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.
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.