Stage 11: Carcassonne > Montpellier

It’s one for the sprinters, looking to fight it out for a win at the end of this 162.5km stage. If you’re thinking this might mean an early night, given the relative shortness of the stage and the lack of trying climbs, you might be in for an unwelcome surprise. It starts a full hour later than yesterday’s stage. Yes, it should be faster… but how much faster? Get the kettle on.

Last time the tour finished in Montpellier we were at the finish, baking in the hot sun and celebrating Daryl Impey’s yellow jersey. The couch peloton was also celebrating, as there were sightings of the local vaches, the Camargue.

We caught a glimpse of some back in 2013 as we rode just south of today’s route.

Stage 6 2

Stage 6Images: M Vache

It seems fitting that the zippy Camargue is the breed for a sprint stage. In these parts, bulls are bred for la course Camarguiase, in which

the goal of the Camargue matador, or raseteur, is to pluck a ribbon from between the bull’s horns. The bulls aren’t killed or injured, but it’s extremely dangerous for the men trying to get that ribbon. The dozen or so raseteurs, all dressed in white, crisscross the arena, calling out to the creature to attract him. They constantly have to leap up into the bleachers to escape the charging bull.

 Eleanor Beardsley, All Things Considered

Here’s how it works:

This blog by Debra Kolkka has some lovely pictures taken on a tour of the marshlands.

I’m very much looking forward to trying tonight’s wine, a Carignan, Grenache and Syrah blend, despite the label being deux ânes rather than deux vaches. The Drinks List describes it has being “bright and bouncy” with “racy acid”. Perfect for a sprint stage!

Stage 15: Tallard > Nîmes

A long transitional stage the day before a rest day? Hmmmm, I’m already starting to nod off… What we can expect from today is an ulimately-doomed breakaway and a sprint finish. I’m hoping Sagan gets over the line first as I’m getting twitchy about a stage-victory-less green jersey winner.

Sadly, my tip-of-evil for yesterday’s stage failed to have the desired effect; Valverde remains in second position overall. Nibali has continued to extend his lead and will no doubt be looking to stay safe, maintain his advantage and conserve energy as much as possible. Yesterday’s stage winner, Majka, has the same number of KoM points as Rodriguez, who retains the polka dot jersey. With no points on offer today, we can enjoy the colour coordination until at least Wednesday.

The last couple of stages have been tough going for vache fans. We’ve made do with Taste le Tour cattle and bison but I do have a positive feeling about today. I’m sure my sighting of a gorgeous Highland bull this morning was a good omen. We probably won’t spot any of those – we are in Camargue country!

Stage 6Image: M Vache

Last year some of these cattle featured in the stage from Aix-en-Provence to Montpelier, and in 2012 Paul Sherwen gave us a positive ID of a group in the stage from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Le Cap d’Agde. What to eat? Well, you really can’t go past the Gardiane la Camargue, which is also known as Gardiane le Taureau as it’s traditionally meat from the bull that is used. This stew is perfect for a winter’s night! Follow with any leftover alpine cheeses as when we return after the rest day it’s the Pyrenees.

 

 

Stage 7: Montpellier > Albi

This 205km stage is regarded as a “transitional” stage, this time moving across towards the Pyrenees in south-west France. There are four climbs in the stage with the intermediate sprint points coming after the second – and highest, classified at Cat 2 – climb. It’s hard to predict who will dominate in this stage. Will Cowvendish translate his *ahem* disappointment with yesterday’s finish into a stage win here? Or will a gutsy breakaway clear the peloton?

Also difficult to predict, as always, are the vaches. Yesterday we had a fabulous sighting of some cattle I’m prepared to call Camargue. Today starts with the peloton heading south-west before turning up into Tarn. Our ride earlier in the week took us through Pézanas and it’s in this area that we spotted the cattle in the stage 6 preview. Indeed, we were first alerted to the fact that we’d entered Camargue country by this:

P1040037

Image: M Vache

Béziers, which is just to the south of this course, is apparently known for two things, wine and bullfighting. The breakfast room of the hotel we stayed in was decorated with posters celebrating each year of the bullfights at the feria. Not something to whet your appetite. Perhaps the Camargue isn’t, either; the steak I ordered in Argens was actually Gasconne. It was tasty and simply cooked over coals, so I’d recommend doing the same tonight. If you’ve got a bottle of Languedoc red, all the better.

 

 

 

Stage 6: Round-up

M. Vache and I boarded a very crowded train from Sète to Montpellier. It was a local and our tickets were “non-reserved”, but they could just as well have been “try the next one, knuckleheads”. We pushed on, regardless, and arrived in the rather gorgeous finish town of Le Tour 100‘s sixth stage in time for a late breakfast.

Montpellier

We’d had a look at the course on google maps and plotted out some likely view spots, having decided that the actual finish might be a bit crowded. After our rather grand petit dejeuner, we wandered out for a recce of the final kilometres. The organisers were out in force, setting up barriers and direction signs.

This way

We weren’t the only ones checking out the course.

Recce

It was hot and rather a trek from the centre of town to the route the Tour was taking so once we figured that the elevated highways weren’t the best vantage point, we decided to head for the finish and see what life might be like there, with a view to going back later in the afternoon to a likely spot. The song goes “Mad dogs and Englishmen…” but it might just as well be “Anglophones”, as the barriers from the finish to around the 150m mark had been snapped up by Australians, English fans and the odd American. We decided we might as well grab a spot, too.

Mad Dogs

We chose the 150m mark, as there was a large screen so we could keep tabs on what was happening on the road without alienating the Fair Use policy of our wireless provider too egregiously. The only drawbacks to that was that there was no shade and they seemed to be showing some version of a Gabriel Gaté al fresco cooking show.

JumbotronAlmost immediately, we lamented the fact that we hadn’t brought hats. We hadn’t counted on the desire of the sponsors to hand out as many freebies as they do. By the end of the first fifteen minutes, we each had a baseball cap and a choice of bucket hats to help us avoid having to call on Saint Jean or whoever runs rescue services for ill-prepared Tour fans. Oh, and saucisson that we didn’t have to fight for.

SwagWe saved the greatest shows of gratitude for the water trucks that went by, spraying us liberally as long as we cheered loudly. When it comes to the prospect of dehydration, I’d have to say we had no shame.

The five hours that seemed, at the beginning, to be interminable passed pretty quickly. Of course, while we were listening to the French announcer calling “something something Christopher FROOOOOME!” and “something something ONDY SCHLECK!” for what, having read the stage reports, seems like no other reason than the sheer enjoyment of saying FRRRROOOOOOME! and ONDY SCHLECK!, there was a race going on. And not just any race. A race… with vaches.

 

 

Isn’t it always the way? Thanks to Team Vaches, for the excellent screen grabs and #LVDT tweets, as always.

The stage headed towards its conclusion, with the late glitch of a pre-stage favourite hitting the road. There was some discussion on Twitter as to the legality of Cav’s method of rejoining the peloton, but that wasn’t apparent to us. We were just hearing “something something Cavendeeeeeesh!”.

With 10 km to go, there was a kerfuffle amongst the local fans near us that involved the gendarmerie and then a heated discussion that actually included the phrase “liberté, egalité, fraternité!” and would have ended with “who’s going home in the back of a divvy van” had it happened in Australia. It might have been over the massing of these flags.

Crazy

Suddenly the race was upon us. My fears of bringing down the peloton by dropping a water bottle or losing one of my hats were forgotten.

P1040057

Greipel disappearning, Cav trying not to lose him, Sagan ripping through.

Image: M Vache

And it was over. Our first “live” tour stage. Won by Greipel with the added bonus of a yellow jersey for Daryl Impey.

Africa's first yellow jersey.

Africa’s first yellow jersey.

Image: M Vache

 

Stage 6: Aix-en-Provence > Montpellier

If stage 5 was most probably one for the sprinters, and – as it happened – it was, then stage 6 is most definitely one for them. It’s a relatively flat 176km westerly route across the top of the Camargue which then heads towards a coastal finish in Montpellier. The profile looks a little lumpy towards the start, albeit mostly downwards, before the only categorised climb (a Cat 4) at Col de la Vayède. The summit is 179m at the 68km mark, after which the points contenders can take it easy, if such a thing is possible. Can Cowvendish make it two in a row? Will Sagan get a stage victory in his green jersey?

You may have recognised that the region that the peloton is skirting shares its name with a breed of cattle. We first met this feisty breed in 2011 and last year were lucky to get a fabulous sighting of a large group during stage 13. Will we see any today? The Tour de Canal du Midi des Vaches also skirted the marshes of the Camargue yesterday – albeit the western end, which is more in the region of tomorrow’s stage – and signs are good! This week of riding has been lovely but we were verging on vines-and-no-vache fatigue… until this morning.

Stage 6 2

Stage 6Image: M Vache

I have to admit to being as excited upon spotting them as I’ve ever felt on any grand safari in Africa. Phil Liggett might have been able to tell us more about the bird of prey hovering menacingly overhead (not pictured), but I was confident to call this a live Camargue sighting.

That’s all very well, I hear you say, but what am I to eat? Whatever you like, is my answer to that. As we’ve learned over the past couple of years, the folk in these parts are not as committed to the cow thing as we are. Ratatouille, on the other hand… well, knock yourselves out. Maybe grate some parmesan on the top and call it a day. Now I think about it, though, in this general region last year we discussed a farmer who’d been feeding his cattle wine. A couple of days ago, I spotted a t-shirt in the Languedoc that read: I’ll start drinking milk as soon as cows start drinking wine. I’m guessing that vigneron is now a committed milk-drinker.

In “world’s collide” news today, I learned that cycling writer, podcaster and all-round tweeter of note Neil Browne did some very important work for the Tour de France in 2010.

Yep, I checked. It was charolais and the Sherwen commentary that kicked this whole thing off… so chapeau, Neil Browne!

Oh, and did I mention that we will be in Montpellier? We seem to have this whole wifi thing sorted, so I am aiming to be at the finish, tweeting frantically as I am bombarded with swag from the caravan. If you don’t hear from me again, I’ve been trampled in a stampede for free saucisson.

 

Stage 13: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux > Le Cap d’Agde

This is the stage the remaining sprinters have been waiting for: a relatively flat 217km ride down to the Mediterranean. French riders in the peloton will be looking for a piece of Bastille Day glory – look for early breakaways! – and all will be hoping that the potentially strong winds will help rather than hinder today.

We are back in the home of the Camargue cattle, profiled by Essjaymoo in detail for Stage 15 last year. Unlike the Herens, which we saw fighting each other, these ones have another enemy in mind. This might add a little to the urgency with which the peloton attacks the route today.

Continue reading

Stage 15: Limoux > Montpellier

192.5 kilometers of pretty flat cycling gets us from the Pyrenees to the Alps.  The last day for the sprinters to shine and probably finalise the green jersey standings before they hit the Champs-Élysées.  Mind you – if they come across any of our featured bovine for this stage, they’d better have their sprinting legs on [particularly those teams in red… I’m looking at you, BMC and Cofidis – Injera]! Mesdames et Messieurs may I present….Le Camargue!

 Image: Kranky Kids

Continue reading