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 18: Sallanches > Megève

The final TT is an uphill 17 km, promising spectacular scenery and small gaps between the favourites. To be honest, I’m more excited about this information from the On The Road section of the official website:

Specialities: … Reblochon, tomme de Savoie, tome des Bauges, Abondance, Chevrotin, Emmental de Savoie (cheese), tartiflette, raclette, fondue savoyarde.

Honestly, I don’t know how you are going to choose a cheese or cheese-adjacent dish for tonight with so much choice. One thing I do know, though, is that you can’t go wrong.

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A tartiflette I enjoyed in the Haute Savoie in 2013

Local Simmental with a marrow sauce – I am still dreaming of this from Annecy in 2013

IMG_4363Oh, and did you notice the mention of the Rock’n’Poche festival on the Le Tour site? I couldn’t resist looking it up… Check out the logo!

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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!

Stage 13: Saint-Etienne > Chamrousse

Stage 13 contains the first HC climb of this year’s Tour de France, with the ascent to the finish at Chamrousse. Although the stage profile looks relatively passive for the first 134km with “only” a Cat 3 climb at the 24th kilometre, we could hear the phrase “false flat” fairly frequently. The second climb, the Col de Palaquit, starts at around the 138km mark and has some challenging 10+% sections. This climb hasn’t featured in the Tour before, which always makes me happy as it means no tedious comparisons to certain performances by certain past riders. There’s a descent into Grenoble, and then the climb to Chamrousse. Let’s see what Richie Porte can do tonight!

As far as vache-spotting goes, we could see some more Montbéliarde – in fact, I know we will. Last night’s Gaté preview primed us for the Taste le Tour segment featuring this breed. 

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Image: Injera

There is also a mystery beast that seems to come from this region. I can find nothing about it beyond a mention on the Isère Specialities page under “Livestock”, so I’d go ahead and identify any breed you don’t recognise as Chambarans.

Maybe the lucky bovines of Ferme des 13 fontaines are Chambarans cattle?

Have you ever heard of cows listening to the radio? Well, they do just that at the ‘ferme des 13 fontaines’ in Brézins! It is an ultra-modern educational farm where the cows decide when they are ready to be milked while having a snack. Stress? They do not know the meaning of the word and there is nothing they enjoy more than parading in front of the many visitors who go to this unusual milk farm. Would you like to find other milk producers ?

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Tourisme Bievrevalloire

What to eat? Well, Saint Marcellin is the local cheese we’re looking at today and by “looking at” I mean there was a tour group six deep outside my favourite cheese shop at the market, so I wasn’t even able to see if there was any available. A pity, because I do enjoy this cheese.

St. Marcellin is a delicate little cheese that requires protection from the world—so much so that it arrives at your home in a tiny terra cotta crock, sheltered from the bumps and bruises of commercial life. And for good reason, too. The rind of this cheese is almost non-existent at room temperature, and once warmed, even the gentlest prod of a cracker causes it to burst forth a fountain of sensuously unctuous cream.

Stephanie Stiavetti

Unctuous!

Gabriel Gaté uses this cheese, along with some crème fraiche and a terch of berter for tonight’s recipe, a zucchini flan.

If you are in need of a stage-appropriate winter warmer, reach for some Chartreuse. You won’t be sorry, unless you don’t like Chartreuse…

Stage 18: Gap > Alpe-d’Huez

Well, if Douglas Adams was right and the meaning of life really is 42, the guys doing two ascents of Alpe d’Huez might discover it today. How many hairpins must a man go ’round and all that… Apparently Christian Prudhomme was quite happy to have a snappy 100km stage 18 but was talked out of it by his team. If the rain that is currently bathing drenching Grenoble is indicative of the weather on the mountains tomorrow, the fans might join the riders in cursing Thierry Gouvenou, who suggested extending the stage by adding a second climb of the landmark Alp.

Some questions might be answered today. Was Cadel’s time trial – described by some as “shocking” – indicative of a man who is done and dusted or a man who is saving his legs for a big Alpine attack? Was Andy Schleck’s shocking – in a different way – time trial indicative of a man who is finding form or a man who has spent his energy too early and unexpectedly. Will Froome continue to do everything right and conquer this stage, too, in his relentless quest for the Paris podium? If Quintana wins more money, what will he buy his mum?

And will there be vaches?

We know there are cows on Alpe d’Huez. Numerous cowrespondents have contributed photos of them in the past, just not from when the race is on. I guess it’s not surprising if farmers decide to protect their precious livestock from the marauding hordes in July, but we do hope that a couple of wily cattle will have escaped the sweep into paddocks remote for our viewing pleasure.

M Vache and I drove up from Provence today through the gorgeous Vercors Regional Natural Park and we kept our eyes peeled for vaches. We were lucky to spot several herds and were able to pull over to take photos of some of them.

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The ubiquitous charolais

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No bells, unfortunately

We spotted some Villard-de-Lans today, which I’d hoped to see as the regional cow-of-the-stage. Unfortunately the photos were grainier than a very grainy thing on an extremely grainy day. They are an all-purpose breed from the Vercors region and were in danger of dying out until a conservation program was started in the 1970s. Let’s keep talking up these cows, so that we have a better chance of spotting them in future Tours!

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Image: Wikimedia 

There are a number of geographically appropriate snacks for tonight’s viewing. There’s the St Marcellin cheese, but there’s also tartiflette, a local dish of potatoes, cheese (reblechon), onions and lardons. I had one today for lunch and was in cheesy heaven.

IMG_4203Reading this ode to tartiflette, it seems I can look forward to hunting some more down when we get to Annecy in a couple of days. In the meantime, let me know if you try making some – this recipe might be a good start!

Oh, and look out for us on Alpe d’Huez. We’ll be following all of David Millar’s tips for good spectators, even if it’s raining. (Actually, if it’s raining, we will probably be taking refuge in any overpriced bistro we can find on top of the mountain…)