Stage 12: Lannemezan > Plateau de Beille

It’s the last day in the Pyrénées! Today’s finish at Plateau de Beille is described by technical director Thierry Gouvenou as “underestimated”.

For fans, the Tour’s big summit is Alpe d’Huez. But for the riders, Beille is much more difficult!

Judging from the problems they had on Bastille Day, and the number of riders who didn’t finish or dropped off the back yesterday, I’m not sure most of this lot will be all that keen on facing the most difficult climb today! Anyway, before they will even get the chance to test themselves against Beille there’s the Col de Portet d’Aspet, Col de la Core and Port de Lers. Who will take this opportunity?

We are back in the region of the Aure et Saint-Girons today, another endangered Pyrénées breed.

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Image: Parc des Pyrénées ariégeoises

Numbers appear to be fluctuating. In the first year the Casta was featured here, there were apparently 255 of them. The 2010 figures are now available and they seem to have dwindled to 208. It certainly doesn’t appear that they are flourishing, so we are probably more likely to see more Charolais, or perhaps a Blonde d’Aquitaine or two.

After a couple of nights of sheep milk cheeses, there is a local cows milk cheese for this stage: Barousse. It’s a hard, uncooked cheese made from unpasteurised milk – sometimes mixed with sheep milk and sometimes solely cows milk – matured for five to eight weeks. It is described as similar to Bethmale, and has a “soft, melty texture and hay-like flavour.” If you like the sound of that, and have been seduced by the scenery over the past couple of stages, head over to Loures-Barousse for their cheese festival, 31st July to 2nd August. What could be better than

A weekend devoted to the arts of cheese-making and tasting in beautiful Pyrenean Valley setting.

 

Stage 11: Pau > Cauterets – Vallée de Saint-Savin

The 188km from Pau to Cauterets takes in six categorised climbs. The big one is the Col de Tourmelet which, unlike last night’s climb, will be familiar to both viewers and riders, but it’s not as though the others are just a walk in the Parc National des Pyrénées (at least, for anyone but Froome). Has he thrown down the hammer so hard that his rivals will be focussed on getting to Paris safely with a view to salvaging their seasons at the Vuelta? Judging by some of the Twitter reaction, a number of fans are doing just that!

Today’s route takes us through Lourdes, which means that we will once again be looking for the lovely Lourdais, most likely in vain.

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Image: Thomas Brown

There is nothing more I can add to the information from 2011, which is disappointing. With a number of endangered breeds, each time I search I find new pages or interesting updates which gives me hope that the herd is strengthening. Perhaps its inclusion in this brain teaser is a sign that its star is on the rise…

Now, Lourdes claims Loures-Barousse cheeses, which I’ll leave for tomorrow, and Tarbes beans – our starting point yesterday – as mainstays of their cuisine. I’m not ruling Tarbes out on the basis of being yesterday’s hero so feel free to whip up a calf’s foot salad with Tarbais beans. I might give that a miss – it’s hard to make friends with salad at the best of times, but in winter?  I’m still looking to Tarbes with this braised beef cheek by Tarbes native, Pierre Koffman. For cheese, stick with the sheep (and add some goat) and enjoy some delicious Roy de Vallees.

Stage 10: Tarbes > La Pierre-Saint-Martin

Are we all feeling rested? The energy of the first week sputtered out towards the end but I am feeling excited about the racing to come. We start the second third of the race in the Haute-Pyrénées and finish 167km later at the top of our first HC climb for the Tour at La Pierre-Saint-Martin in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. It’s not just the first HC climb this Tour; it’s the first time this climb has been in the race. Before the riders get there, they will warm up on three Cat 4 climbs. It’s Bastille Day, so expect crazy attacks by the French riders.

If we’re in the Pyrénées, we’ll be looking for the Gascon cow.

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Image: Groupe Gascon

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Stage 9: Vannes > Plumelec

Just a quick post today as I need to get in as much skiing time as I can! It’s the TTT, a stage guaranteed to make us mourn the missing Euskaltel-Euskadis. Today’s course is 28km long and finishes on the Côte de Cadoudal. If the race guide is anything to go by, expect the Ps to bust out some false flats. Repeatedly. It is a time trial, after all – the definition of repetitive. Of the 2014 world championship podium placers (for what that’s even worth), current world champs BMC are at full strength however things will be tougher for silver medallists OGE, with three riders out of the Tour. Third placegetters Etixx-Quick Step will be no doubt be wishing they had the legs of powerhouse Tony Martin in the team today.

We’re still in Brittany, so will be keeping eyes peeled for that lovely Pie Noir. The fact that this one was actually photographed in Morbihan gives me hope…

Bretonne pie noir photographiée dans le Morbihan

Bretonne pie noir photographiée dans le Morbihan

Image: Gaelleveto

I’ve had some tips from the lovely Songbirds on some Breton cheese that might be available more widely. Try looking for some Port Salut, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese that Charlotte describes as “flavoursome but mellow”. If you haven’t reached your washed rind limit, Saint-Paulin might be a possibility. The tasting notes say “buttery, nutty”. Buttery nutty is one of my favourite flavours! Both cheeses were originally produced by Trappist monks. I wonder if they ever went on strike like those Benedictines?

 

Stage 8: Rennes > Mûr-de-Bretagne

This 181.5km stage finishes atop the Mûr-de-Bretagne, a Cat 3 climb that is likely to bring out a host of Breton cycling fans. This was the stage 4 finish four years ago, won by Cadel Evans who zipped past an oblivious Contador. Contador will doubtless have his wits about him today, but is a stage victory in his plans? Given Sagan’s serial second places, a tweeter mentioned that Oleg is likely to be getting a bit toey, so perhaps the pressure will be on. Also expect to see the Mad Cows, aka BSE, getting some TV time on their home turf. I’m hoping Vachon puts on a show!

Once again, I continue in my quest to spot a Breton Pie Noir.

Vache-bretonne-pie-noir_SDA2014Image: Eponimm

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Stage 7: Livarot > Fougères

Stage seven gets the climbing points over early – the Cat 4 Côte de Canapville at 12.5km – and then undulates for another 178km towards a downhill finish at Fougères. Is this the last chance for the Etixx train to sort themselves out? The Griller will certainly be turning the heat up, as from here the fast guys will be turning their minds to calculating cut-off times.

If it undulates there’ll be ungulates… hopefully! Bienvenue to the home of the Normande!

Un jeune vache normande

Une jeune vache normande

Image: Eponimm

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Stage 6: Abbeville > Le Havre

Will it be another windy day? Surely that’s what the organisers have in mind with this stage. The 191.5km course meanders along the coast, taking in three Cat 4 climbs along the way. Given my tipping record to date, I wouldn’t suggest you put any money on this pick, but I’m sure it’s time for Kwiatkowski to get a win. Isn’t that the way it works? Turn-taking? Hmmmm. I’m sure the Griller will have something to say about that – he certainly seems to enjoy winning! Our fantastic/fabulous/ferocious/fickle four GC contenders all finished with the group last night, so no changes there.

This route doesn’t have any specific breeds associated with it, but I am hoping that we might spot some cows today before we hit the coast. The first part of the race is similar to the beginning of stage 4 in 2012 and we had saw a diverse range of vaches back then. Unfortunately that route continued inland which may have been where all the cows were – we are headed west. Fingers crossed!

1024px-Cow_00Photo: Aldipower

Last time we were in these parts, we noted that we passed close-ish to Neufchâtel-en-Bray, the home of Neufchâtel cheese, and geography has not changed in the past three years. Growing up a cheese by that name was available in the local supermarket and seemed pretty much interchangeable with Philadelphia Cream Cheese. It seems it wasn’t always so. I certainly don’t remember ever seeing it in a heart shape.

Again, last time we were around here, we noted that the local cuisine was – not surprisingly – seafood dominated and offered a recipe via Parisbug for mussels with cheese and cider. Look at what Gabriel is offering today: Blue Eye and oysters in a creamy cider sauce. Sounds good to me!

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As you will have noticed, this preview is going up before the daily round-up. We’re up in the mountains for a few days, hoping for some snow (but also hoping that the predicted blizzards are an exaggeration). My wifi hotspot is working, so I will be watching and recapping the stages, but while we’re up here the previews will go live before the round-ups, which I’ll work on après ski.

And in vache news: limousins spotted en route!

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Stage 5: Arras > Amiens

Is it Cav’s day today? His team-mate, Tony Martin, claimed the yellow jersey yesterday with a powerful finish, however I’m assuming Mark Cavendish doesn’t need any extra motivation to get a stage win. The undulating (there’s that word again!) 189.5km course offers no incentives for the climbers, but breakaways are likely. The sprinters will be hoping their teams are able to chase any escapees down before we all nod off after the 100th repetition of the 10km/1 minute rule-of-the-catch. I was hoping for a Degenkolb win last night; I see no reason to change my wishes for tonight.

Will there be cows? As far as I can ascertain, there are no breeds specific to the region, however the existence of a number of local cows milk cheeses suggests that we could see more of those dairy herds we’ve spotted over the past couple of stages.

1280px-Two_cattle_near_Wantastiquet_MountainImage: Jared Benedict

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Stage 4: Seraing > Cambrai

Stage four will provide Paul Sherwen with a number of opportunities to use the word “undulations”, so my advice is to cross that word off your drinking card given that it’s still early in the week. The 223.5km route has its only climbing points at 53km, the category 4 Côte de la Citadelle de Namur, however it’s the seven cobbled sections we’re tuning in for. With Fabs sadly out of the Tour after stage 3 (how he managed to finish with his injuries, I will never know), this might be a battle of the hair: Sagan with his flowing mane versus Degenkolb with his Alpecin-enhanced locks. Don’t rule out BMC’s Greg van Avermaet, either. Naturally, I’m still hoping for the World Champion to put on a show, too.

To the cows, and we had some great sightings last night. I’m not sure that they’ll be topped tonight. Again, we could see some of the Blues, as well as some more Holsteins.

Belgian blue with twin calves

Belgian blue with twin calves

Image: Lizzie

There is a local cow’s milk cheese for tonight – the tome de Cambrai. It’s a relatively new cheese, created by  a farmer in the region in 1989. It’s a hard, raw milk cheese, ripened in beer. An alternative, suggested by Geert, is the Chimay cheese (Melburnians can find it at Milk the Cow and Richmond Hill). Or perhaps you’ve still got some Maroilles or a similar washed rind cheese to keep you both happy and connected to the countryside we’re seeing.

Gabriel Gaté is making a crème brûlée tonight as his nod to the region’s sugar beets. Of course, I’m on board given the dairy component! If you’d like to try a local savoury dish, use some of your beer-washed cheese (and google translate) for these veal medallions.

 

Stage 3: Anvers > Huy

We’re in Belgium and after the flatlands of the first two stages there is some climbing in store for tonight. It’s another relatively short stage at 157km, with four categorised climbs in the last 50 or so kilometres. The final climb – the Mur de Huy – isn’t a long one, but it is steep so will test the legs of the riders. I’d love to see the Cow that won’t Quit regain some form here to take the stage, although Valverde has a thing or two to prove after getting caught out yesterday and the climbs will suit him *shudder*. Here’s hoping that Cancellara stays in touch so he can at least attack the cobbles in stage 4 in yellow.

Now to the cows. The local beast is one we’ve met and admired before: the magnificent Belgian Blue.

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Oxcraft Adora

Image: Robert Scarth

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