Stage 5: Limoges > Le Lioran

After a couple of long stages and hard-fought battles for the finish by the sprinters, they will hand over riders more comfortable with climbing today. The race guide reminds us that it was Voeckler in yellow when the Tour spent a rest day in our finish town five years ago. At over 16 minutes down he’s not threatening any leader’s jerseys today, however we know he likes to get out in front where he can.

As we head into the Cantal, we should be on the lookout for Salers cattle.

They are quite a distinctive rich red colour (described as mahogany in my cattle bible) with fetching “pertly” curving horns. From the following description, and the look of the lush pasture we’ve been seeing recently, if we catch a glimpse of them they are likely to be eating:

As mountain cows they have been bred to perform well on a range of sparse grasses. This means they are not fussy eaters and are reported to have the fastest eating rate of French cows – more nibbles per minute. If you stand in the herd after you move them to new pasture it is quite an experience. They don’t mess about. Everyone stands and eats. They eat right up to you as though you aren’t there. There is only the noise of munching.

BC – Grasspunk

BC rhapsodises about the quality of the beef from these animals. As it’s midweek and you have all been working hard on your tour snacks, how about making life both easy and delicious by going with a classic steak frites tonight? Feel free to rustle up an afterthought salad if you feel you must…

If you can find some Cantal cheese, recommended wine matches are cabernet sauvignon or a “mellow” white. Bon appetit!

 

 

Stage 15: Mende > Valence

Sorry, I’m a little distracted by a photo in the Tour Guide. It’s 2011 and Voeckler is in the yellow jersey, clutching two Credit Lyonnais lions. “So?” you ask. “What’s the big deal?”

What in the name of god...

What in the name of god…

Anyway, enough of that. On with the stage! We have what could be a Sagan-friendly stage on our hands here. The riders have three categorised climbs in the first 70 kms, a descent to the sprint point at 108km, then a climb up to the Cat 2 Col de l’Escrinet at 126.5km. Sure, breakies will doubtless try to get away, but the final 60km looks tough to stay away. We shall see!

Will we see cows? Perhaps we might catch a glimpse of some Salers.

Bonus points for cowbell

Bonus points for cowbell

Image: B. Navez

This hardy breed originated in the Cantal mountains, north-west of where we are today. They are well-adapted to the harsh mountain climate and apparently thrive on poor soils. Their coat is thick and curly in winter, but smooths out over summer. I am quite taken by the description of their horns from my cattle bible:

…its horns are quite long (indeed, a feature of the breed) and grow outwards and rather pertly upwards, then curve backwards and outwards.

Valerie Edwards

You won’t need to stretch your imagine in linking this cow of the Cantal to the cheese of the same name. Cantal is one of the oldest cheeses in France, dating back to the time of the Gauls. It has a tangy flavour that is sometimes likened to cheddar. David Lebovitz rhapsodises about it here. You might struggle to find the prized Cantal vieux, which is aged for more than six months, as it is rarely exported, however Melbourne readers can pop along to Richmond Hill where they mature the cheese they import for at least three months before selling it. Bon appetit!

Stage 10: Aurillac > Carmaux

Hope everyone has had a good night’s sleep on the rest day – I know my fingers need a break from typing quickly “Les Vaches” and sending it to twitter.  If you do tweet, join us at @lesvachesdutour during the stages.  We’re there for general race discussion as well as cow spotting, and love a bit of a #trolldj guessing game.

As Le Tour heads off south again towards the Pyrenees (still!), we spend a couple of days travelling through the Cévennes mountains, with today’s ride featuring 2 category three climbs and 2 category four climbs and a downhill finish.

We’re all hoping for less crashes and more les vaches as we continue to the Midi-Pyrenees area.

We may see some Salers cows around today as this is their native region. This hardy breed dates back a long time and its winter milk (from when the cows are fed hay) is used to make Cantal cheese one of the oldest cheeses in France. Apparently Pliny the Elder mentions cantal cheese in his writings.  Cantal cheese is traditionally used in the cheesy mashed potato dish we told you about yesterday, Aligot.  The summer milk, from when the cows have been grazing on meadows and fresh grass, is used to make Salers cheese.

Image: jacme31

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Stage 7: Le Mans > Châteauroux

And so, we leave the coast, Normandy and Brittany and head south, towards the Pyrenees. This first leg of the journey southwards is a long, flat, sprinter’s stage, skirting the edge of the Central Massif.  The start is in Le Mans, well known for it’s 24 hour car race and 24 hour races of anything else that moves and, of course, Les Vaches has a special cow-respondent in the area. @parisbug has a place in the country around Le Mans and Essjaymoo became enamoured with the bucolic shots of cows, dogs, trees, flowers and produce that were tweeted.  We’ve asked @parisbug to tell us a bit more about life, and the cows, of Le Mans.

“Le Mans is mainly known for the 24-hour car race that happens every June…but there is so much more to this town and region (the Sarthe) in France, both historically and food-wise.  Le Mans, the town, has been here since the 3rd century in one form or another and has one of the best preserved Roman Empire walls in all of Europe which encircle the medieval old town perched on a hill.  It’s one of our favourite places to go exploring and to dine.  Speaking of food, ‘Les Rillettes’ are a specialty in the Sarthe – a sort of pulled pork paté that has a permanent pot in our fridge! Ask a large number of French where la Sarthe or Le Mans is, and they may stare at you quizzically, mention ‘les rillettes’ and the Ahhh of recognition dawns on them. I can certainly relate to a food oriented geography.

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