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 17: Saint-Gaudens > Pla d’Adet

From the longest stage of the tour we go straight to the shortest. Short (124.5km) but with four sharp climbs. First off there’s the Cat 1 Col du Portillon which starts about 18km after the sprint points for the stage will have been decided. This most likely gives the fast men no incentive to do anything other than get together in a gruppetto, make the calculations, and do what they have to do to survive. Following the Pordillon, there’s the Col de Peyresourde, the Col de Val Louron-Azet and then the HC finish at Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet. Last time the race climbed the Col de Peyresourde, Valverde won the stage. Hmmmm. I hope Troll DJ has “History Never Repeats” lined up for tonight. Majka took the points jersey after yesterday’s stage and I’d enjoy seeing the dots cross the line on a summit finish in first place, so there’s my tip.

To the cows!

This gives me hope:

 

As does this:

 

Upward curving horns? Tick. Pyrenees? Tick. Creamy white? Tick. Could this be a Lourdais? We’re in the right place…

What are we eating? With M Vache away, I paid homage to Ji Cheng with some Chinese takeaway. Probably not regionally appropriate, but for the first time ever it’s at least linked to the race in some way. The specialities of the region, according to the official website, are porky and as we’ve found in past years, a lot of the cheese of the Pyrenees is made of sheep and/or goats milk. Follow Rusty’s lead from last night and get stuck into some Tomme.

Stage 9: Saint-Girons > Bagnères-de-Bigorre

The general tone of the twitter commentary after yesterday’s stage seemed to be “all over, nothing more to see here, two weeks of Sky steamrolling into Paris”. Apart from the fact that we’ll still enjoy cow spotting, Troll DJ-ing and general banter, this would be dull. Race organisers are obviously keen to dispel these thoughts:

This pair was first and second on day one in the high mountains and they are the dominant duo of the peloton but it need not translate to a repeat scenario in stage nine.

They seem careful to contain the statement to predictions for stage nine, though, not Paris!

This stage is still in the Pyrenees, but it is by no means a replica of stage eight. There are five categorised climbs in this 168.5km stage, and an approximately 30km descent into the finish. None of the climbs are HC, but the first is Cat 2 and the remaining four are Cat 1. Will Quintana have another crack at the peaks, knowing that the rest day and some rolling stages follow? How will BMC, the Shack and Saxo-Bank react to the losses their leaders suffered in stage eight? Will we get more gurning from Tommy V, or will he keep some facial contortions in the bank for Ventoux?

To the cows, and this was an obvious gimme. The Aure et Saint-Girons is indigenous to the region but – and this is key – as we’ve noted before it is severely endangered. Extra bonus points for spotting one, then. Here’s what to look for:

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Image: La Casta

The above image is from a restaurant website, which has a lovely piece on the history of the breed (use Google translate if, like me, your French is limited to “deux bières, s’il vous plaît” or you just enjoy the eccentric poetry of computer translations).

Pending more lucky days, the proud, the great horned cow and graceful, is the Pyrenean mountain pasture ringing his cowbell, chestnut on the Blue Mountains. It can not long be satisfied with castles in Spain.

As we’ve mentioned before, the local cow’s milk cheese is Bethmale but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to track some down. I know it’s cold in the southern hemisphere right now and I wouldn’t be at all judgemental if you decided to go with another specialty of the region – confit. You don’t have to stick to duck or goose for confit (although I’m sceptical when I see things like “confit tomato” on menus, marked with V for vegetarian). Why not try confit beef?

There’s always a slight chance that we’ll spot the rare Lourdais in these parts… will this be our lucky Tour?

 

Stage 16: Pau > Bagnères-de-Luchon

We come back from the rest day having woken to the now-traditional news of a positive test, this time involving Fränk Schleck. Seems a stretch to think that, given his performance this year, he has been enhanced in any way but I guess all that will unfold over the coming days and weeks. As it stands at the time of writing, 155 riders will start in Pau today. The testing bombshell aside, this is the stage we’ve been waiting for! The 197km route with its four climbs – two HCs and two Cat 1s – will provide opportunities for Evans, Nibali and perhaps even Froome to establish a claim to the yellow jersey. Of course Wiggins will be defending his position, but his result today will possibly be buffered by the calculation that he can make up small losses in the final time trial. For the other GC contenders, today and tomorrow will be key.

The first climb to challenge the riders is the 16.4km Col d’Aubisque, which comes on the heels of the early intermediate sprint point at 26km. The climb starts at around 37km and once the riders reach the summit, there’s a descent – with a bump in the form of the Col du Soulor – to the feed station at Adast. The 19km climb to the summit of the Col du Tourmelet starts just after Luz St Sauveur at 101.5km, although it looks pretty much all uphill from Adast. After descending Tourmelet, the Col d’Aspin climb starts immediately; rinse and repeat for the final climb of the day, the Col de Peyresourde.

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