Stage 21: Versailles > Paris Champs-Élysées

It’s the final stage. Froome has this one all wrapped up by a looooooong margin, so he’ll be sitting pretty with his champagne as the peloton rolls towards Paris from Versailles. He’ll have to wait a while for it, though, as the 100th edition’s last hurrah won’t leave the Palace until 5.45 and isn’t expected to cross the finish line until 9.30pm. Grand news for those of us lucky enough to be in the timezone, but for viewers in Australia the prospect of a brutally rather than just very late night when the stakes are minimal will be hard to get motivated for.

Even harder, when the chances of vaches are also minimal. It’s been a while since Marie-Antoinette had her hobby farm, The Queen’s Hamlet, at the Palace. Perhaps that’s why we were given Jersey Vaches at the end of the last stage? The decapitated Queen’s farm is long gone, but there is still a herd in the vicinity – 16km south – at the Ferme de Coubertin, where you can also pick up some of their cheese. Have a look at their website for some pictures of their animals (not just cows, but goats, wee piglets and a stately dog) and a recipe for a cheese and cherry tomato tart. It’s goat’s cheese, but after the vaches en maillots last night I’m prepared to overlook it.

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Stage 20: Annecy > Annecy – Semnoz

It’s the last of the mountains and, for some riders, this has not come soon enough. Marcel Kittel seemed to find the going tough today, tweeting

He won’t find Stage 20 any more forgiving, I’ll bet. The opening Cat 2 climb is followed by three Cat 3s, with the sprint point coming between the first and the second of those. The descent from the last of these, the Col de Prés, goes straight into the climb to the Cat 1 Mont Revard. After a steep descent there’s a flattish section (it’s all relative) before the final HC climb for the Tour, up to the finish at Annecy-Semnoz. There are plenty of riders who will be looking for something to take from the 100th Tour and I’m sure there’s one who’d love the chance to stamp his final seal of authority on this race. We shall see!

We were sorry to hear about the crash that took out Jack Bauer today – sorrier still to see photos of his injuries, which looked horrific. Let’s hope he recovers quickly. He wasn’t the only rider to leave the race today. Kris Boeckmans, Tom Veelers, Christophe le Mevel and Marcel Sieberg also withdrew.

For a trip long in the planning, it seems as though we’ve accidentally bumbled our way into the Tour sometimes. We’d decided that Stage 19 would be a Twitter-tour day, choosing to sightsee rather than try to race-chase or get to our next stop in time to watch on TV. (As evidenced by the rather perfunctory Twitter round-up, these plans were partially thwarted by Alps getting in the way of wifi reception.) Of course, the tour organisers have as much of an appetite for breathtaking scenery as tourists do and we found a number of yellow arrows for Stage 20 along our driving route. We also spotted campers in place for a glimpse of the passing race, as well as cyclists out testing themselves against the climbs that challenged even our sturdy Ooropcar.

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We also saw cows.

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The cow at the back had a bell. A BELL! The one in front looks like a classic Montbéliarde to me.

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They were everywhere… these seemed unrestrained by fences. Perhaps some Simmental there?

Even when I was just trying to capture dramatic mountains... accidental vaches

Even when I was just trying to capture dramatic mountains… accidental vaches

For lunch

For lunch

For dinner - this was local Simmental with a marrow sauce

For dinner – this was local Simmental with a marrow sauce

Even for drinks

Even for drinks

I hope this means a vachetastic stage! There are tommes galore in these parts – if the tomme des Bauges is anywhere near as tasty as La Motte en Bauges was pretty, you’ll be well satisfied. Fondue, more varieties of tartiflette… basically anything with cheese and potato and you’ll be on the money. If, however, you’re in a soup frame of mind, try a soupe a l’oignon. As it thundered down tonight, this seemed the perfect choice as a starter, although it really could have been the whole meal. With beef stock and cheese, it’s the perfect dish!

Stage 19: Bourg-d’Oisans > Le Grand-Bornand

It’s the second-last mountain stage of the 100th Tour and there are some hefty climbs packed in. In fact, there was some discussion on Twitter as to whether the Alpe d’Huez stage really deserved to be the Queen stage of this race, as Stage 19 certainly packs a punch. Riders will start climbing almost right away up to the summit of the HC Col de Glandon at 33.5km. A sharp descent follows, and then the Col de Madeleine rises up to 2000m (how much lower is that than the altitude at which Froome was born? Anybody?). The sprint points are available in Albertville, and then there are three more climbs: a Cat 2 and two Cat 1s. Will Quintano be able to take the polka dot jersey? Will Chris Froome resist the temptation to eat late in the stage? Will Contador be adding an extra layer of paint to his bike overnight to ensure there is no suspicion over bike weight?

Will there be vaches? Well, there should be. We spotted some on the way from Grenoble to Oz, which took us through Allemont, so hopefully they are still in situ. The latter part of the stage is close to Beaufort, so there are Tarantaise and Abondance in the area as these are the milk sources for this amazing cheese. There is also the Tomme de Savoie, which was the nicest of the tommes we tasted recently.

Let’s meet a new cow, shall we? This stage is close to Switzerland, so why not look out for the Fribourg. It is something of a long shot, as it was thought to be extinct after the last bull in Switzerland was (carelessly, you’d have to say) slaughtered in 1975. Some of these black and white cows were taken to Chile in the 1930s and a family history project recently found evidence that descendents of these cattle were in Patagonia. Yes, Savoie is not Patagonia, but if they made it that far, they might have snuck off to France, too.

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Image: Antique Print Club

If you feel you’d like to cook something tonight, rather than rely on a delicious cheeseboard, try a Gratin Dauphinoise. This recipe from SBS suggests it goes perfectly with any grilled meats or roasts, by which they obviously mean beef. It is not without controversy, though, as a commenter from the Dauphiné region points out on a similar BBC recipe points out.

OUCH!! This should not be called “Gratin Dauphinois” if it contains Cheese. I happen to be someone actually coming from the Dauphinee region of France (the famous Gratin Dauphinois originates from there) where we consider adding cheese a sacrilege as it actually allienates all the good flavour from the potatoes, herbs, garlic and cream. I strongly suggest to remove the cheese from your preparation and enjoy this amazing dish full of flavour or…. Just to simply call it a “potato gratin” instead of Grating Dauphinois

 

Stage 18: Gap > Alpe-d’Huez

Well, if Douglas Adams was right and the meaning of life really is 42, the guys doing two ascents of Alpe d’Huez might discover it today. How many hairpins must a man go ’round and all that… Apparently Christian Prudhomme was quite happy to have a snappy 100km stage 18 but was talked out of it by his team. If the rain that is currently bathing drenching Grenoble is indicative of the weather on the mountains tomorrow, the fans might join the riders in cursing Thierry Gouvenou, who suggested extending the stage by adding a second climb of the landmark Alp.

Some questions might be answered today. Was Cadel’s time trial – described by some as “shocking” – indicative of a man who is done and dusted or a man who is saving his legs for a big Alpine attack? Was Andy Schleck’s shocking – in a different way – time trial indicative of a man who is finding form or a man who has spent his energy too early and unexpectedly. Will Froome continue to do everything right and conquer this stage, too, in his relentless quest for the Paris podium? If Quintana wins more money, what will he buy his mum?

And will there be vaches?

We know there are cows on Alpe d’Huez. Numerous cowrespondents have contributed photos of them in the past, just not from when the race is on. I guess it’s not surprising if farmers decide to protect their precious livestock from the marauding hordes in July, but we do hope that a couple of wily cattle will have escaped the sweep into paddocks remote for our viewing pleasure.

M Vache and I drove up from Provence today through the gorgeous Vercors Regional Natural Park and we kept our eyes peeled for vaches. We were lucky to spot several herds and were able to pull over to take photos of some of them.

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The ubiquitous charolais

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No bells, unfortunately

We spotted some Villard-de-Lans today, which I’d hoped to see as the regional cow-of-the-stage. Unfortunately the photos were grainier than a very grainy thing on an extremely grainy day. They are an all-purpose breed from the Vercors region and were in danger of dying out until a conservation program was started in the 1970s. Let’s keep talking up these cows, so that we have a better chance of spotting them in future Tours!

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Image: Wikimedia 

There are a number of geographically appropriate snacks for tonight’s viewing. There’s the St Marcellin cheese, but there’s also tartiflette, a local dish of potatoes, cheese (reblechon), onions and lardons. I had one today for lunch and was in cheesy heaven.

IMG_4203Reading this ode to tartiflette, it seems I can look forward to hunting some more down when we get to Annecy in a couple of days. In the meantime, let me know if you try making some – this recipe might be a good start!

Oh, and look out for us on Alpe d’Huez. We’ll be following all of David Millar’s tips for good spectators, even if it’s raining. (Actually, if it’s raining, we will probably be taking refuge in any overpriced bistro we can find on top of the mountain…)

 

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

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Abondance

Image: Americans in France

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: 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: 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!

Stage 12: Fougères > Tours

218km with no categorised climbs. That’s what we have to look forward to today. Mark Cavendish is bound to be a wee bit keen for stage honours here but there are other stage hunters in the mix, so the finish should be fast and furious. We’ll be hoping that the white jersey will give the Cow that Won’t Quit some extra oomph in the closing moments and we will be somewhere near the finish adding our voices to the fans screaming for… more free saucisson!

I am a little leery of predicting cows. Just look what happened when I actually went properly cow hunting along the route the other day. I can, however, confidently predict chateaux as the Ps will be fired up to rattle off facts and figures about the sprawling estates in these parts. Still, we’ve been riding in the area for the past couple of days (the Tour will go through Langeais, where we’re currently resting) and we have seen cattle. There are no breeds specific to this particular region, although the local buses bear the name Anjou, so you might want to keep your eyes peeled for the Maine-Anjou (we haven’t spotted any, yet!).

We did spot some lovely beasts along the Loire yesterday and today, though. These Charolais were a little shy, but perhaps they were protecting the calves.

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P1040097Images: M Vache

Today was Limousin day. The local farmers do seem to like to hide their cattle behind scrubby hedges, but we braved the brambles to make the acquaintance of these cows today.

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Now, we all know that the Ps commentary priorities can be a bit whack, so they are probably more likely to take an interest in the local nuclear power plant than they are some beef cattle, no matter how delicious they are (and they are – I had some amazing veau for dinner). If, perchance, this does happen, scrutinise the nearish landscape as this is where we spotted the second group.

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Images: Injera

This area is obviously well known for its wine, however it does a pretty good line in cheese, too. Unfortunately they favour the milk of the chèvre. Tasty, but not really in our area. Still, let’s try a little diversity, shall we? I know the Saint Maure is fairly widely available outside France, so feel free to grab some of that. We won’t judge you (we’ll probably join you!). Of course, if you’re not completely over butter after Brittany, a tarte tatin is a local specialty and should give you a sugar high to see you through to Tours.