Stage 21: Evry > Paris Champs-Elysées

It’s the final stage. The procession into Paris. Clinking champagne glasses for our jersey wearers and, no doubt, for Jens Voigt as he says goodbye to this race. All that  remains in doubt is who will take the final stage victory and who will still be watching to see it happen live. You see, last year’s “dusk” finish was such a success, they’ve decided to do it again. Coverage here doesn’t start until 11.00pm AEST and even the earliest estimated finish time would have us hitting our pillows after 3.00am. TrollDJ has been collecting votes for our favourite clips to play tonight, but I don’t think even that is going to keep me awake beyond midnight, despite how lovely it will be to see Péraud and Pinot flanking Nibali on the podium.

Nor is there a prospect of vaches riches to keep us tuned in. We’re in a region where, according to the Tourist Attractions page on the official website, the economy is based on “pharmaceutical products, office machines, computers, research” and a local speciality is “lark pâté”.  Maybe its Sherliggett’s frequent references to the Ministry of Silly Faces, but I just can’t take stop sniggering at the lark pâté.

HolyCowOpera

 Image: Paris Daily Photo

Ile de France is not a complete vaches-lovers desert, it’s just that we are more likely to taste them than see them. Grab yourself a bit of creamy soft cheese to go with your champagne; either some Brie de Meaux or Coulommiers will be perfect to represent the region. M Vache has picked up hanger steak but has voted against Café de Paris butter and is instead going back to Gascony with a recipe that includes bone marrow, veal stock and butter. We are seeing out this race in vache-tastic style!

Stage 20: Bergerac > Perigueux

It’s the Race of Truth and it could be quite the unpalatable truth given that Valverde could well out-race at least one of his rivals for the podium. Hopefully the home crowd will give Pinot just the lift he needs to ride the time trial of his life. At least Nibali seems secure in the yellow jersey, unless he has a catastrophic crash or decides to try his luck on a penny farthing. I shall be spending most of the stage wishing Fabs was still in the race. I’m also hoping that Astana have returned to the shiny skin suits of 2011.

As far as cows go, we’re in the Dorgogne and cowrespondent Geert (who calls these parts his second home) assures me that there are vaches to be seen.

 

We are fairly close to the birthplace of the Bazadais, a breed that was developed to work in the vineyards around Bordeaux. No wonder it goes so well with wine! It’s also a good choice for tonight, as I’m sure “strong calves” are key to TT success. Naturally, it is the choice for a steak with bordelaise sauce, which I remember fondly from our stay in the region last year. [If your browser is as tricksy as mine, you might need to refresh to get it to play nice with Instagram.]

 

Of course, we might also see some Limousin, which gives me the opportunity to post one of my favourite photos, from DiscoverVin.

Limousin near Limoges from DiscoverVin

 

What are we eating? Well, we’re a stage behind, having decided that a Saturday would be better to whip the recipe DiscoverVin suggested for Stage 19 – a slow-cooked dish of beef cheeks in red wine. It’ll be too late for you to do the same, but if you have a truffle on hand we’re certainly in the right place for that!

Stage 19: Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour > Bergerac

The end is in sight. We’ve turned north and are heading towards Paris. There’s just this fairly flat 208.5km and the time trial tomorrow before the final stage into Paris. There are points on offer for the climb of the Côte de Monbazillac but it’s only a Cat 4, so Majka’s coronation as King of the Mountains will happen as long as he makes it to Paris. Sagan has control over the green jersey, but is yet to cross the finish line first in it so that might motivate him tonight.

The really big question, though, is “Have we seen enough cows to warrant Cows with Guns?”.  I’m hoping that we have, but we are running out of time to add some more to the showreel if the compilation is looking a bit thin. Perhaps tonight will help.

We start in the region of the Blonde d’Aquitaine and finish close to Limousin territory. These are the third- and second-most popular breeds in France respectively, after the Charolais. Let’s hope France TV gives Sherliggett a break from enthusing about aerials and mines and gives them some lovely cattle to wax lyrical over.

1024px-Blonde_Aquitaine

Blonde d’Aquitaine

Image: Myrabella

Limousin

Limousin

Image: jacme31

Despite the fact that our two local breeds are beef cattle, it’s duck and pig that feature more heavily in the cuisine of the region (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I was tossing up with suggesting steak tartare to round off the week, but that’s not going to warm anybody’s cockles. This dish – Boeuf Cyrano – comes from Tarn, which is 150km east of our route today, but it stipulates prunes from Agen, a mere 24 km from Feugarolles. I’m confident that most of you keep a “tin of mousse de foie gras” in the pantry and you’ll have prunes left over from Gaté’s tart last night, so you should be able to whip this up in time for dinner. Ooh la la!

Stage 18: Pau > Hautacam

Another climbing stage today and another HC summit finish! What more could we ask for? Well, *ahem* vaches, that’s what. Don’t be distracted by the fact that the first marker on the stage profile is Nay, or that Peter Warren has tweeted pictures of moutons, we are climbing Tourmooooolet, goddammit, and we know there are cows in these parts.

Holly's cows 2Image: Agrifoglio

If we catch a glimpse of a local breed today, it will be the Gascon.

1024px-Gasconnes_Antignac_(11)Image: Père Igor

This is a hardy mountain breed that is well adapted to the harsh Pyrenean environment. They usually spend winters in the lowlands, but are found in the highlands during summer. Let’s hope the local farmers let them out to play. Béarnaise sauce is a speciality of the region – ignore the advice to spoon it over poached eggs or roasted fish. A steak is obviously the way to go.

Who to watch? Nibali will no doubt be up there, and – if he keeps his full-pois promise, Majka will want to show off the kit. Doubtless Valverde will give us a chance to hiss and Nico Roche will allow the Ps another chance to reminisce. I’ll be looking out for the French Siamese twins…

 

 

Stage 17: Saint-Gaudens > Pla d’Adet

From the longest stage of the tour we go straight to the shortest. Short (124.5km) but with four sharp climbs. First off there’s the Cat 1 Col du Portillon which starts about 18km after the sprint points for the stage will have been decided. This most likely gives the fast men no incentive to do anything other than get together in a gruppetto, make the calculations, and do what they have to do to survive. Following the Pordillon, there’s the Col de Peyresourde, the Col de Val Louron-Azet and then the HC finish at Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet. Last time the race climbed the Col de Peyresourde, Valverde won the stage. Hmmmm. I hope Troll DJ has “History Never Repeats” lined up for tonight. Majka took the points jersey after yesterday’s stage and I’d enjoy seeing the dots cross the line on a summit finish in first place, so there’s my tip.

To the cows!

This gives me hope:

 

As does this:

 

Upward curving horns? Tick. Pyrenees? Tick. Creamy white? Tick. Could this be a Lourdais? We’re in the right place…

What are we eating? With M Vache away, I paid homage to Ji Cheng with some Chinese takeaway. Probably not regionally appropriate, but for the first time ever it’s at least linked to the race in some way. The specialities of the region, according to the official website, are porky and as we’ve found in past years, a lot of the cheese of the Pyrenees is made of sheep and/or goats milk. Follow Rusty’s lead from last night and get stuck into some Tomme.