Stage 18: Gap > Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne

…I thought that it was nothing more than a path to move sheep or cattle to and from their pastures!

Thierry Gouvenou, The Official Tour de France Guide 2015

The road he’s talking about is 10km from the finish of today’s stage and contains 17 (or 18, depending which part of page 201 you’re looking at) hairpins. And, presumably, opportunities to spot both vaches and moutons. It’s the last of the seven climbs in today’s stage, coming just after the descent of the HC Col du Glandon.

What cattle are we likely to see? The milk of the Montbéliarde from the last couple of stages, the Tarentaise (also known as Tarine) and the Abondance are used to create one of the region’s star cheeses, Reblochon, so keep an eye out for these alpine breeds.


Vache Tarentaise

Image: BlackSlash73



Image: Walpole

If the Ps start muttering about caves again tonight, it might be because they hold some maturing Reblochon rather than a selection of bats. This washed rind cheese has a nutty flavour but a strong odour that is “not for the timid“, apparently. If you are preparing for Run Melbourne on the weekend, you might want to carbo-load with the reblochon-and-potato wonder that is tartiflette.

If Reblochon’s not your speed, there are many other alpine cheeses to choose from. The Savoie-Mont Blanc website proudly showcases the rest of the region’s cheesy wealth. Stock up and spend the rest of the week in a cheese coma. Sweet dreams!

Stage 17: Digne-les-Bains > Pra Loup

We’ve finally made it to the Alps! The riders have had a rest, as have we, so no doubt we’ll attack the five climbs in this 161km stage with vigour. From what I’ve read, the biggest challenge here is less about the fourth ascent (up the Cat 1 Col d’Allos) than it is about the descent before the final climb to Pra Loup. It looks to  head upwards from around the 55km to go mark with the summit of the Col d’Allos 33km later before a “technical” descent “to delight Nibali and cause anxiety for Froome”. The way Chris Froome is looking at the moment, I think it will take a lot to cause him anxiety.

Keep your eyes open for more Montbéliarde in these parts. Interestingly, although the number of farms has decreased sharply – from 106 in 1988 to 37 in 2010 – the amount of agricultural land has increased over the same period – from 1002ha to 2989ha – with farmers turning towards sheep and cattle breeding. I’m hoping this makes for some vache-tastic viewing.


Image: Arnaud 25

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Stage 16: Bourg-de-Peage > Gap

I’m guessing that at 177km mark when the peloton reaches Gap there won’t be a great deal of enthusiasm for the climb up the Col de Manse, particularly when they are only going to finish up at Gap again. It seems unnecessarily cruel just before the rest day. In Gap. I wonder if The Gap has a store in Gap? Clearly the SherLiggett enthusiasm for repetition is infectious. Race Director Thierry Gouvenou suggests that the Col de Manse is more challenging that it looks on paper, so has ruled out the sprinters for this stage. I think my predictions so far are 0/15, so I’m not even throwing a name out there.

Cows? Well, I’ve tracked down a fromagerie just north of Gap and it looks as though they use the milk of the Montbéliarde.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 6.08.12 pmSee?

Vache Montbéliarde

Vache Montbéliarde

Image: PRA

The Montbéliarde, as we’ve discussed before, is a popular dairy breed, especially in these parts. There’s a lot more information about the Monty here but even if you’re not fascinated by somatic cell counts by lactation, it’s worth a click through for the cover photo and title.

There’s no specific cheese for this region that I’ve been able to track down, but if you check out the Ebrard Fromages au lait de vache range, I’m sure you’ll find a style you like.

Stage 15: Mende > Valence

Sorry, I’m a little distracted by a photo in the Tour Guide. It’s 2011 and Voeckler is in the yellow jersey, clutching two Credit Lyonnais lions. “So?” you ask. “What’s the big deal?”

What in the name of god...

What in the name of god…

Anyway, enough of that. On with the stage! We have what could be a Sagan-friendly stage on our hands here. The riders have three categorised climbs in the first 70 kms, a descent to the sprint point at 108km, then a climb up to the Cat 2 Col de l’Escrinet at 126.5km. Sure, breakies will doubtless try to get away, but the final 60km looks tough to stay away. We shall see!

Will we see cows? Perhaps we might catch a glimpse of some Salers.

Bonus points for cowbell

Bonus points for cowbell

Image: B. Navez

This hardy breed originated in the Cantal mountains, north-west of where we are today. They are well-adapted to the harsh mountain climate and apparently thrive on poor soils. Their coat is thick and curly in winter, but smooths out over summer. I am quite taken by the description of their horns from my cattle bible:

…its horns are quite long (indeed, a feature of the breed) and grow outwards and rather pertly upwards, then curve backwards and outwards.

Valerie Edwards

You won’t need to stretch your imagine in linking this cow of the Cantal to the cheese of the same name. Cantal is one of the oldest cheeses in France, dating back to the time of the Gauls. It has a tangy flavour that is sometimes likened to cheddar. David Lebovitz rhapsodises about it here. You might struggle to find the prized Cantal vieux, which is aged for more than six months, as it is rarely exported, however Melbourne readers can pop along to Richmond Hill where they mature the cheese they import for at least three months before selling it. Bon appetit!

Stage 14: Rodez > Mende

This is the last stage of the second third of Le Tour! Doesn’t time fly? If you are hanging out for a rest day, you might be concerned to see that there are still three stages to go before Tuesday’s chance to recuperate. I know I was!

Today’s 178.5km stage starts where we left off yesterday, climbing towards the Côte de Pont-de-Salars over the first 20 km, before descending to what looks like around 80km of false flats. Choose your tipple wisely. The last 40km contain three climbs, with a short but steep finish up the Côte de la Croix Neuve. I wonder if we’ll be exhorting Quintana to go, go, go and not look back? I hope so.

We are still in Aubrac territory.

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 1.48.24 pm

Image: Taste le Tour

It’s not often that I’d presume to guarantee a cow sighting, but Gabriel did preview these beauties at the end of last night’s Taste le Tour.  I have had some beef marinating for 24 hours for his Paleron de boeuf aux olives and I’m sure it will be just perfect for a winter’s night. If you’re still in a cheesy potato frame of mind, you could always try the other cheesy potato dish from yesterday’s stage. It’ll still be regionally appropriate!