Stage 7: Round-up

For the first time in the 99 year tour history this stage took us up an insignificant sounding La Planche des Belles Filles (which is a named after a plank and some solders and some virgins or something) in the area of Great Nancy. A ski resort in winter, it certainly proved its worth as an interesting Tour destination this year. Although the climbs along the stage were only rated a modest category 3, and this was rated a transition stage to the “tougher” climbs of the Alps, the steep finish cat 1 climb after 199km of riding did the intended and forced those who were making a play for the GC to show their hand – or at least part of it.

Although you can be sure the teams with GC contenders checked it out before yesterday’s stage, they won’t have known how their competitors would fare on the challenging inclines.  Christopher Froome kept pace for Wiggins till Cadel made his move, and although it appeared that Froome had done his all to prepare the stage for Wiggo to go it – mano-a-mano against Cowdel, he instead found the legs to make the stage his own. My read of it was that Cadel was waiting for Wiggins to go and was a bit surprised when he didn’t, but then corrected himself to not exert more energy trying to win the stage (which he doesn’t need to do right now), leaving Wiggins in yellow. There’s no doubt Sky had a great stage, but we may have to start watching out for Froome rather than Wiggins in the GC.

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Stage 7: Tomblaine > La Planche des Belles Filles

This 199km stage contains the first category 1 climb of the Tour: a 5.9km climb at an average 8.5% (although some sections are up to 13%) right at the end of the stage. That’s not to say it will necessarily be easy going up until that point; there are two other categorised climbs along the route, both classified as Cat 3.  The first is the Col de Grosse Pierre at 112km, 8km after the intermediate sprint point, and the second is the Col de Mont de Fourche at 150.5km. The final climb up to the ski station at La Planche des Belles Filles is making its Tour debut, which means we will be spared comparisons to the achievements of certain storied competitors of recent years.  It will be interesting to see how the main GC contenders stack up at the end of today’s stage, and if and when a gruppetto forms.  We will miss Didi on the sidelines in the mountain stages this year, but I’m sure there will be many other tifosi – any bets on how long before a mankini makes an appearance?

After yesterday’s horrific crashes, four more riders have withdrawn from the Tour: Poels, Vigano, Danielson and Astarloza. [Edited to add: make that five – Gutiérrez has just been reported as a non-starter. As of 6.33, Jonathan Vaughters has just added Hesjedal to the withdrawals. 7.47 – Mike Tomalaris has just tweeted that Robbie Hunter is also out.] With 27 receiving hospital treatment for injuries sustained during stage 6 we can only hope that the riders who are continuing aren’t in too much pain. The sprint stages are behind us for the time being, so a slower, spread out peloton might (fingers crossed) mean fewer accidents.

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Stage seven: round-up

This flat stage took us through recently harvested fields where the only animal life we spotted was a family of donkeys.  They were very sweet, but trois ânes do not equal une vache.  Fortunately a Reuters photographer became an unwitting cowrespondent for us with this pic:

This vache is more interested in the bike race than in cow spotting.

Thanks to Lesli Cohen for finding this and using the #lvdt tag!

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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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