Stage 10: Mulhouse > La Planche des Belles Filles

In case you missed it, today is Bastille Day and the Tour is celebrating lavishly with seven categorised climbs in this 161.5km stage. These include four Cat one climbs, last of which is the finish on La Planche des Belles Filles. This climb was first included in the Tour in 2012 when Chris Froome won the stage. I wonder if Richie Porte will attempt a tribute-paying victory? Of course, we can count on the French riders to fly the flag today, so the cow pick has to be Thomas Veau-ckler. As far as commentary goes, expect to hear the story of the local girls  escaping the rapacious Swedish mercenaries during the Thirty Years’ War. We can probably count ourselves lucky if we only hear it once.

We’re still in the Vosges, so hopefully we’ll get a quality sighting of the local cattle. That’s if we’re not too busy celebrating the “City of the car and its Bugatti collection of the Schlumpf brothers”…

Bastille cowImage: The Telegraph

I hope you’ve still got some munster left from our earlier Vosgienne stages. In case you’re out, dig into the recesses of the fridge for any porky products. If you have sauerkraut and potatoes as well you can rustle up something pretty delicious.

Stage 9: Gérardmer > Mulhouse

Today’s 170km stage offers up six categorised climbs and the peloton will start ascending right from the word go, with the summit of the cat 2 Col de la Schlucht at  the 11.5km mark. The fifth climb, Le Markstein, is the first cat 1 climb of this year’s Tour and starts shortly after the stage’s sprint point (Linthal, at 105km). After the final climb (the cat 3 Grand Ballon) it looks to be pretty much downhill towards the finish, with a flattish final 20km which might give any stragglers over the climbs a chance to make up some ground. As always, I’ll be hoping for a good showing from the Cow that Won’t Quit, but perhaps Vosges local Arthur Vache-ot will have a pre-Bastille Day tilt at victory.

There are more opportunities to spot those pretty Vosges cows today and eat more Munster. We’re jumping the gun a bit with a Raclette chez Vaches as the Milawa Cheese Shop had been stripped of stinky cheeses by this afternoon. We were told that last week was ridiculously busy – naturally, I blame people who are cheese matching le Tour and who are more organised than I am.

M Gaté is serving up an Alsatian ham knuckle dish with no butter tonight. Sherliggett will no doubt be wishing they’d saved their Rin Tin Tin anecdotes to match. Who am I kidding? They’ll repeat themselves, surely…

Keep on with the excellent cow spotting, Team Vaches. Bonus points for Vosges, naturally, but even random cows upstaging ponies are alright by me.

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Image: will_cyclist

Just a note on future posts – holidays are over, so I’m going to have to fit around work. Round-ups will probably appear early evening; stage previews will follow an hour or two later. And I’ll try not to nod off during the race…

Stage 8: Tomblaine > Gérardmer La Mauselaine

It’s always exciting to get to the part of the Tour where the stage profile has additional graphics for the climbs. This 161km stage offers two such climbs, the Col de la Croix des Moinats and the Col de Grosse Pierre, both category two. I assumed that Pierre was grosse from eating all the tofailles vosgiennes, but then discovered that grosse pierre means boulder. Disappointing. The stage finishes with a category three climb, so it’s a chance for the climbers to come out to play, and for Contador to try clawing back some of the time lost on the cobbles. If the Cow that Won’t Quit has a good day, I’ll be happy, otherwise I’m putting my cow-related hopes with the Butcher, Tom Jelte-Slagter.

It’s also time for us to start getting excited about the cattle-spotting possibilities of the eastern mountain stages. What are our chances? I’m trying to figure out whether passing through Baccarat is a lucky sign or the reverse. I’ll go with lucky.

Here’s what to look for: the Vosges.

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Image: Christian Amet

On 25 May, feast of St Urbain, these sub-alpine meadows become home to herds of the gorgeous black and white Vosgienne cow. They arrive from the valley to graze until St Michael’s feast day on 29 September. Their excellent milk is turned into a delicious soft cheese. The marcaires – high mountain farmers – sell it as Géromé on the Lorraine side and Munster in Alsace.

Régine Godfrey

Beautiful animals! They are rare, so we might not be lucky enough to spot one tonight although we’ll have another chance in tomorrow’s stage which is still in their home region. Munster (which I talked about here a couple of years ago) is one of my all-time favourite cheese and a quick google came up with Gewürztraminer as a widely recommended wine match. None of that here, but I’ll flick through my slightly incoherent notes from the 4 the Love of Riesling event as I’m sure I put aside a bottle that would do the trick.

Perhaps you’re after something substantial? In that case, stewed potatoes – otherwise known as tofailles vosgiennes – is the dish for today. Potatoes cooked in cream and wine with bacon and smoked pork neck? Hell yeah. If you don’t read French, use google translate with caution with this recipe. The first time I tried I got pomme de terre translated literally.

 

Stage 7: Epernay > Nancy

Today’s stage is a 234.5km course from Epernay to Nancy. From the profile, it looks as though we will have to find ways to entertain ourselves for the most part as the two categorised climbs are not until the last 20km when it should really start to get interesting. Of course, just because it’s flat doesn’t mean it will be straightforward. Yesterday’s fairly level stage saw some slippery roads and all manner of chutes. It brought the end of the Tour for Jesus Hernandez (TCS) , Egor Silin (KAT) and Xabier Zandio (SKY). With Lampre’s Ariel Richeze not starting yesterday, the peloton is down to 189 riders, with everybody’s favourite breakaway killer, Ji Cheng, carrying the Lanterne Rouge.

Last time we were in Epernay it was also a Friday. Isn’t it nice of the route designers to give us champagne to start the weekend? It should numb us for what is likely to be the disappointment of another vache-free stage. I’ve been told we might see some Charolais in these parts, but I’m not optimistic; I’m bracing myself for vines, vines and maybe grains. Still, I did make this (kind of) nearby vaches discovery: Highland cattle in Luxembourg!

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This beautiful cow is named Dotti, so she’s clearly the Queen of the Mountains.

Image: HCE

The Scheers started breeding Highland Cattle in 2005, having selected the breed for its resilience and ability to thrive on poor grazing land. They were also attracted by their looks (who wouldn’t be?) and their “companionable” nature. No, we’re unlikely to be able to spot them from today’s route, but it’s nice to know they’re there. 

I know some of you had Champagne last night – and why not? – but I thought I’d save it until tonight so I could enjoy the washed rind yesterday.  Creamy cheeses (cows milk, of course!) are the best match for sparkling wine and as there is no particularly local variety you have free rein to choose your favourite. Delice de Bourgogne is one of mine. I was halfway through listing why I like it, and then I found this, which pretty much sums it up:

You’ll have a hard time finding a more buttery dairy experience, outside of butter itself. As such, this cheese lends itself well to being spread across a nutty slice of cracked wheat bread or scooped up with a simple water cracker. I’ve served Délice de Bourgogne on a plate with other cheeses, though this is one you may just want to serve on its own, allowing your guests to melt deeper and deeper into the cheese puddle.

Stephanie Stiavetti

If you’re planning to dine on something other than cheese, the local speciality is Potée champenoise, which seems to be along the lines of choucroute garnie. Like choucroute garnie, it seems to be traditionally made with pork but the sixth of seven options listed in this recipe was beef, which is good enough for me.

When we were in these parts in 2012, sipping our Friday champagne, I suggested a Quiche Lorraine as an easy Friday night supper and linked to Gaté’s off-piste version with cheese. The Guardian has since featured this French classic in it’s How to cook the perfect… series. Worth a read!

Stage 6: Arras > Reims

“Hands up: who wants the green jersey?” is the opening line of the stage description in the official Guide. Well, we know Sagan is pretty attached to it and has demonstrated clearly that the green jersey is the points jersey, not the signifier of the fastest sprinter. Does that mean he’ll win today? Not at all – Coquard and Demare have been showing some form on the flat. OPQS will be chasing some results and might get the Cav-less train organised for Renshaw. But, let’s face it, Kittel (if he pulls up alright after his encounter with the cobbles) is the fastest man at the moment and it would be good to see him celebrate his fourth win.

There are two category four climbs in this 194km stage, and the intermediate sprint comes not long after the first of these at 119km. Sagan should be well placed to pick up some points here and Lemoine will be wanting to extend his time in (restrained) dots. The Ass-tanners showed that they were perfectly organised yesterday and will hopefully keep Nibali safe in yellow for another day.

Today we start in Pas-de-Calais, pass through Aisne and finish in Marne. Although we were promised cattle in jerseys yesterday, it was fairly light on for bovines in the end and I fear we will have no luck today. We will definitely see cereal crops and vines, and we might even see some sheep (Aisne is known for its wool-weaving), but cattle look to be scarce. There is no local breed to keep an eye out for and the local cheese is made in Avesnes-sur-Helpe which is beyond our finish by a hundred or so kilometres. With a bit of luck we’ll spot a couple of smallholdings with cattle.

The description for this image was "cow female black white", which is about all we can hope for tonight.

The description for this image was “cow female black white”, which is about all we can hope for tonight.

Image: Keith Weller/USDA

As mentioned above, today’s finish town does have a cheese. It’s called the Coeur d’Arras and is another riff on the Maroilles we met yesterday (the Vieux-Lille is another variation of that style).  It is a soft, washed-rind cheese with a slightly orange tinge to the rind and it is formed into a heart shape. Naturally is has a strong smell and the flavour is said to be “powerful…with a sweet aftertaste“. If you have beer left over from last night’s stage, it is meant to be a good match. Of course, if you are keen to open some champagne, we are in the right area, but why not save the bubbles for Epernay and a less aggressive cheese?

Stage 5: Ypres > Arenberg-Porte du Hainaut

Perhaps I don’t really need to say too much about this stage. If you watched stage four, you will have already had a fairly comprehensive preview.

To recap:

  • cobbles are the drystone walls du jour
  • it will be interesting to see how some of the lighter-weight riders cope on aforementioned cobbles
  • stock up on light beer if you’re planning on participating in the injured-Chris-Froome-on-cobbles drinking game
  • in case the Ps get confused again, the stage starts in Belgium, not Germany.

There are nine cobbled sections (15.4km in total) in this 155.5km stage. The weather over there sounds only a wee bit better than the weather we have here in Melbourne, so there’s an added layer of joy for the riders. So, who should we be watching? *Ahem*.  Fabs insists he’s not racing the Tour just for stage five, but does anybody believe him? If not Cowncellara, then how about the Cow that Won’t Quit as an outside chance? Niki Terpstra would be amongst the favourites, but he came off the bike yesterday so might not be at his best; Greg van Avermaet is another one to watch.  The Inner Ring has a comprehensive round-up of the main contenders.

We have been in these parts before and we met the local breed, the Bleu du Nord.

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Image: Robert Scarth

If you haven’t seen a Belgian Blue – a close relation – you might be surprised to learn that this is a “smaller version” of that beast. It was originally known as the Belgian Hainaut, which ties it nicely to today’s stage. Like the Saosnoise (and many other multi-purpose breeds we’ve seen) it lost popularity, although its population never fell as low as yesterday’s breed. Its value as an efficient grazer was rediscovered in the early 1980s and it is now considered the “emblem” of the Parc Naturel Régional de l’Avesnois.

The milk of the Bleu du Nord is used to make the cheese matched to today’s stage,  Maroilles, the “jewel in the crown” of the Avesnois region. It is said to be one of France’s oldest cheeses and has been produced in the region since the eighth century. It’s a washed rind cheese, not as stinky as the Vielle-Lille, but with a “pungent odour and piquant taste”.

Taste it just as it is at the end of the meal accompanied by beer glass or cook it in delicious gratins, in all the case you will regale yourself.

AFTouch Cuisine

The meat speciality listed in the official guide for tonight’s stage is Tapjesvlees d’Ypres, which is described as “braised meat with lardons cooked on a bed of vegetables”. I’ve tried to track down a recipe with no success, but I was able to find a translation that suggests that the “meat” could be veal, so grab a shin and some pork fat and knock yourself out with some hearty slow-cooked goodness. Or, should I say, regale yourself.

Stage 4: Le Touquet-Paris-Plage > Lille

Bienvenue en France!

Today’s stage takes us from the coast, through the Pas-de-Calais countryside, and on into Nord where it skirts the Belgian border en route to Lille. There’s a 10km neutral zone to start this 163.5km stage which is predicted to be a stage for the sprinters, although the GC contenders will be watching their position to ensure they go into the stage five cobbles with their team cars in easy reach. There are King of the Mountain points on offer, with category four climbs at 34km and 117.5km so we’ll see who challenges Lemoine on these. This is as close as the Breton team, Bretagne-Séché Environnement, will get to home turf until they reach Paris, so perhaps they’ll try something again. I’m guessing Kittel will have his sights set firmly on another stage win, although surely Griepel will be wanting his team to answer this question from yesterdays’ stage:

 

Today’s stage-vache is one I haven’t come across before: the Saosnoise. It’s not exactly from these parts, but the route this year avoids the centre and most of the west, where it originated, and there appear to be herds of it dotted around the north so there’s a chance of a sighting.

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Image: Institute de l’Elevage

The Saosnoise is a relatively new breed, developed from Le Mans and Percheron cattle, with a soupçon of Durham, Normande and Maine Anjou. It is relatively rare, with around 1,500 head as of 2010. Most of these can be found around the region of origin, but there are reports of a few (okay, very few) where we’re headed. We do love a vache-challenge!

It’s no surprise that seafood features heavily in the region around the start of this stage, so it should also be no surprise that I’m going to leap ahead to the finish where there is both local cheese and beefy stews. Let’s start with the cheese: Vieux-Lille. This one is not for the faint-hearted. Nicknamed “Old Stinker“, this is, apparently, the durian of cheese – banned from public transport. It is brined for three months and, when ripe, has a slightly grey appearance and a “putrified smell“. Yum. It comes with the recommendation of Nikita Khrushchev.

To beef! And the official website tells us that carbonnade flammande is the dish du jour. I think we’ve been down that road before, and a delicious, hearty road it was. Top tip: buy a lot more beer than you need for the stew and drink it with the stage. Maybe you’ll even find some of the Peppersteak Porter used in Cha’s recipe.

Stage 3: Cambridge > London

It’s a sprinter’s stage today – short, flat and (hopefully) fast. The start has been scheduled early so the teams can make the journey across the channel in good time and I’m sure there are already southern hemisphere fans who’ll be grateful for an early night. Naturally, all the pre-race buzz was about a possible Cavendish victory; now we must look elsewhere. Probably not too far. Sagan will be no doubt be doing all he can to cross the line first in green, but Kittel should have the advantage, particularly  after conserving his energy yesterday finishing with most of the big sprint contenders almost 20 minutes down. And what about Griepel? It’d be good to see him in the mix, however I do kind of like the idea of one of the French sprinters taking the stage. Coquard’s been looking good and given the built-up nature of the route, roosters are likely to be the only livestock we spot. Maybe the French will hit home turf with two jerseys?

We leave behind the chortle-inducing names of the north although there are still some sniggers to be had. Unfortunately Steeple Bumpstead is a little north-east of our route and Chignall Smealy a little west, but by the time we get to North Weald Bassett it will be almost time to see how the points contenders are dividing up the spoils at the Forêt d’Epping sprint point.

British White

British White

Image: Marilyn Peddle

As far as the prospects for vache sightings go, I am deeply pessimistic. There are no native breeds I could find in the counties we are travelling through and we are entering the London commuter belt so there won’t be the expanses of farmland we saw in the Dales. It’s quite possible that the only quadrupeds we’ll see will be on leashes or carrying Queens’ Guards. As for local produce, despite the fact that the village of Stilton is actually in Cambridgeshire, cheeses called Stilton are only allowed to be made in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Stilton’s application to make Stilton was rejected, which sounds like a story idea for Yes, Minister. There are a number of cheeses produced in the nearby counties and it’s our last night in the UK – if you can get your hands on a British cheese you might as well make the most of it!

The British Cheese Board’s recipe of the week features Stilton, so if you are having a meat-free Monday why not try Vic Reeves’ Stilton Spaghetti with Mushrooms. Wash it down with a Fuller’s London Pride.

SBS TV coverage starts at 9.30pm 10.00pm tonight AEST (thanks, Todd and Phil for the correction), right after Pain, Pus and Poison. Now that’s bound to whet your appetite for #toursnacks. You can watch online from 9.00pm.

Stage 2: York > Sheffield

Today’s 201km stage takes in thirteen climbs. Thirteen! And for those of us who thought that Buttertubs was a name that would not be bettered, I present the first of tonight’s categorised hills: the Côte de Blubberhouses. Probably not as much of a contender as a term of endearment, though. It’s not the toughest of the climbs, but with 12 more to follow riders will no doubt be digging into those suitcases of courage before the day is over.  I’ll be paying particular attention to Oxenhope Moor, of course, but it’s the final climb at Jenkin Road that is tipped to be the key to the stage. Jens should make the most of his day in the dots, as the KOM points over the nine categorised bumps will be hotly contested today.

We know that Yorkshire has dairy cattle – we saw them yesterday and those of us who were well organised sampled some of their output – but I haven’t been able to find an indigenous breed. As we pass through the (H)uddersfield area we might spot a herd of Meuse Rhine Issel and you’d be right if you were thinking “that doesn’t sound very Yorkshire-y”. Still, it’s a breed we haven’t met before and perhaps the sight of them will inspire the Dutch contingent.

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Image: Kranky Kids

 

Hopefully none of these cows were implicated in the shocking doping scandal that rocked last year’s Great Yorkshire Show. You can read the full story at the link, but I’ll leave you with two words: Udder. Tampering.

So, what should you be eating tonight? Ribblesdale has West Yorkshire roots, however it is made of goats milk. I finally got my act together with some Wensleydale, but if you want a change, Lancashire is not too far away. I drank all my Samuel Smith beer last night; tonight, it’s Theakston’s Old Peculier.

 

Stage 1: Leeds > Harrogate

Welcome, bienvenue, ey up! It’s time for the 2014 Tour de France.

Stage one takes us from Leeds to Harrogate, a 190.5 km ride that takes in three categorised climbs before a sprint finish. No doubt Cav will be doing all he can to get across the line for his home crowd.  Riders we are keeping an eye on are FDJ’s Jeremy Roy, a dedicated vache-spotter, and Florian Vachon of Bretagne-Seche Environnement, for obvious reasons.

Vache fans have already had their appetites whetted, with Huddersfield (or “Uddersfield” – thanks Pani!) putting Yorkshire’s agricultural heritage on show.  Let’s hope we spot some tonight.

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Image: Yorkshire Festival

So, which cows should we be looking out for? The Limestone Country Project tells us that the Beef Shorthorn originated in the Dales, so lets keep an eye out for this beast:

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Image: Kranky Kids

On the course, we will be looking forward to the second climb, the Cat 3 Buttertubs. Following that, the peloton will be zipping through Wensleydale country, so there’s your no-brainer cheese match for tonight. (Unless, like me, you had a market-stress-induced meltdown and forgot the cheese…)

 

Anyway, after our dinner of roast beef with Yorkshire puddings, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale and Oatmeal Stout cake, we probably won’t have enough room for cheese…