Stage 20: Megève > Morzine-Avoriaz

Mike Tomolaris suggested that yesterday’s stage was the final test. He may have jumped the gun a little, although the conditions certainly were testing for the riders once the rain started to come down. Still, we have two stages to go and whilst I’m happy to write off the final stage as a formality, this one has a number of challenges. There are four categorised climbs, culminating in the HC Joux Plane. The official guide tells us that this is a climb that struck fear into the heart of he-who-shall-not-be-named. The finish is a descent into Morzine and with more rain forecast today, it could be dicey. Here’s hoping there aren’t any result-changing chutes.

As we are still in the Savoie and Haute Savoie, we can continue to watch out for the alpine cattle profiled earlier. We spotted a number of cows during stage 19, including what looked like a group of Tarentaise taking an interest in the race.

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Image: Guilhem Vellut

As long as you watch Taste le Tour, you are guaranteed vaches, as Gabriel Gaté visits some Abondance. The reblechon cheese is made from the milk of these, along with Tarentaise and Montbéliarde.

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Image: SBS – Taste le Tour

Remember that tartiflette I posted a couple of days ago? Well, it looks as though he is making one tonight. Here’s the recipe. A crisp white wine would go down well with it, I reckon.

Stage 20: Modane Valfrejus > Alpe d’Huez

It’s the final stage in the Alps, and the last stage where anybody is likely to do something unexpected. The organisers have managed to squeeze the Télégraphe, Galibier and Alpe d’Huez into a 110km stage. This time yesterday, I figured it was going to be a stage to watch the climbers fight over the King of the Mountains points and bemoan the lack of interest in the GC after week one. Quintana’s attack on La Toussuire yesterday showed that Froome was vulnerable… but is it too little, too late, or has Nairo saved his box of matches just for this stage? It’s a very outside chance.

We’re still in the Savoie so let’s hope there are some cows attached to the cowbells we hear. Today’s route is not too far from the birthplace of the Villard de Lans so I’m willing to call the Alpe d’Huez cows VdLs.

Some of Alpe d'Huez's many cows... could they be Villard-de-Lans?

Image: M Vache

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Video: Alrom Niverno

The Villard de Lans is a dual-purpose breed, described as “spirited, with a lively disposition”. Their milk is used for the Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage cheese which is celebrated in an annual festival in August – “20,000 visiteurs… 2 tonnes de fromage”. It’s worth checking out their website for the collection of posters promoting the event over the past few years. TrollDJ would be particularly interested in the 2012 poster. The breed is on the conservation list of France Génétique Elevage with the current population recorded as 403 cows.

Speaking of blue cheeses, there is another Savoie cheese that is probably more endangered than the Villard de Lans. The Bleu de Termignon is made from the milk of the Tarentaise and Abondance cows by three producers high in the Alps. One producer has started to modernise production, but the other two producers are using the same techniques as their forefathers. The story is told beautifully here.  If you can’t find any of these blue cheeses, feel free to substitute any of the other delicious alpine cheeses or start doing the end-of-Tour fridge clean-out. Oh, and if you think you can manage one more cheese-and-potatoes dish this Tour, here’s the local version.

 

Stage 19: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne > La Toussuire

This is the sharp end of the Tour even if judging only by all those alpine climbs that look incredibly symmetrical in the route profile. Froome continues to hold on to the yellow jersey and it would take a miracle – or a catastrophe – to dislodge it from his grip. I’m sure no cycling fan wants to see either of those. There is still a lot of life left in the climbers’  competition, though, and we can expect the motos to stick closely to Bardet, Voeckler, Rolland and Pinot.

There will no doubt be a point during this 138km stage – say, at kilometre zero – when the sprinters will look over their shoulders and wonder if it’s worth going the long way ’round. It’s 3.8 km to Saint-Pancrace – they could stop for a spot of lunch and meet up with the race for the last 20km. Alas, that option is not open to them so it will be a matter of doing those infernal calculations while they drag themselves up and down the Col du Chaussy, the Col de la Croix de Fer and the Col du Mollard, quite probably humming Helter Skelter to themselves as they go.

Hopefully whilst they are doing that, we will see some cattle. We know we will see Tarantaise cows as long as we tune in to the Taste le Tour segment.

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Image: SBS, Taste le Tour

These gorgeous beasts produce the milk that makes the equally gorgeous Beaufort cheese, known as Prince of the Gruyères. This cheese is made in large wheels which are then matured in caves or cellars for up to two years. For more on its manufacture, watch tonight or check out this lovely post. It is definitely worth seeking out some of this delicious cheese (and yes, I am saying that in Gabriel Gaté’s accent as I type). We bought some at a street market when we were visiting the stage 16 start two years ago and, even under less than ideal cheese transporting and storage conditions, it was a revelation. Gabriel is cooking with it tonight – an omelette, which seems like the perfect end-of-week dinner. I think I might do the same.

 

Stage 18: Gap > Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne

…I thought that it was nothing more than a path to move sheep or cattle to and from their pastures!

Thierry Gouvenou, The Official Tour de France Guide 2015

The road he’s talking about is 10km from the finish of today’s stage and contains 17 (or 18, depending which part of page 201 you’re looking at) hairpins. And, presumably, opportunities to spot both vaches and moutons. It’s the last of the seven climbs in today’s stage, coming just after the descent of the HC Col du Glandon.

What cattle are we likely to see? The milk of the Montbéliarde from the last couple of stages, the Tarentaise (also known as Tarine) and the Abondance are used to create one of the region’s star cheeses, Reblochon, so keep an eye out for these alpine breeds.

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Vache Tarentaise

Image: BlackSlash73

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Abondance

Image: Walpole

If the Ps start muttering about caves again tonight, it might be because they hold some maturing Reblochon rather than a selection of bats. This washed rind cheese has a nutty flavour but a strong odour that is “not for the timid“, apparently. If you are preparing for Run Melbourne on the weekend, you might want to carbo-load with the reblochon-and-potato wonder that is tartiflette.

If Reblochon’s not your speed, there are many other alpine cheeses to choose from. The Savoie-Mont Blanc website proudly showcases the rest of the region’s cheesy wealth. Stock up and spend the rest of the week in a cheese coma. Sweet dreams!