Ups and downs. A vache-tastic stage entertained us with lower-case sky riders, but the curse of the yellow jersey struck Tony Martin.
Troll DJ was on fire. Cavendish? Burned again.
Will it be another windy day? Surely that’s what the organisers have in mind with this stage. The 191.5km course meanders along the coast, taking in three Cat 4 climbs along the way. Given my tipping record to date, I wouldn’t suggest you put any money on this pick, but I’m sure it’s time for Kwiatkowski to get a win. Isn’t that the way it works? Turn-taking? Hmmmm. I’m sure the Griller will have something to say about that – he certainly seems to enjoy winning! Our fantastic/fabulous/ferocious/fickle four GC contenders all finished with the group last night, so no changes there.
This route doesn’t have any specific breeds associated with it, but I am hoping that we might spot some cows today before we hit the coast. The first part of the race is similar to the beginning of stage 4 in 2012 and we had saw a diverse range of vaches back then. Unfortunately that route continued inland which may have been where all the cows were – we are headed west. Fingers crossed!
Last time we were in these parts, we noted that we passed close-ish to Neufchâtel-en-Bray, the home of Neufchâtel cheese, and geography has not changed in the past three years. Growing up a cheese by that name was available in the local supermarket and seemed pretty much interchangeable with Philadelphia Cream Cheese. It seems it wasn’t always so. I certainly don’t remember ever seeing it in a heart shape.
Again, last time we were around here, we noted that the local cuisine was – not surprisingly – seafood dominated and offered a recipe via Parisbug for mussels with cheese and cider. Look at what Gabriel is offering today: Blue Eye and oysters in a creamy cider sauce. Sounds good to me!
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As you will have noticed, this preview is going up before the daily round-up. We’re up in the mountains for a few days, hoping for some snow (but also hoping that the predicted blizzards are an exaggeration). My wifi hotspot is working, so I will be watching and recapping the stages, but while we’re up here the previews will go live before the round-ups, which I’ll work on après ski.
And in vache news: limousins spotted en route!
Is it Cav’s day today? His team-mate, Tony Martin, claimed the yellow jersey yesterday with a powerful finish, however I’m assuming Mark Cavendish doesn’t need any extra motivation to get a stage win. The undulating (there’s that word again!) 189.5km course offers no incentives for the climbers, but breakaways are likely. The sprinters will be hoping their teams are able to chase any escapees down before we all nod off after the 100th repetition of the 10km/1 minute rule-of-the-catch. I was hoping for a Degenkolb win last night; I see no reason to change my wishes for tonight.
Will there be cows? As far as I can ascertain, there are no breeds specific to the region, however the existence of a number of local cows milk cheeses suggests that we could see more of those dairy herds we’ve spotted over the past couple of stages.
Image: Jared Benedict
Cobbles, scheduled bike-changes, impromptu bike-changes and – yes! – cows.
Stage four will provide Paul Sherwen with a number of opportunities to use the word “undulations”, so my advice is to cross that word off your drinking card given that it’s still early in the week. The 223.5km route has its only climbing points at 53km, the category 4 Côte de la Citadelle de Namur, however it’s the seven cobbled sections we’re tuning in for. With Fabs sadly out of the Tour after stage 3 (how he managed to finish with his injuries, I will never know), this might be a battle of the hair: Sagan with his flowing mane versus Degenkolb with his Alpecin-enhanced locks. Don’t rule out BMC’s Greg van Avermaet, either. Naturally, I’m still hoping for the World Champion to put on a show, too.
To the cows, and we had some great sightings last night. I’m not sure that they’ll be topped tonight. Again, we could see some of the Blues, as well as some more Holsteins.
There is a local cow’s milk cheese for tonight – the tome de Cambrai. It’s a relatively new cheese, created by a farmer in the region in 1989. It’s a hard, raw milk cheese, ripened in beer. An alternative, suggested by Geert, is the Chimay cheese (Melburnians can find it at Milk the Cow and Richmond Hill). Or perhaps you’ve still got some Maroilles or a similar washed rind cheese to keep you both happy and connected to the countryside we’re seeing.
Gabriel Gaté is making a crème brûlée tonight as his nod to the region’s sugar beets. Of course, I’m on board given the dairy component! If you’d like to try a local savoury dish, use some of your beer-washed cheese (and google translate) for these veal medallions.
A flat course plus fierce winds equals… ECHELONS!
This 166km stage starts at 4m above sea level, before rising to a nose-bleed-inducing 6m at Brouwersdam, with 12km to go. I guess we’ll really see who has packed their climbing legs today. No, but of course the big questions1 for today are surely “will there be echelons?” and “if so, what impact will this have on the finish?”. Race organisers will be disappointed if the answer to the first is “no”, given that the course seems to have been designed to factor in the winds as a major player over the last 40km or so. Experience in local conditions will be sure to play a role in that case.
With all the talk of barbecues last night, maybe the “Griller”2, Griepel, will be even more motivated to take a stage win? The Cow that Won’t Quit’s team-mate, Cowvendish, will hopefully have a crack if he’s there at the end, and no doubt Sagan and Degenkolb will be hungry for the podium.
Speaking of hungry, at 48km we pass through the town of Gouda. Recognise that name? Yes, it’s the town after which the cheese was named. Gouda – the cheese – has a reputation for being a bit on the boring side, however that might just be because it’s not a protected name and the mass-produced local versions are a bit bland. Shop around for some Dutch Gouda, particularly the aged cheese which is described as “toffee-like” or “caramelly” and has a crumblier texture than the young cheeses. If you are snacking on a young Gouda, pair it with a beer; older cheeses match well with wines – a fruity riesling is recommended for medium aged cheese and richer reds for the older cheeses. Geert suggests having it with a spicy mustard. You’ll also find smoked Goudas, flavoured versions, spiced versions… it seems as though the options are almost limitless, although you’ll be hard-pressed to find the boerenkaas (raw milk) versions here, I’m afraid. If anybody has tracked some down, let me know!
So, all this cheese must mean cows, right?
Here we go again!
This year’s Tour starts with a 13.8km time trial over a course so flat it would make a plate of poffertjes look like the alps. Obviously I’m looking forward to seeing how Cow-ncellara performs here, given that he’s talking about it being his last Tour, but I’m also hopeful that the Cow that won’t Quit puts on a good show. Our favourite Welsh cattle ambassador is predicting a good result from Tom Dumooooooolin, so here’s hoping. I’m keen to see whether the Ass-tanners are going to bring back the shiny skinsuits. And now I’m craving poffertjes.
The likelihood of cow-spotting tonight is low. This is an urban route and unless somebody is taking their pet bovine for a stroll in Park Bloeyendael, this cow will be the only possibility for a sighting this stage:
Photo: Michael Coghlan
Of course, it’s always possible that a winner from last year’s Netherlands Film Festival is still wandering around Utrecht, celebrating their Golden Calf award. Who knows?
Photo: Netherlands Film Festival