Stage 16: Le Puy-en-Velay > Romans-sur-Isère

We come back from the rest day with a relatively short 165km that looks as though it will start off lumpy, with a Cat 3 followed by a Cat 4, then a descent and a set up for a sprint finish. Beware adding “false flat” to your drink card, as it is only Tuesday… As much as we love sunflowers, it’s time for a change – hopefully we’ll see some lavender.

We’re still in the region of Fin Gras beef du Mézenc, so perhaps that will mean more of those happy cows grazing on the mountainsides.

According the the Tour website, our starting department – the Haute-Loire – produces “Cow cheese Artisou”. Finding out about this cheese has proved challenging as all the information is in French, which leads me to believe that you are not going to stroll into your local deli to pick some up for your cheese platter. Here’s what I’ve gleaned from French Wikipedia, FranceInfo and Google Translate. The “artisou” of the name refers to mites that develop on the crust of the cheese and assist in the ripening process. The cheese is made from raw cows milk, some of which is partially skimmed milk from the previous day’s milking combined with milk from the morning of the cheese-making. After the rennet is added, it is salted and placed in moulds, and allowed to dry for two to five days. The mites are then put on the crust and the cheese is left to mature for anywhere between three weeks and two months.

The cheese has been produced in the region around Puy-en-Velay since the 1700s and producers keen to preserve their traditions. In November last year, 40 producers met at the Puy-en-Velay town hall to request AOP status for their cheese. The process can take up to ten years, but the producers believe the effort will be worth it, as gaining the recognition will enable them to market their cheese more widely.

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The Tour website also tells me there are three AOC cheeses in the Drôme, which is the last of the departments visited in this stage. As far as I can see, two of these are goat cheeses; the third is a blue cheese we have met before in our travels, the Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage, another cheese that you’re unlikely to find here. This year’s Fête du Bleu, the 17th edition of the festival of this local specialty, will be held on the 29th and 30th of July, in Sainte-Eulalie-en-Royans, a mere 30 minutes from our finish town.

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Stage 14: Montélimar > Villars-les-Dombes (Parc des Oiseaux)

Paul Sherwen is going to be in heaven on this stage with its finish in a bird park. There are over 3000 birds, so expect lots of twitching in the commentary box. Given that the 208km course has been described as being more difficult than it looks, avoid choosing “false flat” as your drinking word, unless you plan on having a very quiet Sunday.

On the vache front, we could spot a number of different breeds. When we were in these parts in 2011 for the Grenoble time trial, we profiled the Villard-de-Lans and a cheese the milk is used for, Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage. Salon_de_l'agriculture_2014_-_Banbie,_vache_Villard_de_Lans

Image: HaguardDuNord

We are more likely to see Montbéliarde. We certainly spotted these a little east of this course a couple of times in the past.

As you’re unlikely to find the Bleu de Vercors-Sassenage, Saint Marcellin is another local cheese, and relatively easy to find.

Stage 20: Grenoble > Grenoble

It’s the individual time trial and we know what that means.  Either we’ll see no cows at all, or the same cows over and over and over again (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The riders won’t have time to check the signage tonight.

Image: Tim

Of course, with Cowbell so close to taking yellow, we’ll forgive you if you are too nervous to spot bovines tonight.  Cowbell is not up until just after midnight, though, so perhaps cow-spotting will have a calming effect.  If you do see cows, see if you can identify the Montbéliarde, Villard-de-Lans or even Abondance.

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