I hope les agriculteurs are taking note of this field art... although it might not be helicopter-friendly.

Stage 2: Saint-Lô > Cherbourg-en-Cotentin

Stage 2 vache alert! Correspondent Marj is cycling in Normandy at the moment and has a hot tip – she spotted this at about 50km to go:

According to Marj, it is possible that this is mobile, so eyes peeled, #TeamVaches!

According to Marj, it is possible that this is mobile, so eyes peeled, #TeamVaches!

Anyway, yes, I have an earworm courtesy of the stage finish (and who knew Nana Mouskouri recorded a version of Je ne pourrai jamais vivre sans toi?). That aside, we have a 183km undulating stage with an uphill finish that should drop the sprinters and churn that yellow jersey like some Normandy butter.

Speaking of… yes, we’re still in Normandy so once again it’s butter, cheese, apples and all those lovely apple-y things (think tarts, cider, Calvados). But there’s more! Are you aware of the Carrot Festival*? I thought not. It began in 1990 and apparently attracts 25,000 visitors a year, so it’s probably wise that it doesn’t coincide with today’s stage (it’s on the second Saturday in August, so you’ve still got time to make travel plans**). There are some fabulous photos on this post, when the Carrot Museum visited the festival in 2009 (you know about the Carrot Museum, of course). Of course, Carrot Festivals do have their pitfalls…

From "French Kisses" by George East

From “French Kisses” by George East

I hope les agriculteurs are taking note of this field art... although it might not be helicopter-friendly.

I hope les agriculteurs are taking note of this field art… although it might not be helicopter-friendly.

Image: World Carrot Museum

Now, before you close this tab in a huff, thinking “what’s all this got to do with cows?”, here’s tonight’s recipe: boeuf carrottes à la normande . Yes, the recette is en français, but it is apparently très facile so hopefully that makes it worth the google translate cut-and-paste. Cheesy comestibles? More of those Normandy delights: Pont l’Évêque if you want something robust for your cider, or perhaps a nice, ripe camembert. If it’s not ripe, you can always go all 70s – pop it in the fryer and serve with redcurrant sauce. Ahem.

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* I’m astonished to learn that the carrot festival in Créances is not even the only carrot festival in France

** If you are planning a food-festival-related tour of Normandy, there are some beauties listed here.


Stage 1: Mont-Saint-Michel > Utah Beach

It’s back. Twenty-one stages of vache-spotting, DJ-trolling, butter overdosing… and cycling.

This year the race starts against the picturesque backdrop of Mont-Saint-Michel which has, in the past, featured painted sheep in the foreground. Are the moutons going to get off to a flying start this year? Not according to Brice Feillu:


Brice Feillu

I’ve learned over the years not to assume that this means guaranteed vache, however it is a promising sign, non? Especially since, according to the website of the Farm-Museum of Contentin,

Le Plain has long been associated with cattle-raising. Sainte-Mère-Église was well-known throughout the world for its cows, cream and butter long before the Normandy landings of June 1944!

The vache of the region are the lovely bespectacled Normande. M Gaté spent some time with them last year – I wonder if boeuf or beurre will feature in Taste le Tour tonight? The Drinks List recommends some stinky cheese to go with the stage’s cider, so a Livarot would be both regionally and stinkily appropriate.

As for the racing, the sprinters will be keen to start the Tour strongly and this relatively flat 188km stage will mean dreams of yellow jerseys amongst the fast guys. There are two category four climbs early on to get the kinks out, and the sprint points are at the 118 km mark. Hopefully Marcel Kittel hasn’t been too distracted by his lost luggage – if he’s on the podium with flat hair, we’ll know that he checks his hair products in.

Remember, team vaches, try to stay at the front of the peloton…



Stage 7: Livarot > Fougères

Stage seven gets the climbing points over early – the Cat 4 Côte de Canapville at 12.5km – and then undulates for another 178km towards a downhill finish at Fougères. Is this the last chance for the Etixx train to sort themselves out? The Griller will certainly be turning the heat up, as from here the fast guys will be turning their minds to calculating cut-off times.

If it undulates there’ll be ungulates… hopefully! Bienvenue to the home of the Normande!

Un jeune vache normande

Une jeune vache normande

Image: Eponimm

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Stage 11: Avranches > Mont-Saint-Michel

This 33km time trial is relatively flat and will be Tony Martin’s chance to take something other than cuts and bruises away from this Tour. To be honest, I’m finding it difficult to get excited about this stage. For a start, time trials started to lose some of their mystique when riders decided to don skinsuits for a trip to the shops instead of keeping them for “best”. Then there’s the small matter of who’s not there. I did propose on Twitter that perhaps Fabian Cancellara could be invited as a wild card to contest this stage only but it seems that idea has only received traction in quarters that don’t count. Anyway, it’s bound to be scenic, although even the picturesque finish of Mont-St-Michel was previewed during stage 10, so no visual surprises await.

Another reason that I’m not overly enthusiastic about the stage is that we visited a couple of days ago and spotted no vaches whatsoever. Some of the postcards of Mont-Saint-Michel had sheep grazing in the foreground, but 1. SHEEP and 2. they must have been shipped (or ‘shopped) in, as no photogenic livestock were in evidence. Of course, I predicted a cavalcade of cows yesterday and look how prescient that was…!

There are cows in Normandy, if not necessarily this part of the region, so let’s say hello once again to the lovely Normande.


Image: New Hope Normandes

It seems Phil and Paul were talking about Vikings yesterday, and this is one of the breeds said to have Viking roots. Whatever their provenance, they are striking beasts, usually red and white (although sometimes dark brown) with “spectacle” markings around their eyes. Their milk is prized for it’s suitability for cheese-making, so this is one of the key stages to put together a cheese board for your Tour snacks. You have a vast array of Normandy cheeses to choose from, and you shouldn’t have too much trouble picking these up where ever you are in the world.


Pie Rouge

Stage 5: Rouen > Saint-Quentin

Today’s 197km is flat. How flat? Pancake flat, according to the BBC. There are no categorised climbs and the intermediate sprint point is a little over halfway, at 109km. This is a day for the sprinters and we can hope to see one of those classic battles of the lead-out trains. Mark Cavendish would look to be a good bet on paper, but he came down in the last 3km of last night’s stage and we’ll have to wait and see what effect that will have today. Peter Sagan might be polishing a new dance move in anticipation of another win and Lotto will be fired up after Greipel’s stage four win.

Leaving the coast means moving away from those treacherous winds and – hopefully – the lumpy roads.  The first week nerves should be starting to settle – perhaps the peloton will stabilise at 195 riders for a while after losing Rabobank’s Tjallingii before stage four. Sky’s Svitsov and Movistar’s Rojas were also casualties of stage three. Those watching in timezone GMT +10 will be appreciative of a relatively early night.

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Stage 4: Abbeville > Rouen

Today’s 214.5km stage takes us from Picardie to Haute-Normandie. The four Cat 4 climbs are distributed across the route, with the intermediate sprint between climbs three and four at 94kms.  The relatively flat terrain “isn’t exactly torturous” according to the TdF Guide, however the coastal route has other challenges, not the least of which are the notorious coastal crosswinds. In Rupert Guinness’ preview of the Tour, Cadel Evans revealed that stage four was one of the pressure points in week one, due to a combination of week one nerves, unpredictable weather and narrow, winding, “lumpy” roads. We saw those factors in play last night, with a couple of riders abandoning after serious crashes and a number who will probably be feeling all sorts of pain for at least the next few days. Let’s hope things go smoothly tonight.

Picardie boasts a strong rural economy, with “considerable cattle grazing”, although there is no particular local breed. Once we cross into Normandie, look out for the pied Normande.


Image: Will Studd

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Stage 6: Dinan > Lisieux

And so today we cross over from Brittany to Normandy, named for the Viking settlers of the 9th Century.  Home of delicious, complex, fragrant Normandy Farmhouse Cider and site of the D-day landings during World War II.

Normandy is dairy cow heaven. Norman cheeses include CamembertLivarotPont l’ÉvêqueBrillat-SavarinNeufchâtelPetit Suisse and Boursin; and their butter and cream is high quality.  The cows of Normandy  are beautiful beasts, and I’d say that even if they weren’t believed to be descended from Vikings.  Their milk is rich and high fat and they are the third most popular dairy cow in France. They also produce fine, marbled meat.


Vaches Normandes – source Wikipedia used under Wikipedia Commons


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