Stage 16: Carcassonne > Bagnères-de-Luchon

With the Tour’s longest stage on offer today (237.5km) the riders will know that their rest day is over. Today’s route includes five categorised climbs, the last of which is the HC Port de Balès. From the summit, it’s approximately 20km of descending to the finish at Bagnères-de-Luchon. Nibali wasn’t looking too weary before the rest day but with three Cat 1s and an HC finish on tomorrow’s stage, he won’t want to spend it all today. Still, he doesn’t seem to be able to resist the opportunity to attack and he’s a strong descender. I’d be happy to see a duel between Rodriguez and Majka to break the points tie on the KoM competition although I’d be equally pleased to see Voeckler cross the final climb in a good position just in case he goes off-piste on the descent.

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Image: Roland Darré

We’ve been in these parts before – the home of the endangered breed, the Aure et Saint-Girons. With only 179 of them listed in the most recent census we remain unlikely to spot one but keep your eyes open just in case. It might just be a better stage for those moutons. Two of the dishes listed as specialities of the finish town are “pétéram (a dish prepared from sheep tripe) [and] pistache (mutton based cassoulet)”. Speaking of cassoulet, we ate many versions of this in this region last year but I didn’t see a beef one. Perhaps I just didn’t look hard enough…

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 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.

Fantasy League – we have a winner

Is it really just a week since we were sweating by the Arc de Triomphe, waiting for the Tour caravan to pass by? Seems like half a world away… I am back in Melbourne, listening to the sound of rain on the roof and wishing that  I’d arranged for the heater repair guy to come in before we went away. I’ve also finally had time to sit down and look at the final podium of the LVDT Fantasy League.

Winning the Giro didn’t slow team Deuxbieres down, much, with another strong performance here, finishing third in the competition. Team #Hashtag – new to our league – finished second. The winner? Enrico 666. Congratulations, and drop me an email at lesvachesdutour at gmail dot com to organise your prize!

The Frog family has participated in previous leagues with mixed results. Mme Frog won last year’s Vuelta and M Frog took out the Lanterne Rouge in the Giro. Who does Bébé Frog take after? Well, the Lanterne Rouge went to… Où Est Mon Bidon!

Thanks to all who took part this year. There’ll be another game happening for the Vuelta, so keep an eye on the official site for the team announcements and this site for information on how to play.

Chris Froome

 

Image: Sydney Morning Herald

Cow-ntdown continues

With just over four months until the start of le Tour de France 100, the official twitter account for the Tour was hard at work building the buzz last night, with details of the planned programme of events.

La Legende du Tour

 Image: 100% Tour de France

For some moving pictures to get you fired up, Will from Two Wheel Tours shared this (reload the page if the clip doesn’t appear):

Mark Fairhurst of Zeitgeist Images keeps the cycling love alive year-round with his images and this is just one of the fab pieces celebrating the upcoming Tour:

Mark Fairhurst 100th TdF

Of course, this remains my favourite:

Mark Fairhurst Cows

For those of you who’ve been suffering southern hemisphere heatwaves, think of these sleepless nights as Tour prep. And bring on the Classics!