Stage 5: Vittel > La Planche des Belles Filles

Time for the GC contenders to come out to play! This 160km stage has two categorised climbs. The Cat 3 Côte d’Esmoulièrs starts not long after the intermediate sprint point, but it’s the Planche des Belles Filles that is the big drawcard, not least because it offers our new commentators the chance to tell the story behind the place name. Naturally, this morning’s news has been dominated by fallout from the finish of stage four and it will be interesting to see what impact this has on the peloton. Thomas is still in yellow, which has not offered him protection from multiple crashes this Tour. Yesterday’s winner, FDJ’s Demare, is in Green, while Brown and LaTour retain the Dots and the White jersey respectively.

We had some splendid vaches-spotting last night! Will our luck continue tonight? Looking back through the archives, today’s local bovine breed, the Vosges, was mentioned by Paul Sherwen during stage 8 of the 2011 tour. I’m not quite sure why, as that stage was in the heart of Limousin country, although trying to map the tangential threads of our beloved former commentators’ meanderings is almost impossible after the fact. Suffice to say, he advised us that the cattle were brought to France by Swedish infantrymen and it is Swedish mercenaries who are implicated in the tragedy of the PdBF story. Hmmmm. I don’t think we have ever spotted these beauties, but there is a first time for everything.

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Image: Cyrille Bernizet

With the Vosges comes one of my favourite stinky cheeses: Munster. Unsurprisingly, I also recommended this cheese when the Tour debuted the PdBF and I’m definitely going to be having some tonight.

The Drinks List’s Tour Survival Kit selection for this stage is the Hugel ‘Gentil’ 2015 , which

bring(s) together the noble, but slightly uncool, five-some of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat & Sylvaner. The nose is as exotic as the blend suggests, while the palate is medium bodied & beautifully balanced. Drink it with Singapore noodles.

Okay, so Singapore noodles aren’t exactly traditional, but maybe keep those flavours in mind if you’re buying crunchy snacks…

It’s good to see that some members of the couch peloton are experimenting with the not-the-Taste-le-Tour food recommendations. Rusty’s tarte flambée last night looked sensational!

Stage 10: Mulhouse > La Planche des Belles Filles

In case you missed it, today is Bastille Day and the Tour is celebrating lavishly with seven categorised climbs in this 161.5km stage. These include four Cat one climbs, last of which is the finish on La Planche des Belles Filles. This climb was first included in the Tour in 2012 when Chris Froome won the stage. I wonder if Richie Porte will attempt a tribute-paying victory? Of course, we can count on the French riders to fly the flag today, so the cow pick has to be Thomas Veau-ckler. As far as commentary goes, expect to hear the story of the local girls  escaping the rapacious Swedish mercenaries during the Thirty Years’ War. We can probably count ourselves lucky if we only hear it once.

We’re still in the Vosges, so hopefully we’ll get a quality sighting of the local cattle. That’s if we’re not too busy celebrating the “City of the car and its Bugatti collection of the Schlumpf brothers”…

Bastille cowImage: The Telegraph

I hope you’ve still got some munster left from our earlier Vosgienne stages. In case you’re out, dig into the recesses of the fridge for any porky products. If you have sauerkraut and potatoes as well you can rustle up something pretty delicious.

Stage 9: Gérardmer > Mulhouse

Today’s 170km stage offers up six categorised climbs and the peloton will start ascending right from the word go, with the summit of the cat 2 Col de la Schlucht at  the 11.5km mark. The fifth climb, Le Markstein, is the first cat 1 climb of this year’s Tour and starts shortly after the stage’s sprint point (Linthal, at 105km). After the final climb (the cat 3 Grand Ballon) it looks to be pretty much downhill towards the finish, with a flattish final 20km which might give any stragglers over the climbs a chance to make up some ground. As always, I’ll be hoping for a good showing from the Cow that Won’t Quit, but perhaps Vosges local Arthur Vache-ot will have a pre-Bastille Day tilt at victory.

There are more opportunities to spot those pretty Vosges cows today and eat more Munster. We’re jumping the gun a bit with a Raclette chez Vaches as the Milawa Cheese Shop had been stripped of stinky cheeses by this afternoon. We were told that last week was ridiculously busy – naturally, I blame people who are cheese matching le Tour and who are more organised than I am.

M Gaté is serving up an Alsatian ham knuckle dish with no butter tonight. Sherliggett will no doubt be wishing they’d saved their Rin Tin Tin anecdotes to match. Who am I kidding? They’ll repeat themselves, surely…

Keep on with the excellent cow spotting, Team Vaches. Bonus points for Vosges, naturally, but even random cows upstaging ponies are alright by me.

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Image: will_cyclist

Just a note on future posts – holidays are over, so I’m going to have to fit around work. Round-ups will probably appear early evening; stage previews will follow an hour or two later. And I’ll try not to nod off during the race…

Stage 8: Tomblaine > Gérardmer La Mauselaine

It’s always exciting to get to the part of the Tour where the stage profile has additional graphics for the climbs. This 161km stage offers two such climbs, the Col de la Croix des Moinats and the Col de Grosse Pierre, both category two. I assumed that Pierre was grosse from eating all the tofailles vosgiennes, but then discovered that grosse pierre means boulder. Disappointing. The stage finishes with a category three climb, so it’s a chance for the climbers to come out to play, and for Contador to try clawing back some of the time lost on the cobbles. If the Cow that Won’t Quit has a good day, I’ll be happy, otherwise I’m putting my cow-related hopes with the Butcher, Tom Jelte-Slagter.

It’s also time for us to start getting excited about the cattle-spotting possibilities of the eastern mountain stages. What are our chances? I’m trying to figure out whether passing through Baccarat is a lucky sign or the reverse. I’ll go with lucky.

Here’s what to look for: the Vosges.

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Image: Christian Amet

On 25 May, feast of St Urbain, these sub-alpine meadows become home to herds of the gorgeous black and white Vosgienne cow. They arrive from the valley to graze until St Michael’s feast day on 29 September. Their excellent milk is turned into a delicious soft cheese. The marcaires – high mountain farmers – sell it as Géromé on the Lorraine side and Munster in Alsace.

Régine Godfrey

Beautiful animals! They are rare, so we might not be lucky enough to spot one tonight although we’ll have another chance in tomorrow’s stage which is still in their home region. Munster (which I talked about here a couple of years ago) is one of my all-time favourite cheese and a quick google came up with Gewürztraminer as a widely recommended wine match. None of that here, but I’ll flick through my slightly incoherent notes from the 4 the Love of Riesling event as I’m sure I put aside a bottle that would do the trick.

Perhaps you’re after something substantial? In that case, stewed potatoes – otherwise known as tofailles vosgiennes – is the dish for today. Potatoes cooked in cream and wine with bacon and smoked pork neck? Hell yeah. If you don’t read French, use google translate with caution with this recipe. The first time I tried I got pomme de terre translated literally.

 

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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