 195 riders for a while after losing Rabobank’s Tjallingii before stage four. Sky’s Svitsov and Movistar’s Rojas were also casualties of stage three. Those watching in timezone GMT +10 will be appreciative of a relatively early night.

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Stage 4: Abbeville > Rouen

Today’s 214.5km stage takes us from Picardie to Haute-Normandie. The four Cat 4 climbs are distributed across the route, with the intermediate sprint between climbs three and four at 94kms.  The relatively flat terrain “isn’t exactly torturous” according to the TdF Guide, however the coastal route has other challenges, not the least of which are the notorious coastal crosswinds. In Rupert Guinness’ preview of the Tour, Cadel Evans revealed that stage four was one of the pressure points in week one, due to a combination of week one nerves, unpredictable weather and narrow, winding, “lumpy” roads. We saw those factors in play last night, with a couple of riders abandoning after serious crashes and a number who will probably be feeling all sorts of pain for at least the next few days. Let’s hope things go smoothly tonight.

Picardie boasts a strong rural economy, with “considerable cattle grazing”, although there is no particular local breed. Once we cross into Normandie, look out for the pied Normande.

 

Image: Will Studd

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Stage 3: Orchies > Boulogne-sur-Mer

So we enter France, finally! Today’s 197km stage looks to be fairly flat for the first half, but once the intermediate sprint is done at 119 km there are six categorised climbs to test the peloton, finishing with a Cat 4 at Boulogne-sur-Mer. The BBC Tour coverage hopes that Cav will be able to keep up with the leaders, however the Tour Guide has technical director Jean-François Pescheux saying

There is no chance of us seeing the sprinters in action at the finish… I think there will be lots of splits in the peloton.

In his column analysing Green Edge’s chances for sprint points, Rupert Guinness predicts that the sprinters will be aiming to be in the mix at the finish, with Peter Sagan a contender in a finish similar to his stage one win.  Whatever happens, at least we’ve seen from the last couple of stages that BMC is working really well for Cadel, and that perhaps the same can’t be said for rival Wiggins with his Sky team.

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Stage 2: Visé > Tournai

Tonight we leave Liège and head through Namur en route to Tournai, in Hainaut. There is only one categorised climb – a four at 82.5km – but the route should give Paul and Phil plenty of opportunities to use the word “undulating”. The intermediate sprint point is at 153km, 54.5km before the finish, and it’s likely that the green jersey hopefuls will be chasing as many points as they can both here and at the finish.

The start town is Visé, which I reckon is close enough to Limbourg to excuse a quick trip over the provincial border for some Limburger. It’s described as tasting “milder than the aroma suggests”, with the American version being still milder (Roberta Muir). Still, it’s pungency was notable enough to inspire this Abbott and Costello sketch.

Last night’s stage was rich in bovine beauty and we can hope for more of the same tonight. Perhaps we might spot some Belgian Reds. The breed is from Western Flanders and is considered endangered, but who knows…  Doesn’t this look similar to one of the groups from last night?

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Stage 1: Liège > Seraing

On the N90, you can cover the 14.6km between Liège and Seraing in 22 minutes, but what would be the fun in that?  Instead, the route for stage one takes us for a 198 km loop through through Liège province, with a short detour into Luxembourg province. There are five Cat 4 climbs (one of which is right at the finish) and a sprint at 116.5km, but – more importantly – cheese and beer.

Whilst many members of team vaches were quick to note the cow in the introductory clip to Gabriel Gaté’s segment last night, it wasn’t the kind of sighting that truly satisfies the cow aficionado. Perhaps we will actually see some cattle on the land tonight. Keep your eyes peeled for those hulking Blues from yesterday’s post, but you might also spot a Belgian Red Pied.

Image: Kranky Kids

You’ve still got some cheese left over from last night, right?  If not, the monks at the Orval Abbey produce cheese.  You might find it tough to track the cheese down here, so console yourself with one of their beers.  Of course, you can always celebrate les vaches – or vatches (Walloon) or vaques (Picard) – with some unsalted, cultured Carlsbourg butter from the Ardennes.  iDeli can hook you up.