Stage 2: Düsseldorf > Liège

This 203.5km stage is earmarked for the sprinters. Will Cowvendish keep the stage wins with the UK, or will Kittel and Greipel be buoyed by the 144 German km to battle it out for the win?

Here’s some good cow news, from Landwirtschaftskammer Nordrhein-Westfalen:

With 1.45 million cows, the density of cattle in North Rhine-Westphalia is extremely high.

Sadly, they fail to tell us exactly what kind of kühe we can expect to see, although The Bullvine tells me that 67% of all cattle in Germany are Holsteins (hopefully this bodes well for my Velogames  team – hello Hollenstein!).  For extra points, I’ll be on the lookout for the rare Glan, originally a multipurpose breed that is now used mainly for beef production.

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Image: Oudeis

The Drinks List has a Belgian beer for tonight – the Saison Dupont. They suggest moules frites, but where’s the vache in that? A beefier Belgian choice if you are living somewhere wintery right now is the Carbonnade à la Flamande, which – if you’ve been following Les Vaches over the years – you probably knew I was going to recommend. If you’d prefer your rindfleisch to be Deutsche, try rouladen.

Stage 3: Anvers > Huy

We’re in Belgium and after the flatlands of the first two stages there is some climbing in store for tonight. It’s another relatively short stage at 157km, with four categorised climbs in the last 50 or so kilometres. The final climb – the Mur de Huy – isn’t a long one, but it is steep so will test the legs of the riders. I’d love to see the Cow that won’t Quit regain some form here to take the stage, although Valverde has a thing or two to prove after getting caught out yesterday and the climbs will suit him *shudder*. Here’s hoping that Cancellara stays in touch so he can at least attack the cobbles in stage 4 in yellow.

Now to the cows. The local beast is one we’ve met and admired before: the magnificent Belgian Blue.

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Oxcraft Adora

Image: Robert Scarth

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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.