Stage 14: Montélimar > Villars-les-Dombes (Parc des Oiseaux)

Paul Sherwen is going to be in heaven on this stage with its finish in a bird park. There are over 3000 birds, so expect lots of twitching in the commentary box. Given that the 208km course has been described as being more difficult than it looks, avoid choosing “false flat” as your drinking word, unless you plan on having a very quiet Sunday.

On the vache front, we could spot a number of different breeds. When we were in these parts in 2011 for the Grenoble time trial, we profiled the Villard-de-Lans and a cheese the milk is used for, Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage. Salon_de_l'agriculture_2014_-_Banbie,_vache_Villard_de_Lans

Image: HaguardDuNord

We are more likely to see Montbéliarde. We certainly spotted these a little east of this course a couple of times in the past.

As you’re unlikely to find the Bleu de Vercors-Sassenage, Saint Marcellin is another local cheese, and relatively easy to find.

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

Tip: if the video doesn’t load, refresh the page.

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 14: Grenoble > Risoul

A fabulous mountain stage is ahead of us tonight. We can look forward to three big climbs over the 177km route and an early (8:30pm AEST) start to the broadcast. First, there’s the Cat 1 Col de Lautaret, then the HC Col d’Izoard and the finish is at the ski station at Risoul, another Cat 1 climb. Nibali is looking really strong, but I’d like to see Mooooooollema have a crack tonight. I have demonstrated my complete lack of tipping ability (sorry, Richie!) , so in the interests of using my Kiss of Death for good and not evil, I’m going to tip Valverde for the stage tonight.

On to the cows!
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Chagne Farm

I have no idea what breed of cattle they keep at La Ferme de Chagne, or what types of fromage de vache they make from the milk, but I think this is the most excited I’ve been when researching cattle of Le Tour:

Every Tuesday at 5.30 pm.
Visit the Chagne Farm  in Risoul Village and
help milk the cows.

Meet up at the farm at 5.30 pm :, 3€ per person.
1 litre of milk offered per family.

Risoul Tourism

I want to be there now. Well, on Tuesday at 5.30, to be precise…

More breed-specifically, we are near Villard-de-Lans territory, which means our cheese is the Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage. The people of the region take their cheese very seriously and dress up for their get-togethers to celebrate their produce. They’re not too serious for a cute logo, though…

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Have a look at this page for a description of the cheese-making process (in French), as well as pictures.

 

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 ?

vache-brézins

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…)

 

Stage 20: Grenoble > Grenoble

It’s the individual time trial and we know what that means.  Either we’ll see no cows at all, or the same cows over and over and over again (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The riders won’t have time to check the signage tonight.

Image: Tim

Of course, with Cowbell so close to taking yellow, we’ll forgive you if you are too nervous to spot bovines tonight.  Cowbell is not up until just after midnight, though, so perhaps cow-spotting will have a calming effect.  If you do see cows, see if you can identify the Montbéliarde, Villard-de-Lans or even Abondance.

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