Stage 13: Saint-Girons > Foix

We have three climbs over 101km to see whether the peloton will wait for Aru if decides he wants to stop to take a selfie or grab a coffee. We can be fairly confident that the French teams will put on a good show for us today, given that it’s Bastille Day. There is likely to be a higher level of crazy amongst the roadside randoms, too, for the long weekend celebrations. Here’s hoping they are eccentric rather than obstructive. PSA: I’d advise crossing “tacks” off your drinking games list for this stage if you have any respect for your liver.

As for cows, perhaps this will be the year to spot the elusive Aure et Saint-Girons?

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Image: Roland Darré

A quick scan of the archives suggests it’s unlikely as the population remains quite low. We first noted the numbers as 255, according to a 2008 census, although other figures suggest the population climbed as high as 427 in 2005. The most recent estimates put the herd strength at 320. Let’s hope somebody has thought to bring them all together for us in a spectacularly vache-tastic interpretation of time for the field art competition.

Studying the form guide, our best bet for cow-spotting looks to be Port-de-Lers.

Port-de-Lers is a busy place all year round, visited by fans of Nordic skiing or snowshoes in the winter, by fishermen, cows, sheep and horses in the summer. The pasture of Port de Lers extends over 2,000 ha, where animals live freely from May to October. A shepherd is there to monitor the livestock. Gascony cows, horses of Mérens, of Castillonnais.

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I know some of us have been questioning the wisdom of this year’s route planners. After all, it seems there have been far greater numbers of viewers in these parts abandoning each stage out of sheer boredom. We have also noticed more, and more frequent, tour-snacking. Perhaps this was taken into consideration for this stage, as we will pass through Aules-les-Bains:

one of the few French spas whose effects on cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose levels have been audited. The main indications of the waters produced by the four sources of Aulus are the treatment of metabolic diseases such as obesity and diseases of the urinary tract and kidneys. They are particularly effective in treating hypercholesterolemia by decreasing total cholesterol and increasing good cholesterol.

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I’m booking my ticket, now…

It’s unlikely you will find the stage’s cheese, Bethmale, at your local providore. A pity, as it sounds delicious, if you can get past the image of it “weeping” due to “glowing with fat”.

mild, buttery and nutty, with distinct notes of mushroom, caramel and hay, and has a tanginess and subtle bite which tends to linger in the mouth and belies the initial impression of being a purely mild cheese

Cheese Notes

If you are following Le Tour with wines from either DiscoverVin or The Drinks List, tonights local choices are both white. The Château Jolys Jurançon Sec Blanc 2014 is said to pair well with runny cheeses, whilst smashed broad beans and pecorino on toast is the mortgage-friendly suggestion for the Mas Amiel ‘Vertigo’ Blanc 2015.

Stage 17: Bagnères-de-Luchon > Peyragudes

Today’s 143.5km, five climb stage is the last chance the climbers will have to grab big points and given that only 4 points separate Europcar’s Veau-ckler and Kessiakoff of Astana, they are bound to be hotly contested. It’s also the last chance the for the weaker time triallists to move up in the GC – Nibali’s moves were all marked last night and it’s doubtful that Sky will let him escape. Tejay might make a play for a higher placing, though, and I’d love to see Moobeldia having a crack. Evans, whilst conceding he’s out of podium contention, has suggested that he would like to make a move, but it’s probably unlikely that he will be allowed.

The course today is “short, but brutal!” according to Technical Director Jean-François Peschaux. The climbing starts early, just after 18km, with the Cat 1 Col de Menté. This 9.3km ascent has an average gradient of 9.1% but the first and third kilometres average 10.3 and 11% respectively and the rest of the climb ranges from 5 to 12%. The descent is described as “tortuous” and the Cat 2 col des Ares and Cat 3 Côte de Burs will no doubt come as a bit of a relief. The day’s toughest climb, the 11.7km of the HC Port de Balès, starts at around 100km. Expect narrow roads, the usual fan kerfuffle, and perhaps picture break-up because of the trees (although we’ve been pretty lucky with that this year). After descending to Saint-Aventin, the final climb of the day commences. It’s really two climbs: riders will tackle the Col de Peyresourde (about 9km), descend briefly and then climb again to finish at the ski station of Peyragudes. Finally – a mountain top finish! They seem to have been few and far between this year. I’ll leave the last of the stage overview to Cycling Weekly:

We can’t emphasise enough how hard today’s roads are. Crashes are a possibility; they’ve been frequent in the past when the Tour has been here and they’ve changed the race. And the climbs a all hard and unforgiving. Anyone who breathed a sigh of relief when they got to Luchon yesterday, thinking they’d got through the Tour, might have to think again.

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