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?


Stage 8: Rennes > Mûr-de-Bretagne

This 181.5km stage finishes atop the Mûr-de-Bretagne, a Cat 3 climb that is likely to bring out a host of Breton cycling fans. This was the stage 4 finish four years ago, won by Cadel Evans who zipped past an oblivious Contador. Contador will doubtless have his wits about him today, but is a stage victory in his plans? Given Sagan’s serial second places, a tweeter mentioned that Oleg is likely to be getting a bit toey, so perhaps the pressure will be on. Also expect to see the Mad Cows, aka BSE, getting some TV time on their home turf. I’m hoping Vachon puts on a show!

Once again, I continue in my quest to spot a Breton Pie Noir.

Vache-bretonne-pie-noir_SDA2014Image: Eponimm

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Stage 10: Saint-Gildas-des-Bois > Saint-Malo

The first rest day is over, and so far there have been no reports of riders being sent home in disgrace which is A Good Thing. We did see the UCI president Pat McQuaid getting narky with journalists who dared raise the question of dopage  as, in his view, doping is “a generation past, now”. Well, that settles it then.

The riders will have been enjoying the air in Saint-Nazaire, but it’s back to work today with a 197km stage that looks set to be a sprinters’ showdown. There are a couple of reasonable looking bumps early on coming out of Guer and going into Paimpont, but the only climbing points on offer are for the Cat 4 Côte de Dinan at 142km. Will we be tweeting about Sagan’s facial hair again, or will Cav’s blast at the Omooga Farmers have paid off?

To the cows, and I am pretty excited about this stage. One of my favourite stories from our first Tour was that of the Breton Pie Noir, a breed that was being revived after nearly dying out. Back then, it was difficult to find a lot of information about the cattle, so I was excited to see that the Association has put together an informative website (in French, but that’s what Google Translate is for) that has breed information, pictures, events and a map to help you trouver the beasts and their produits. I really recommend clicking on the images on the left hand side to see a slideshow of the cattle.


Image: Animaux de Terroir

To add to my enthusiasm over the stage being in Pie Noir country, M Vache and I spent the past three days in Brittany pootling about in a Oooropcar and – quite by accident – managed to traverse almost the entire course. And we saw vaches! Many vaches! And we ate many delicious vachey things!


They were really rather bemused as to why a strange woman got out of a car to chat to them…

But then they were quite happy to come over to pose for pictures.

They were quite happy to come over to pose for pictures. I’m sure they’d do the same for passing TDF motos – they were right on the route. Look for them just after Saint-Méen-le-Grand.

I hope this wasn't the long-range forecast...

I hope this wasn’t the long-range forecast… These were close to Gaël.

We saw many more – charolais featured, as well as some pretty red and white cattle – so I’m prepared to predict a vachetastic stage.

What to eat? Well, Brittany seems to love its butter. There was butter galore – in a local caramel, in the local pastries, on steak, with seafood… but this was my absolute favourite thing: the Kouign Amann. I have no idea how to say it, but managed to get my hands on them easily enough. The fabulous David Lebovitz has a recipe here so you can try this at home. I’d highly recommend you do.


Stage 5: Carhaix > Cap Fréhel

We start another long flat stage in Carhaix, Finistère – from Finis Terreæ or The End of the Earth.  Quaint.  And long, and flat.

The cows to look out for here are the Pied Rouge and the Pie Noir  – same as last two stages, so we should be able to identify them easily.

Breton (or Brittany) cows have travelled the world, credited variously with giving rise to Quebec Jersey cows in Canada, Guinea cattle of Florida and even St Helier breed sent to New South Wales via the Channel Islands. They produce high butterfat, yellow milk and butter and have a yellow tinge in their skin.  A small cow which gave milk up to 18 months after calving they were popular with small land holders.

Three days in Brittany have left your cow-respondents with an enduring craving for crepes and cider.  Luckily – we knew just the place to put our cravings to rest for a few weeks at least , Roule Galette in Melbourne with its traditional buckwheat crepes.  We *tried* to order cows’ milk cheese fillings – we really did!  But they didn’t have any so we had to have goats cheese (which is more traditional anyway).



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Stage four: round-up

Even before the race started, we had cows!  Cowrespondent Chris, of the YarraBUG Radio team, tweeted a link to the weather cam on the Brittany coast, near Morbihan.  Essjaymoo checked it out and noticed cows.

This buoyed our hopes of a cow-friendly stage and we were not disappointed.  As early as 92.6km we were able to spot some beasts not dissimilar to the above cows. They were far too indistinct to even attempt a positive ID, so naturally I’m going to tell you that my prediction was correct and we spotted Maine-Anjou.  At 65.6km we got our first sighting of black pied cattle. Could it be a group of the rare Pie Noir?

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Stage 4: Lorient > Mûr-de-Bretagne

Another day in Brittany and we are hoping to see a range of cows.  Those lovely Red Pied cows from yesterday’s post are not the only pied cattle of Brittany – the prized sighting tonight will be spotting one of the Pie Noir.


This breed was on the brink of extinction not long ago and at around 1600 head the herd is still small, but these bovines have attracted the support of some dedicated foodies who are credited with its re-emergence.  They are celebrated for their hardiness, their fertility, and the creaminess of their milk (the cows, that is, although perhaps the same could be said of their champions, the foodies).  The milk is used to produce cheese and the local yoghurt, gwell. “Huh, yoghurt, whatevs” I hear you scoff, but food blogger Carly describes gwell as one of the “five best dishes” she ate at a Slow Food conference.  You can read more about the Pie Noir and how its comeback has been carefully managed at the Slowfood Foundation page.

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