Stage 4: Saumur > Limoges

Today’s stage offers 237.5 undulating kilometres that should see the sprinters vying for honours again. Let’s hope they are not still conserving energy for the hills – another stage like yesterday’s would be tough, especially as this is the longest stage of the Tour.

Cav starts today in green, and not the cast-off Sagan green he wore yesterday thanks to his stage victory. Sagan is still in yellow, and Stuyven will no doubt have the Côte de la Maison Neuve in his sights to keep hold of the polka dots. I wonder if Fonseca will be fired up, having had the combativity prize snatched from him by the great gurning Voeckler?

On to today, and we are entering Limousin territory!

Limousin near Limoges from DiscoverVin

Image: DiscoverVin

The Limousin is a beef breed and while I was trying to find some new interesting facts about the breed, I came across this article: The Proud History of Butchery in Limoges. It’s well worth a read – the medieval history of butchers in the region is rather Game of Thrones-y – but I thought this was particularly fascinating:

François hand-selects the cattle for slaughter, picking beef that are at least eight years old for the best flavor and, ideally, ones that have benefitted from time with a tata—French for “auntie”—from the Normande breed. In industry parlance, a tata is a nursing cow; Normandy may not be quite as famous for its beef as other regions, but it’s renowned for the quality of its butter and cream, and the last 15 days of a four-month-old calf’s nursing can be spent with a Normande tata for the ideal proportion of marbling and fat.

“If there’s a Normande tata… well, that’s the bee’s knees,” François says with an omnipresent grin.

A nice link from the cattle of the previous stages! Speaking of links, when I was scratching around for a reason to write about the carrot festival in stage 2, I came across this:

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Image: French News Online

 

As a result of a drought in 2011, farmers were short of winter fodder for their Limousin cattle. Fortunately there were some surplus carrots kicking around in the southern Gironde and Landes, and some bright spark thought to try the cows on a carrot diet.

The carrots from the Gironde and Landes, where 55% of national production is concentrated are those rejected by supermarkets because they don’t conform to EU regulations and standards.

Read more: French News Online

Hmmm.

On the menu? Gabriel Gaté is giving us (I’m not even kidding) beef shin stewed with …. carrots! You’ll want to get this going early as it’s a long braise. Then again, our finish town is also tomorrow’s start town, so if it’s not ready in time for supper you can warm it up tomorrow.

The Drinks List has chosen a dry chenin blanc from the Loire for this stage. Matt Skinner suggests a terrine with some mustard fruits, some smoked fish – salmon or trout – or chèvre.

Stage 19: Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour > Bergerac

The end is in sight. We’ve turned north and are heading towards Paris. There’s just this fairly flat 208.5km and the time trial tomorrow before the final stage into Paris. There are points on offer for the climb of the Côte de Monbazillac but it’s only a Cat 4, so Majka’s coronation as King of the Mountains will happen as long as he makes it to Paris. Sagan has control over the green jersey, but is yet to cross the finish line first in it so that might motivate him tonight.

The really big question, though, is “Have we seen enough cows to warrant Cows with Guns?”.  I’m hoping that we have, but we are running out of time to add some more to the showreel if the compilation is looking a bit thin. Perhaps tonight will help.

We start in the region of the Blonde d’Aquitaine and finish close to Limousin territory. These are the third- and second-most popular breeds in France respectively, after the Charolais. Let’s hope France TV gives Sherliggett a break from enthusing about aerials and mines and gives them some lovely cattle to wax lyrical over.

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Blonde d’Aquitaine

Image: Myrabella

Limousin

Limousin

Image: jacme31

Despite the fact that our two local breeds are beef cattle, it’s duck and pig that feature more heavily in the cuisine of the region (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I was tossing up with suggesting steak tartare to round off the week, but that’s not going to warm anybody’s cockles. This dish – Boeuf Cyrano – comes from Tarn, which is 150km east of our route today, but it stipulates prunes from Agen, a mere 24 km from Feugarolles. I’m confident that most of you keep a “tin of mousse de foie gras” in the pantry and you’ll have prunes left over from Gaté’s tart last night, so you should be able to whip this up in time for dinner. Ooh la la!

Stage 14: Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule > Lyon

The official site describes the stage profile as flat, however there are seven opportunities for the climbers to take points, with five Cat 4 climbs and two Cat 3. It will be interesting to see how Rolland approaches the day – will he chasing KOM points to stay in spots or will he be keeping his legs relatively fresh for a big Bastille Day/Mont Ventoux effort? The climbs shouldn’t be enough to leave the sprinters behind; we’d hope to see a close fought finish in Lyon between the main contenders for the green jersey. After yesterday’s stage, however, who is willing to make any predictions?

Well, apart from predictions about cows, of course. You’re probably all heartily sick of Charolais and Limousin by now, but they are the cows we’re likely to see today, particularly the former. Zooming down on the TGV yesterday we saw oodles of them, mostly seeking shade under trees in the paddocks. At 300km an hour it was a bit of a challenge to gather pictorial evidence, but here it is.

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Image: M Vache

There is, however, another local breed. The Ferrandaise is from the Puy-de-Dôme and we looked for it – without success, I believe – in stage 9 of the 2011 Tour. Back then we discovered that it was on the endangered list, but that breeding programs were working to save the herd. If this restaurant is anything to go by, it’s popularity is increasing, so perhaps we’ll catch a glimpse of some. I’ll do my bit by looking out for it on local menus.

FerrandaiseImage: La Ferrandaise Restaurant

Lyon is more famous for porky delights than vachetastic victuals. The restaurant we ate at tonight had a bowl deep fried pork rinds on each table just as a pre-dinner nibble. Cattle were represented on the menu – a steak and some veal kidneys – but the main attraction was the andouillette. Still, the butchers around here are serious about their meat and the type of meat and provided further evidence that charolais and limousin rule.

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Anyway, if you want something to eat and you are determined to maintain your focus on the cow, I’ve found this recipe. Is it authentic? Who knows, but it has beef and cheese and the word “Lyonnaise”. Bon appetit!

 

Stage 12: Fougères > Tours

218km with no categorised climbs. That’s what we have to look forward to today. Mark Cavendish is bound to be a wee bit keen for stage honours here but there are other stage hunters in the mix, so the finish should be fast and furious. We’ll be hoping that the white jersey will give the Cow that Won’t Quit some extra oomph in the closing moments and we will be somewhere near the finish adding our voices to the fans screaming for… more free saucisson!

I am a little leery of predicting cows. Just look what happened when I actually went properly cow hunting along the route the other day. I can, however, confidently predict chateaux as the Ps will be fired up to rattle off facts and figures about the sprawling estates in these parts. Still, we’ve been riding in the area for the past couple of days (the Tour will go through Langeais, where we’re currently resting) and we have seen cattle. There are no breeds specific to this particular region, although the local buses bear the name Anjou, so you might want to keep your eyes peeled for the Maine-Anjou (we haven’t spotted any, yet!).

We did spot some lovely beasts along the Loire yesterday and today, though. These Charolais were a little shy, but perhaps they were protecting the calves.

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P1040097Images: M Vache

Today was Limousin day. The local farmers do seem to like to hide their cattle behind scrubby hedges, but we braved the brambles to make the acquaintance of these cows today.

P1040105P1040099Images: M Vache

Now, we all know that the Ps commentary priorities can be a bit whack, so they are probably more likely to take an interest in the local nuclear power plant than they are some beef cattle, no matter how delicious they are (and they are – I had some amazing veau for dinner). If, perchance, this does happen, scrutinise the nearish landscape as this is where we spotted the second group.

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Images: Injera

This area is obviously well known for its wine, however it does a pretty good line in cheese, too. Unfortunately they favour the milk of the chèvre. Tasty, but not really in our area. Still, let’s try a little diversity, shall we? I know the Saint Maure is fairly widely available outside France, so feel free to grab some of that. We won’t judge you (we’ll probably join you!). Of course, if you’re not completely over butter after Brittany, a tarte tatin is a local specialty and should give you a sugar high to see you through to Tours.

Stage 18: Blagnac > Brive-la-Gaillarde

“Long, flat… hot”, according to Stephen Roche, which is just what the remaining riders will be wanting to hear after nearly three weeks in the saddle. This stage has four categorised climbs, which might lead you to view the adjective “flat” with suspicion, but these things are all relative. The first two climbs are 1km long each, with the Côte de Saint-George classified as a 3 and the Côte de Cahors at 4. They start at 66.5 and 116.5km respectively with the intermediate sprint 1.5km before the second climb. The second two climbs – the Côte de Souillac and the Côte de Lissac-sur-Couze – start at around 178km and 210.5km. Expect to see Cowvendish chase some personal glory after nearly two weeks of team sacrifice. Sagan’s internal dialogue over the past few stages might be well-represented by the parody account @TweeterSagan, but hopefully he has also spent time dreaming up a new celebratory dance. If a certain Sandy Casar gets anywhere near a break, stay tuned for another mention of his run-in with a dog, which happened on this stage (which he won) five years ago.

A browse around the web led me to this 2010 Tour de France diary entry from Jens Voigt, which gives me some hope that “long, hot… boring” stages equal quality cow viewing. Quality for us, that is. Jens seemed to have lost interest in the bovine scenery.

But really, it was a long and boring stage. At one point I started thinking of great books that I had read, anything to keep my mind off the racing. I mean we had nothing to do but look at the cows and grass all day, and since looking at cows and grass doesn’t make you any smarter, I thought I would try to help myself by thinking of books.

Jens Voigt Diary, Bicycling

(Please tell me I’m not the only one reading Jens’ diary in his voice…)

Tonight’s stage starts in Mirandaise country and ends in the home of the Limousin. We met the Mirandaise when the Tour travelled from Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden last year. Shortly after the Tour rolled through in 2011 the Madeleine festival took place in Montesqiueu, a couple of hours west of today’s starting point.

Created to celebrate the Mirandaise, a historically important local cattle breed that also attracted Italians and Spanish to the region, this thousand-year-old fair will bring producers and the local communities together over two days.

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The festival was organised in conjunction with Slow Food and the Mirandaise Ox Presidium which they established to promote this beautiful breed.

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Image: Grasspunk

Last year we used a different photo from the Grasspunk blog to illustrate the post about these cattle. [Click the link for a good overview of the origins of the breed.] When I revisited the blog, I read about bc’s decision to say goodbye to the Mirandaise to focus on Salers. It’s really worth clicking through to the farewell post – it provides a lot of insight into the nature of this breed and it’s also good to know that the Mirandaise have gone to farmers who are extending their own herds.

Essjaymoo talked us through the advantages of the Limousin last year so I won’t repeat her words, but I can’t resist re-posting the gorgeous photo taken by DiscoverVin:

It seems altogether fitting that DiscoverVin’s Tour wine for tonight – the Chateau Haut Monplaisir Prestige-AOC Cahors-Rouge 2006 – is recommended as the perfect foil for a steak. Ideal for a simple Friday night dinner! The local cheese is the Pas de l’Escolette, about which little information is available. Most cheeses from the region tend to be made from goat and sheeps milk – this cows milk cheese is only made in small quantities in spring and summer and is hard to find unless you happen to be in the area. Perhaps this can be your CFD for le Tour?

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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