Stage 13: Murat > Rodez

The big climbs of the Pyrénées are behind us and the Alps are a few days ahead. This 198.5km stage isn’t a flat sprinters’ stage, with three climbs in the last 60km, but hopefully we’ll see Team Sky relax a little and allow some of the non-GC contenders have a day in the spotlight. Perhaps this is time for Tommy V to justify that TV time and take a stage, although he’ll have serious competition from Peter Sagan.

As we leave the Pyrénées, we head towards Aubrac territory.

8549134537_2220b4ab5c_zImage: Jérôme Therond

Whilst not as scarce as the cattle we’ve tried to spot over the past few stages, they are certainly not as populous as the Charolais we’ve been seeing all over the place. They range in colour from fawn to brown – sometimes blonder and sometimes a tad darker than the one pictured – with white socks and a white-ringed nose. Originally bred by monks, they were used as a triple-purpose animal: draft, dairy and beef. According to my cattle bible, cross-breeding resulted in a faster maturing animal and the breed society was formed in 1914. A highly successful conservation program was launched in 1976; by 1979 there were around 80,000 Aubracs in France. Unfortunately a high rate of brucellosis infection was discovered in the herd. Today, the local population is estimated to be around 10,000.

What to eat for this stage? Well, the milk from Aubrac cattle was used in the Laguiole cheese, a key ingredient in the potato dishes of the region, aligot and truffade. You don’t need to spend too much effort tracking down Laguiole – it’s a tomme cheese so grab whatever cows milk tomme is available near you. The only real decision is which recipe to make?

 

Stage 12: Lannemezan > Plateau de Beille

It’s the last day in the Pyrénées! Today’s finish at Plateau de Beille is described by technical director Thierry Gouvenou as “underestimated”.

For fans, the Tour’s big summit is Alpe d’Huez. But for the riders, Beille is much more difficult!

Judging from the problems they had on Bastille Day, and the number of riders who didn’t finish or dropped off the back yesterday, I’m not sure most of this lot will be all that keen on facing the most difficult climb today! Anyway, before they will even get the chance to test themselves against Beille there’s the Col de Portet d’Aspet, Col de la Core and Port de Lers. Who will take this opportunity?

We are back in the region of the Aure et Saint-Girons today, another endangered Pyrénées breed.

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Image: Parc des Pyrénées ariégeoises

Numbers appear to be fluctuating. In the first year the Casta was featured here, there were apparently 255 of them. The 2010 figures are now available and they seem to have dwindled to 208. It certainly doesn’t appear that they are flourishing, so we are probably more likely to see more Charolais, or perhaps a Blonde d’Aquitaine or two.

After a couple of nights of sheep milk cheeses, there is a local cows milk cheese for this stage: Barousse. It’s a hard, uncooked cheese made from unpasteurised milk – sometimes mixed with sheep milk and sometimes solely cows milk – matured for five to eight weeks. It is described as similar to Bethmale, and has a “soft, melty texture and hay-like flavour.” If you like the sound of that, and have been seduced by the scenery over the past couple of stages, head over to Loures-Barousse for their cheese festival, 31st July to 2nd August. What could be better than

A weekend devoted to the arts of cheese-making and tasting in beautiful Pyrenean Valley setting.

 

Stage 11: Pau > Cauterets – Vallée de Saint-Savin

The 188km from Pau to Cauterets takes in six categorised climbs. The big one is the Col de Tourmelet which, unlike last night’s climb, will be familiar to both viewers and riders, but it’s not as though the others are just a walk in the Parc National des Pyrénées (at least, for anyone but Froome). Has he thrown down the hammer so hard that his rivals will be focussed on getting to Paris safely with a view to salvaging their seasons at the Vuelta? Judging by some of the Twitter reaction, a number of fans are doing just that!

Today’s route takes us through Lourdes, which means that we will once again be looking for the lovely Lourdais, most likely in vain.

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Image: Thomas Brown

There is nothing more I can add to the information from 2011, which is disappointing. With a number of endangered breeds, each time I search I find new pages or interesting updates which gives me hope that the herd is strengthening. Perhaps its inclusion in this brain teaser is a sign that its star is on the rise…

Now, Lourdes claims Loures-Barousse cheeses, which I’ll leave for tomorrow, and Tarbes beans – our starting point yesterday – as mainstays of their cuisine. I’m not ruling Tarbes out on the basis of being yesterday’s hero so feel free to whip up a calf’s foot salad with Tarbais beans. I might give that a miss – it’s hard to make friends with salad at the best of times, but in winter?  I’m still looking to Tarbes with this braised beef cheek by Tarbes native, Pierre Koffman. For cheese, stick with the sheep (and add some goat) and enjoy some delicious Roy de Vallees.

Stage 10: Tarbes > La Pierre-Saint-Martin

Are we all feeling rested? The energy of the first week sputtered out towards the end but I am feeling excited about the racing to come. We start the second third of the race in the Haute-Pyrénées and finish 167km later at the top of our first HC climb for the Tour at La Pierre-Saint-Martin in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. It’s not just the first HC climb this Tour; it’s the first time this climb has been in the race. Before the riders get there, they will warm up on three Cat 4 climbs. It’s Bastille Day, so expect crazy attacks by the French riders.

If we’re in the Pyrénées, we’ll be looking for the Gascon cow.

troupeau-neige-pepirag

Image: Groupe Gascon

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Stage 9: Vannes > Plumelec

Just a quick post today as I need to get in as much skiing time as I can! It’s the TTT, a stage guaranteed to make us mourn the missing Euskaltel-Euskadis. Today’s course is 28km long and finishes on the Côte de Cadoudal. If the race guide is anything to go by, expect the Ps to bust out some false flats. Repeatedly. It is a time trial, after all – the definition of repetitive. Of the 2014 world championship podium placers (for what that’s even worth), current world champs BMC are at full strength however things will be tougher for silver medallists OGE, with three riders out of the Tour. Third placegetters Etixx-Quick Step will be no doubt be wishing they had the legs of powerhouse Tony Martin in the team today.

We’re still in Brittany, so will be keeping eyes peeled for that lovely Pie Noir. The fact that this one was actually photographed in Morbihan gives me hope…

Bretonne pie noir photographiée dans le Morbihan

Bretonne pie noir photographiée dans le Morbihan

Image: Gaelleveto

I’ve had some tips from the lovely Songbirds on some Breton cheese that might be available more widely. Try looking for some Port Salut, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese that Charlotte describes as “flavoursome but mellow”. If you haven’t reached your washed rind limit, Saint-Paulin might be a possibility. The tasting notes say “buttery, nutty”. Buttery nutty is one of my favourite flavours! Both cheeses were originally produced by Trappist monks. I wonder if they ever went on strike like those Benedictines?