Critérium du Dauphiné: stage three – home ground advantage

Stage three of the Dauphiné took the riders from Ambériue-en-Bugey through Charolais country to Tarare. The route came close to last year’s stage 10 start town in the Tour – Mâcon – so we were hopeful of some quality cow sightings.

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Good omens

The Tour de France start list is still some time away, but I’ve been reading the tea leaves (cow pats?) and am prepared to make the call: it’s going to be an excellent year for the cows. Not only did the Sydney Royal Easter Show choose our signature breed, the Charolais, as its feature breed this year, but this Palgrove Charolais was awarded the Urquhart Trophy as champion bull of the show.

Champion BullImage: Al Rayner

It’s definitely a sign…

 

Stage 10: Mâcon > Bellegarde-sur-Valserine

Today’s 194.5km stage includes the first Hors Category climb of the 2012 Tour: the 1,501m Col de Grand Colombier, another climb making its debut this year. Before attacking this climb, riders will negotiate the Cat 2 Côte de Corlier (90km). The intermediate sprint point comes at 130.5km and the serious climbing starts almost immediately. It’s not all downhill from Colombier to the finish; the Cat 3 Col de Richemond breaks up the descent into Bellegarde-sur-Valserine. Prior to the Tour starting, this was earmarked as an Andy Schleck stage. With him out, it will be interesting to see if Fränk takes up the attack. He is currently 17th in the general classification (8’19” behind the yellow jersey), so stage wins probably feature in his revised Tour goals. Evans is still in second place, 1’53” behind Wiggins, and Froome is looking very strong in third, with a 2’07” deficit. Nibali and Menchov round out the top five. The peloton is now down to 177 riders, with 20 having withdrawn as a result of injury and one having been arrested. Ah, yes, the magic of le Tour. As The Inner Ring tweeted:

Kudos to the French police who found Rémi di Gregorio because nobody watching the race has seen him.

Onto the vaches!

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Rest Day: Mâcon

Today is the first of two rest days, giving us the chance to get some perspective on the first ten days of racing. Despite the often apocalyptic build-up to last night’s time trial there is still a lot of racing to do. I’m sure the guys who will be doing the work know this; they know that the remainder of the race isn’t just about resigning themselves to their current place and fighting it out over stage wins. They will also no doubt be rolling their legs over despite it being a day of rest and my advice is to take some guidance from the pros. You don’t need to stay up until the wee hours, but remember: you’ve spent a week getting into the new rhythm. Watch the highlights on SBS at 10.00PM AEST, perhaps catch up on some of the videos on Cycling Central, and think about getting a slow braise on that will fortify you over the coming nights.

The Tour caravan will be spending the day in Mâcon, which is about 60km from Charolles, the capital of the old Charolais district.  I would like to say that it remains “the centre of trade” in the eponymous cattle, however that particular note in Wikipedia was from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition.  It is possible things have changed since 1911.  Still, we’ve a good chance of spotting some when the race starts up again tomorrow.

Charolais in Australia

Image: Boongalla Organics Australia

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Stage ten: round-up

I am pleased to report that the no les vaches = more crash nexus has been broken.  Phew!  This meant that last night’s stage was one we could all watch without peering between our fingers, but it also meant that the cow sightings were slim.  I’m happy to go with that, though.

If seeing actual Salers, Aubracs or even Limousins was off the Team Les Vaches menu last night, it has become clear that there is a pervasive fondness for all things cow amongst fans and even pro-cyclists.  Team Radioshack’s Fumiyaki Beppu is not competing in this years Tour, but he was on Twitter yesterday sharing some pictures he’d taken in Bordeaux.  “Big deal”, I hear you sigh. “Who cares about his Akita?” .  Well, for a start, it’s a very cute dog (check his tweetstream) but we were keen on his photos because of this:

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Stage 9: Issoire > Saint-Flour

Tonight’s stage takes us through the Department of Puy-de-Dôme, in the Auvergne.  It has three Category 2 climbs, three Cat 3s and two Cat 4s, so there will be some slowing down to take in the scenery, which we hope will include cows.  This is Ferrandais and Charolais territory and we might spot some of those gorgeous Limousin as well.

The Ferrandais is from Puy-de-Dôme, which makes it particularly local, however it is also rare, being listed in my reference bible Cattle: A Handbook to the Breeds of the World as “endangered”.  By 1978 the herd numbered around 400 and a conservation programme was developed.  This may have saved the breed, a dual purpose milk and meat animal, from extinction although it could be too early to tell.  Numbers have increased to 500 cows, but the popularity of cross breeding them with the French Simmental, Montbéliarde and Salers might account for the slow growth in the purebred herd.

What'choo lookin' at? - Ferrandais

Image: Kranky Kids

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Stage eight: round-up

The excitement in Team Vaches was undeniable: Mike Tomalaris was prepared to make an early call – this stage would be rich in terms of cow spotting.  We were not disappointed, with a variety of cows spotted all the way along the route.

These cows have a perfect spot for Tour viewing

A group of Charolais

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Stage 7: Le Mans > Châteauroux

And so, we leave the coast, Normandy and Brittany and head south, towards the Pyrenees. This first leg of the journey southwards is a long, flat, sprinter’s stage, skirting the edge of the Central Massif.  The start is in Le Mans, well known for it’s 24 hour car race and 24 hour races of anything else that moves and, of course, Les Vaches has a special cow-respondent in the area. @parisbug has a place in the country around Le Mans and Essjaymoo became enamoured with the bucolic shots of cows, dogs, trees, flowers and produce that were tweeted.  We’ve asked @parisbug to tell us a bit more about life, and the cows, of Le Mans.

“Le Mans is mainly known for the 24-hour car race that happens every June…but there is so much more to this town and region (the Sarthe) in France, both historically and food-wise.  Le Mans, the town, has been here since the 3rd century in one form or another and has one of the best preserved Roman Empire walls in all of Europe which encircle the medieval old town perched on a hill.  It’s one of our favourite places to go exploring and to dine.  Speaking of food, ‘Les Rillettes’ are a specialty in the Sarthe – a sort of pulled pork paté that has a permanent pot in our fridge! Ask a large number of French where la Sarthe or Le Mans is, and they may stare at you quizzically, mention ‘les rillettes’ and the Ahhh of recognition dawns on them. I can certainly relate to a food oriented geography.

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Stage three: round-up

The best-laid plans and all that.  For all the tips we’ve been giving you on the local breeds to watch out for, our only quality sighting during stage three was a group of what looks to be Charolais.  It was a lovely group, though, and they are our mascot breed so we can’t help but be happy about that.

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