Stage 17: Digne-les-Bains > Pra Loup

We’ve finally made it to the Alps! The riders have had a rest, as have we, so no doubt we’ll attack the five climbs in this 161km stage with vigour. From what I’ve read, the biggest challenge here is less about the fourth ascent (up the Cat 1 Col d’Allos) than it is about the descent before the final climb to Pra Loup. It looks to  head upwards from around the 55km to go mark with the summit of the Col d’Allos 33km later before a “technical” descent “to delight Nibali and cause anxiety for Froome”. The way Chris Froome is looking at the moment, I think it will take a lot to cause him anxiety.

Keep your eyes open for more Montbéliarde in these parts. Interestingly, although the number of farms has decreased sharply – from 106 in 1988 to 37 in 2010 – the amount of agricultural land has increased over the same period – from 1002ha to 2989ha – with farmers turning towards sheep and cattle breeding. I’m hoping this makes for some vache-tastic viewing.

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Image: Arnaud 25

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Stage 16: Bourg-de-Peage > Gap

I’m guessing that at 177km mark when the peloton reaches Gap there won’t be a great deal of enthusiasm for the climb up the Col de Manse, particularly when they are only going to finish up at Gap again. It seems unnecessarily cruel just before the rest day. In Gap. I wonder if The Gap has a store in Gap? Clearly the SherLiggett enthusiasm for repetition is infectious. Race Director Thierry Gouvenou suggests that the Col de Manse is more challenging that it looks on paper, so has ruled out the sprinters for this stage. I think my predictions so far are 0/15, so I’m not even throwing a name out there.

Cows? Well, I’ve tracked down a fromagerie just north of Gap and it looks as though they use the milk of the Montbéliarde.

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 6.08.12 pmSee?

Vache Montbéliarde

Vache Montbéliarde

Image: PRA

The Montbéliarde, as we’ve discussed before, is a popular dairy breed, especially in these parts. There’s a lot more information about the Monty here but even if you’re not fascinated by somatic cell counts by lactation, it’s worth a click through for the cover photo and title.

There’s no specific cheese for this region that I’ve been able to track down, but if you check out the Ebrard Fromages au lait de vache range, I’m sure you’ll find a style you like.

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 14: Rodez > Mende

This is the last stage of the second third of Le Tour! Doesn’t time fly? If you are hanging out for a rest day, you might be concerned to see that there are still three stages to go before Tuesday’s chance to recuperate. I know I was!

Today’s 178.5km stage starts where we left off yesterday, climbing towards the Côte de Pont-de-Salars over the first 20 km, before descending to what looks like around 80km of false flats. Choose your tipple wisely. The last 40km contain three climbs, with a short but steep finish up the Côte de la Croix Neuve. I wonder if we’ll be exhorting Quintana to go, go, go and not look back? I hope so.

We are still in Aubrac territory.

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Image: Taste le Tour

It’s not often that I’d presume to guarantee a cow sighting, but Gabriel did preview these beauties at the end of last night’s Taste le Tour.  I have had some beef marinating for 24 hours for his Paleron de boeuf aux olives and I’m sure it will be just perfect for a winter’s night. If you’re still in a cheesy potato frame of mind, you could always try the other cheesy potato dish from yesterday’s stage. It’ll still be regionally appropriate!

 

Stage 13: Murat > Rodez

The big climbs of the Pyrénées are behind us and the Alps are a few days ahead. This 198.5km stage isn’t a flat sprinters’ stage, with three climbs in the last 60km, but hopefully we’ll see Team Sky relax a little and allow some of the non-GC contenders have a day in the spotlight. Perhaps this is time for Tommy V to justify that TV time and take a stage, although he’ll have serious competition from Peter Sagan.

As we leave the Pyrénées, we head towards Aubrac territory.

8549134537_2220b4ab5c_zImage: Jérôme Therond

Whilst not as scarce as the cattle we’ve tried to spot over the past few stages, they are certainly not as populous as the Charolais we’ve been seeing all over the place. They range in colour from fawn to brown – sometimes blonder and sometimes a tad darker than the one pictured – with white socks and a white-ringed nose. Originally bred by monks, they were used as a triple-purpose animal: draft, dairy and beef. According to my cattle bible, cross-breeding resulted in a faster maturing animal and the breed society was formed in 1914. A highly successful conservation program was launched in 1976; by 1979 there were around 80,000 Aubracs in France. Unfortunately a high rate of brucellosis infection was discovered in the herd. Today, the local population is estimated to be around 10,000.

What to eat for this stage? Well, the milk from Aubrac cattle was used in the Laguiole cheese, a key ingredient in the potato dishes of the region, aligot and truffade. You don’t need to spend too much effort tracking down Laguiole – it’s a tomme cheese so grab whatever cows milk tomme is available near you. The only real decision is which recipe to make?