Troll DJ was on fire. Cavendish? Burned again.
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.
We’re in Belgium and after the flatlands of the first two stages there is some climbing in store for tonight. It’s another relatively short stage at 157km, with four categorised climbs in the last 50 or so kilometres. The final climb – the Mur de Huy – isn’t a long one, but it is steep so will test the legs of the riders. I’d love to see the Cow that won’t Quit regain some form here to take the stage, although Valverde has a thing or two to prove after getting caught out yesterday and the climbs will suit him *shudder*. Here’s hoping that Cancellara stays in touch so he can at least attack the cobbles in stage 4 in yellow.
Now to the cows. The local beast is one we’ve met and admired before: the magnificent Belgian Blue.
Image: Robert Scarth
Perhaps I don’t really need to say too much about this stage. If you watched stage four, you will have already had a fairly comprehensive preview.
- cobbles are the drystone walls du jour
- it will be interesting to see how some of the lighter-weight riders cope on aforementioned cobbles
- stock up on light beer if you’re planning on participating in the injured-Chris-Froome-on-cobbles drinking game
- in case the Ps get confused again, the stage starts in Belgium, not Germany.
There are nine cobbled sections (15.4km in total) in this 155.5km stage. The weather over there sounds only a wee bit better than the weather we have here in Melbourne, so there’s an added layer of joy for the riders. So, who should we be watching? *Ahem*. Fabs insists he’s not racing the Tour just for stage five, but does anybody believe him? If not Cowncellara, then how about the Cow that Won’t Quit as an outside chance? Niki Terpstra would be amongst the favourites, but he came off the bike yesterday so might not be at his best; Greg van Avermaet is another one to watch. The Inner Ring has a comprehensive round-up of the main contenders.
We have been in these parts before and we met the local breed, the Bleu du Nord.
Image: Robert Scarth
If you haven’t seen a Belgian Blue – a close relation – you might be surprised to learn that this is a “smaller version” of that beast. It was originally known as the Belgian Hainaut, which ties it nicely to today’s stage. Like the Saosnoise (and many other multi-purpose breeds we’ve seen) it lost popularity, although its population never fell as low as yesterday’s breed. Its value as an efficient grazer was rediscovered in the early 1980s and it is now considered the “emblem” of the Parc Naturel Régional de l’Avesnois.
The milk of the Bleu du Nord is used to make the cheese matched to today’s stage, Maroilles, the “jewel in the crown” of the Avesnois region. It is said to be one of France’s oldest cheeses and has been produced in the region since the eighth century. It’s a washed rind cheese, not as stinky as the Vielle-Lille, but with a “pungent odour and piquant taste”.
Taste it just as it is at the end of the meal accompanied by beer glass or cook it in delicious gratins, in all the case you will regale yourself.
The meat speciality listed in the official guide for tonight’s stage is Tapjesvlees d’Ypres, which is described as “braised meat with lardons cooked on a bed of vegetables”. I’ve tried to track down a recipe with no success, but I was able to find a translation that suggests that the “meat” could be veal, so grab a shin and some pork fat and knock yourself out with some hearty slow-cooked goodness. Or, should I say, regale yourself.
So we enter France, finally! Today’s 197km stage looks to be fairly flat for the first half, but once the intermediate sprint is done at 119 km there are six categorised climbs to test the peloton, finishing with a Cat 4 at Boulogne-sur-Mer. The BBC Tour coverage hopes that Cav will be able to keep up with the leaders, however the Tour Guide has technical director Jean-François Pescheux saying
There is no chance of us seeing the sprinters in action at the finish… I think there will be lots of splits in the peloton.
In his column analysing Green Edge’s chances for sprint points, Rupert Guinness predicts that the sprinters will be aiming to be in the mix at the finish, with Peter Sagan a contender in a finish similar to his stage one win. Whatever happens, at least we’ve seen from the last couple of stages that BMC is working really well for Cadel, and that perhaps the same can’t be said for rival Wiggins with his Sky team.