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…

Vuelta Fantasy League – results

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Image: La Vuelta

La Vuelta 2013 is over and Chris Horner will probably retain the record as the oldest winner of a Grand Tour for many years to come… unless his exploits really do inspire the MAMILs to take it up a notch.

In the #LVDL Fantasy League, Team RadioSchleck led pretty much from start to finish. Congratulations, Angi, on putting together such a dominant team. The Lanterne Rouge was more hotly contested, with a number of teams vying for the prize. In the end it was Andrea’s team, Flapjack Corncakes, that took the honours. Given the amount of time in the virtual saddle, I hope the Udderly Smooth Chamois Cream comes in handy.

Thanks, too, to Buttered Frog for keeping the stats on the straight and narrow when the official site went a little off piste.

The last word goes to the red jersey winner. Enjoy. The only thing missing from this is “Be excellent to each other… Party on, dudes!”.

 

 

Las Vacas de la Vuelta 2013

The official website for the Vuelta tells me that there are six days to go. Maybe it’s the timezones messing with my head, or the cabin fever I’m suffering from being couch-bound with a dodgy back, but I reckon it’s more like four days. Whichever it is, it’s time enough to get your fantasy team organised to join the LVDLV mini league on Velogames. Use code 20095032.

May the best team win!

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Image: La Vuelta

Is it too early to open the jerez?