Monday, July 28, 2014

Stage 21 Évry / Paris Champs-Élysées - All Over Red Rover

With the podiums done and dusted in stage 20 and after three hard weeks in the saddle, the Tour was finally on the home stretch from Évry to the most famous boulevard in the world the Champs-Élysées in Paris. 

Final day of the Tour and Gabriel Gate has reached the end of his recipe book. On this special day he prepared a special treat of Raspberry Millefeuilles. But alas, NO BUTTER. Sigh. This brings this year’s Beurremetric Counter competition to a close and weighs in on the podium at 1.12kg.

The peloton hit the road and the run up to Paris resembled a Sunday coffee ride. As is the tradition there was Champagne for the victor Vincenzo Nibali (Asstana) and lots of photo opportunities for pouty selfies. It was also a chance for the riders to have a friendly chat among themselves about what they’ll be doing after the Tour like how long the grass must be after three weeks and the first job is to mow the lawn when they get home.

Phil and Paul idled away the time but we could sense a little bit of tension in the commentary box. Paul spotted what looked like 300,000 tonnes of pre-stressed concrete. All Phil had to say in response was “Say no more!”. Ouch! I don’t know how they’ve done this gig together for so many years. Even if they are the best of friends you’d think they’d still be ready to kill each other after three weeks in that tiny commentary box.

If the Ps are looking for a gig where they’re not in such close proximity they could always put their knowledge of fishing, vulture watching and modern building materials to good use and work as tour guides on a Scenic River Cruise boat. But as usual they’ll probably back in that God awful hell-hole of a commentary box next year.

The riders finally reached the Champs-Élysées which is normally a busy street but was closed off today for bike racing. The women graced the Champs-Élysées earlier in the inaugural La Course by Le Tour de France event won by Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv).

Sylvain Chavanel (IAMYOUAREWEARE Cycling) was the first to go on the attack. Trekie ‘The Jensie’ made his move and in his final Tour picked up the last of the available intermediate sprint points. This was no casual lap of honour for the oldest man in the universe. I bet he worked for it, probably muttering under his breath “shut up legs” all the way. What a legend and he’ll be sorely missed from the Tour when he retires at year’s end.

It wasn’t a race without drama. Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R C3PO) crashed and his second place on the podium looked in jeopardy but Nibs, the gentleman he always is slowed the pace to let Peraud get back into the race.

Then it was game on as each lap of the famous thoroughfare counted down. At lap six Phil declared three laps to go in an eight lap race. Phil, that calculator in the drawer does more than spell ‘shell’ if you turn it upside down. In a thrilling sprint finish Marcel Kitteh (Giant-Shimano) pipped Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) at the line. Another nice set of bookends for Kitteh who won the first and last stages of the Tour as he had done in 2013.

Sicilian jersey in honour of Vincenzo Nibali 'the Shark of Messina'

Nibali was crowned Tour champion and goes home with a full pride of podium lions in the Asstana team bus. He also completes the set of grand tours on his palmares. Debate will simmer about the outcome if Chris Froome and Alberto Contador hadn’t crashed out. It‘s a moot point really. Nibs simply rode superbly over the three weeks and I firmly believe he would have won it anyway.

For the record books the jersey winners are:

The Golden Fleece: Vincenzo Nibali (Asstana)
Green: Peter Sagan (Cannonball)
Polka dot: Rafal Majka (Sinkoff Taxo)
White: Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)
Team: AG2R C3PO
Super combative: Alessandro De Marchi (Cannonball)

In other news I’m trying to get my ‘Rollands’ song penned for stage 1 recorded. Lorde has yet to return my calls but Weird Al Yankovic has shown interest in doing a polka version.

Thank you as always to Gabriel Gate for the wonderful recipes, Matt Keenan, Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett for your call of the race. If it wasn’t for you guys I wouldn’t have anything to write about except maybe a serious chronicle of an annual major sporting event.

Finally, thank you for your positive feedback and retweets of Le Wrap. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it much as I’ve had putting it together. This is Le Wrap’s second year and what a more fitting way than to finish on blog post number 42.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Stage 20 Bergerac / Périgueux - Time Is On My Side

Odd bikes, skin suits, helmets that look like they were designed by the late HR Giger, we’ve finally reached the penultimate stage of the Tour, the 54km individual time trial from Bergerac to Périgueux. No intermediate sprint or categorised climbs here, it’s just each rider flat out against the clock.

The penultimate stage deserves a special occasion dish and what better way than to celebrate than with Duck Fillet with Porcini Mushrooms and Green Peppercorn Sauce. No butter here but there’s cream and cognac which almost makes up for it.

Tour organisers on the other hand went all out on the dairy at the starting house. All the chocolate fountains were unavailable for the weekend due to a large number of weddings in the area so a milk fountain had to do. Weird, but effective. Sure beats a yellow bubbler.

At 54km this was quite a lengthy time trial on a route with some ups and downs. Some riders are real guns on time trials and others, well not so. Tony Martin (Mega Farmer-Quick Stop) is one of the very best. Earlier Keeno overheard Rockin’ Rodriguez (Katusha) plea with Martin to be gentle with him. Hmmm.

By the time we’d tuned in quite a few riders had already gone through. We were in time for the big guns and for riders battling for podium posies behind Vincenzo Nibali (Asstana). The Panzerwagen went in to the race the red hot favourite. Keeno noted that you know when Tony Martin reaches his threshold when a long line of saliva dribbles down his chin and on to his chest. The least he could do you'd think is to reach for a tissue.

Now THAT'S an aero helmet

Keeno dipped out to make way for the Ps and then the time trial by ordeal began. There were plenty of maths problems to solve with time checks and numerous calculations. It got so much smoke started coming out of the Ps computer. Probably time for SBS to update the 386 they’ve been using held together with duct tape sitting on a wonky milk crate.

Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) lined up at the starting gate to chants of “T Bone, T Bone, T Bone...” He put in a great ride but had to settle for third overall. Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R C3PO) despite puncturing but remaining calm moved up to second. A great achievement in the ‘renaissance of French cycling’. For the first time two Frenchman secured podium positions for Paris since Laurent Fignon and Bernard Hinault finished first and second in 1984. That’s a long time between drinks in anyone’s books.

It must be said punctures were a problem on perfectly good roads in perfect conditions. Let’s just step back a moment. These bikes are made of high tech cutting edge materials, some of them that were used on the space shuttle. Countless hours have been spent on high powered computers crunching the numbers to achieve maximum aerodynamic efficiency backed up by extensive wind tunnel testing. After all this you’d think they’d have the nous to fit a halfway durable tyre to the thing. What is it they do? Do they make the tyres out of gossamer thin condoms or something?

In a foregone conclusion Tony Martin took the stage. Makes you think that in future Tours the organisers should just cancel the time trial and give the stage to the Panzerwagen on a rest day.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Stage 19 Maubourguet Pays du Val d'Adour / Bergerac - Everything is Awesome

With the gruelling Pyrenees out of the way the peloton had a 208.5km ride on flat roads in beautiful south west France between Maubourguet Pays du Val d'Adour and Bergerac.

Now the Tour is nearing the end Gabriel Gate wanted to do something special for the riders and make good use of the local dry white wine Bergerac is famous for so he prepared Quail with Grapes and Chestnuts. 100ml of the wine went into the dish, the remainder into chef. The recipe calls for two big tablespoons of butter pushing the Beurremetric Counter through the 1kg barrier to weigh in at a thumping 1.12kg.

The peloton passed safely through the town of Condom but this race was by no means a dead rubber. Tour fans had waited patiently for nearly three weeks and Troll DJ finally delivered with the Les Vaches du Tour anthem ‘Cows with Guns’. The Twitterverse exploded in jubilation. AT LAST, COWS WITH GUNS!!! The Jaws theme montage of Asstana’s Vincenzo Nibali (his nickname is ‘The Shark’, get it?) was pretty good too. All we need to cap off the Tour is ‘Hocus Pocus’ by Focus.


Beards have been quite the fashion this season and we’ve seen everything from the flavour saver to full on bushranger. Paul added that to grow a full set beard in the navy you’ve got to get permission from the captain. Well, that’s handy to know if you’re planning on joining the navy any time soon but utterly useless in the context of a bike race.

Apart from the Cows with Guns vaches montage our bovine friends were pretty thin on the ground when all of a sudden a real elephant appeared at the side of the road. I wonder if technically it passes as a vache? They are referred to as bulls and cows you know. Phil thought it might be a good time for a trunk call. Paul was worried about the elephant being poached. Not to worry Paul, we couldn’t find a saucepan big enough and besides I prefer my elephants fried. Phil and Paul thought the elephant was there because the circus was in town. Clearly it was not from the one in the commentary box.

Paul recalled how Andrew Talansky (Sharmin-Garp) nearly withdrew on the road earlier in the Tour. Talansky had stopped in front of the SAG wagon and the Directeur Sportif had to nurse him through the race to complete the stage. I don’t know about you but whenever I hear Paul talk of a directeur sportif nursing a rider through a stage I get a disturbing image of man boobs...

A scandal bigger then doping erupted during the stage. The Les Vaches du Tour team was excited by initial reports that came crackling in over race radio of vaches by the Chateau de Monbazillac. Eagle-eyed bovine spotters armed with high powered binoculars had their suspicions. FAKE VACHES! I just knew it! Those vaches by the chateau looked too perky and pert to be real.

Back to the race and it just wasn’t Marcel Kitteh’s (Giant-Shimano) day. First he had a puncture which Phil declared happened at best time. Phil, there’s NEVER a BEST time for a puncture, especially when you’ve left your repair kit at home and it’s a really long walk. Then Kitteh came down in a crash with Peter Sagan (Cannonball) and we believe with a gorilla that rides for Lotto-Belisol and goes by the name of Andre Griepel.

In the end Ramunas Navardauskas (Sharmin-Garp) prevailed. Earlier Troll DJ played the Lego Movie earworm ‘Everything is Awesome’ and everything turned out awesome for Navardauskas who notched up Lithuania’s first ever Tour stage victory.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Stage 18 Pau / Hautacam – I Want it All and I Want it Now

Today was the final mountain stage of the Tour from Pau to Hautacam. The two category 3 climbs followed by the two legendary ‘horse categorie’ climbs of Col du Tourmalet and Hautacam promised another gruelling day in the saddle.

Gabriel Gate was at it with the baking again and the riders questioned the raison d'être of a Prune and Raisin Tart on the Tour. Gabs pointed out the obvious health benefits of prunes and that they might be necessary after all the cheese in the onion soup dish of the day before. He warned them not to go overboard on the tart but reminded the riders there’d be plenty of camping cars on the route should anyone need to go. No butter in the recipe. The Beurremetric Counter needs a dose of butter, not prunes, to get it moving up from 870g.

The first 80km were relatively easy with two short category 3 climbs that favoured a breakaway. Then the slog began with the 17.1km climb to the top of the Col du Tourmalet. Phil thought the riders were on dragsters as they deployed parachutes for the descent before the 13.6km climb to Hautacam.

There’s been a disturbing lack of vache at this year’s Tour and today’s stage was no different. The eagle-eyed Les Vaches du Tour team did manage to spot things resembling what looked either like cows in the far distance or cows that are bred incredibly small in the Pyrenees. If they’re that tiny it’s no surprise they’re hidden from the ubiquitous vultures soaring on the thermals high above the valleys. A dancing cow was spotted in some impressive field art but turned out to be just a vulture in a cow suit.

A stuffed bear made it to the roadside to watch the race. Why was the bear stuffed you ask? What do you think it was doing in the woods all morning after stealing a stack of prune and raisin tarts?

Once again there were plenty of Basque flags and spectators in orange out on the roadside in memory of the Carrots. So many tears. And it’s official, figures released today show more boxes of kangaroos have been sold at this Tour than any other.

Lady Luck has been a bit quiet at this year’s Tour but she whispered in Paul’s ear and said she wanted a showdown. Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida), the second oldest man in the universe, overheard this but was he really serious? Vincenzo Nibali (Asstana) was one hungry shark devouring every rider he came across. This was the 'queen stage' after all and in the spirit of Queen he wanted it all and wanted it now.

We will not let you go

The issue of bints wandering on to the road to take selfies came up again. One tried to get a photo with Nibali climbing the Hautacam but with a hip and shoulder from Nibs it was no selfie for you! Would have been good if the Queen were there instead of photobombing the Hockeyroos at the Commonwealth Games. Imagine that, the Queen photobombing Nibs on the Queen stage. How meta!

In the end Nibs prevailed to notch up his fourth stage win. What was he thinking as he crossed the line? Paul would say take off his sunglasses so you can look into his mind and you’ll find the answer there.

Alejandro Valverde (Moviestar) slipped to fourth in the GC and will have to time trial like a man possessed in two days time if he has any hope of being on a podium step in Paris. 

Chapeau to Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) moving up to second even though he’s 7’ 10” behind Nibali. He’s one of the leading lights in the ‘renaissance of French cycling’ and one to watch in the years to come.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Stage 17 Saint-Gaudens / Saint-Lary Pla d'Adet – Nudge Nudge. Wink Wink. Say No More

Day two in the Pyrenees and it proved to be another toughie on the 124.5km route from Saint-Gaudens to Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet on three category 1 climbs with a ’horse categorie’ finish.

After 16 days of riding the body craves a bit of comfort food and Gabriel Gate had just the thing with a hearty Onion Soup with Pyrenees Cheese. 120g of cheese and 30g of butter completes the dairy double. The Beurremetric Counter is on the moove again to 870g.

Two and a half weeks on the road and you might expect tempers to flair and that’s exactly what happened with Orica-GreenWEDGE’s Luke Durbridge. He came off his bike after a collision with a Moviestar soigneur. Durbo got up and gave the soigneur a shove who bumped into a fellow standing behind him who turned and took a swing which connected with the jaw of another fellow standing at the bar. The piano stopped and at that moment a young chap in the corner flipped a table sending cards and drinks flying. Then it was on for young and old. Up the stairs a dude was punched and fell through a flimsy banister crashing through the table below. The bartender ducked as a chair hurtled into the mirror behind him.

After the floor of the bar was swept of broken glasses and whiskey bottles, Durbo got back on his bike and took off up the road. Every second off the bike is critical in the Tour and to get back into the race often means having to ‘ride like a man possessed’. Whenever I hear Paul utter those words I always wonder if he's watching a rider whose head is swivelling wildly spraying green vomit everywhere.

The peloton went on a little excursion to Spain before returning to France. A conga line of camping cars lined the route for as far as the eye could see. Camping cars come in an array of colours, white or off white depending on whether they've been washed or not. They’re a bit fancy too equipped with tellies to watch the Tour on. Some even have toilets.

Soaring high above all this were the ubiquitous Pyrenean vultures who, according to Phil,  have ‘the best seat in the house' to watch the race. When they're not picking over abandoned Sky team strategies they’re always looking for stragglers up the back of the peloton so it’s not a great idea to stop for too long.
But it was to be polka dot jersey wearer Rafal Majka’s (Sinkoff-Taxo) day. Thinking he was in a Monty Python sketch he launched a series of nudging attacks on the final climb. His boldest move came when his hand 'accidentally' grabbed hold of sticky aerial on the back of a TV moto as if to say, “Follow me. Follow me. I like that. That’s good. A nod’s as good as wink to a blind bat, eh?” He managed to free his hand and continued on turning to the moto camera with a cheeky wink.

With victory in sight he turned to the camera for one more wink and "nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more", Majka won the stage. Another feather in the cap of the Polish rider.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Stage 16 Carcassonne / Bagnères-de-Luchon - Hold On To Your Dreams

After the final rest day in Carcassonne the Tour was off to the Pyrenees for three tough mountain stages. The 237.5km route from Carcassonne to Bagnères-de-Luchon is the longest of the Tour.

The rest day in Carcassonne saw the riders let their hair down. There was lots of medieval fun to be had at France’s version of Kryal Castle. The riders swapped bicycles for heavily armoured horses for a spot of jousting. The Orica-GreenWEDGE team bus even got into a joust with a stop sign with the sign coming off second. This lead to a run on the bookies to put on omen bets for Orica-GreenWEDGE’s Michael Albasini to win the stage.

Later a  sumptuous dinner was held in the great hall of Carcassonne where riders feasted on pheasant and a haunch of venison washed down with tankards of ale before a rave party that went until dawn.

Gabriel Gate baked some Apricot and Almond Friands which would be handy in the musette bags on such a long stage. Gabs must be reading this blog and hearing my pleas has finally cooked something with butter in it. The 90g in the friands brings the Beurremetric Counter to 840g. With only a few days remaining can Gabs get it up to 1kg?

With fresh legs coming off the rest day there was a chance of a breakaway succeeding. The route got progressively hillier and after a long day in the saddle the final climb to the top of the 11.7km long ‘horse categorie’ 1,755m high Porte de Balès would have The Jensie calling for silence from the peloton. Fortunately there was a long fast descent to Bagnères-de-Luchon to placate the screaming legs.

Phil enjoyed some twitching as vultures circled high above the valleys of the Pyrenees on thermals generated by the hot air rising from the commentary box. Phil saw the vultures descend on road kill. On closer inspection the road kill  turned out to be the Sky team’s plan book discarded by the roadside.

Pyrenean vultures pick over the carcass of Sky's Tour hopes

Paul noted the valleys of the region are an ’excellent place for hay’. When he’s not admiring the dry stone walls of Yorkshire you’ll find him leading tours of hay enthusiasts to the Pyrenees to sample the region’s delights. Meanwhile Phil was excited by a banner in a small village for a ‘snail party’. Well, at least it was a change from fishing.

The Pyrenees triggered nostalgia for the now disbanded Carrots. Who would have thought there was still so much love for a team that spent more time on the road than on the road on a bike? Yet there have been many reports of the mere mention of their name having teary fans reaching for a box of kangaroos.

I’m curious about these ‘glass cranks’ the Ps talked about. It appears they cause riders to ease off pedalling up hills for fear of breaking them. That’s a bit silly having them fitted for a mountainous stage. Then again riders carry sand bags, hammers, elastic bands and an assortment of screws - and I’ll never get elliptical chainrings.

It was looking like a good day for Ooooropcar with Cereal Gotye doing his best to support Thomas Voeckler with his best Voeckler tongue impressions. A good day until Michael Rogers (Sinkoff-Taxo) got the jump on Voeckler for the butt-clenching, vom-inducing mad descent to Bagnères-de-Luchon.

What a ride for Rogers. The Aussie achieved his dream of a stage victory at the Tour to add to the two he picked up at the Giro. Paul says a race can be won uphill or can be won downhill. Rogers had a much simpler philosophy, “I was going to crash or I was going to win”.

Oh yeah, Voeckler’s tongue finished second.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Stage 15 Tallard / Nîmes - 24: Race Another Day

After two days of hard slog in the Alps the Tour transitioned on a flat 222km route from Tallard to Nimes. With no categorised climbs and only some intermediate sprint prize money to be had it was flat out all the way.

Gabriel Gate heard the complaints from the peloton about all the fruit and dessert they’d been served up lately. Things came to a head after the zucchini cheese flan disaster involving FDJ’s Arnaud Demare in the Alps the other day. What the peloton wanted was meat so Gabs got hold of some of the finest lamb in Provence and made a delicious Grilled Lamb Loin with Capsicum and Olives. Sam Kekovich of the eat lamb ads fame would be proud.

BUT, no butter. I’m not even bothering with updating the Beurremetric Counter anymore. We need to talk - WHAT IS GOING ON GABS? Don’t give me SBS budget cuts as an excuse, you can always pocket those single serve size butter portions from the hotel breakfast buffet.

Many riders felt relieved they are on a relatively easy stage until weather was factored in. Rain was forecast for the stage but no one was expecting an epic thunderstorm. It was time to put the hammers down and looking at those dark threatening skies Thor was ready to put the hammer down too. By Thor I mean the Viking god of thunder, not Thor Hushovd (BMC) who’s not racing in this year’s Tour but is considered a Viking god by his fans nonetheless.

There was not a lot of sightseeing on this stage. Sure, there was the obligatory shot of purple lavender fields and nothing says Provence like lavender fields and overpriced whitewashed kitchenware with ‘Provence’ stencilled on it.

A philosophical Jack Bauer about being pipped at the line.

Keeno on commentary duty while the Ps had their afternoon nap spotted some ‘orca coloured hills’. As far as I know orcas only come in two colours – black and white or white and black. Makes me wonder if Keeno was still suffering from the delirium of the rarefied air of the commentary van in the Alps or was it just a case of hanging around Phil and Paul for far too long?

During the stage Paul talked about Masham town council in Yorkshire ordering thousands of knitted Tour jerseys strung up as bunting be taken down on OH&S grounds because they might cause the street lamp posts to bend if they got wet. Don’t mind that all the riders have separating skin and severe gravel rash is a millimetre of breathable fabric and the fact councils did nothing to stop idiots wandering out on the roads taking selfies. This would have to be the most stupid act of officialdom since Sylvain Chavanel (IAMYOUAREWEARE Cycling) was fined 100 CHF at last year’s Tour for ‘eating in a way that damages the image of cycling’.

On a transition stage a bit of boredom set in. Phil started talking about fishing again. Then there was the relentless hot air about cross winds and echelons. Dutch painter Van Gogh spent his final years near Nimes. The Ps blamed the mistral for driving him mad but if Van Gogh were alive today listening to this commentary you wouldn’t blame his descent into madness on the wind.

Cycling can be a cruel sport. Martin Elmiger  (IAMYOUAREWEARE Cycling) and Jack Bauer (Sharmin-Garp) broke away early in the piece and with the finish line in sight Bauer got caught by the sprinters in the very last metres of the race with Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) first across the line to notch up another stage victory. There were tears from Jack Bauer, the man who can save the world in 24 hours but couldn’t save the race with 24 metres to go. Meanwhile Italian master Vincenzo Nibali (Asstana) comfortably hangs on to yellow.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Stage 14 Grenoble / Risoul - What Goes Up Must Come Down

The Tour is rounding the bend into the final week of racing and stage 14 capped of a two day sojourn in the Alps. The 177km route from Grenoble to Risoul has two category 1 climbs and the ‘hors categorie’ Col d’Izzard. Mind you, the giant Col d’Izzard is no laughing matter on a 19km climb on an average gradient of 6% soaring to 2360m.

Gabriel Gate cooked up some Apple Fritters as a treat for the peloton as it hit the road. A nice change from the usual boring old bananas. As he waved goodbye to the riders who set off on their way, Gabs set off for Risoul to get the evening’s dinner ready. He thought a barbeque would be just the thing and chuckled at the thought of pulling a culinary word play prank by making rissoles in Risoul. This was going to be soooo goood! Unfortunately, the joke sailed over the heads of most of the riders who insisted on calling them ‘sliders’ and ‘mini-burgers’. Gabs really lost it when he was asked, “and just WHERE is the chipotle sauce?” Bloody hipsters.

What goes in must come out and we saw FDJ’s Arnaud Demare pull over for an emergency toilet break in a spectators camping car. Whether the camping car actually had a toilet is not clear. What is clear is that all reports pointed to Demare overdoing it on the zucchini cheese flan and paid the price the next day.

After yesterday’s monster climb to the finish at Chamrousse in hot conditions, there were bound to be some very tired and sore legs. But as with what goes in must come out there’s what goes up must come down and there was some awesome descending action on the way to Risoul.

Come on Tom sing it!

Descending these mountains takes a great deal of skill and sheer butt-clenching determination. Riders can hit speeds of about 100km/h and on some of these roads the drop can be many hundreds of metres.

Phil and Paul talked about how FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot sought cycletherapy to help him overcome his fear of descending. This involved techniques such as being put at the wheel of a racing car, being fired out of a canon and standard trust building exercises like falling off a log backwards hoping your team mates will catch you. Whatever it was the cycletherapy worked. Pinot put in a blistering performance to come in fourth for the stage and to hold on to fourth in the overall standings.

Blistering performance could not describe the commentary of the Ps. SherLiggettisms were firing thick and fast about sand bags and yo-yoing but it all got a bit weird when talk turned to 'the big boys taking on Goliath', melting clocks and trees not growing on alpine slopes when clearly they were. Phil admitted to being delirious in the high mountains but this state of ‘delirium’ is regularly observed at sea level too.

Paul put it down to the ‘rarefied air’, which is going to get a lot worse in the commentary van when they get a good feed of cassoulet into them when the Tour hits Carcassonne.

But the real tell tale sign the Ps were suffering delirium came in the belief  Geriant Thomas was going to pull off a Sky victory. Poor Sky. Plan A failed with Chris Froome crashing out. Plan B with Richie Porte, well that went well. Plan C was try and get a stage win. After all else there’s always Plan D to fall back on and that’s to go home winless.

At the end of the 12.6km 6.9% average gradient climb to the finish Polish Sinkoff-Taxo rider Rafal Majka crossed the line - unzipped - to his first stage victory at his first Tour.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Stage 13 Saint-Étienne / Chamrousse - Porte Cracks, Nibs Attacks

The Tour has reached the Alps for two days of slog in the big mountains. The 197.5km route from Saint-Etienne to Chamrousse had a category 3 climb and category 1 climb with a final 18.2km long ‘hors categorie’ ascent to Chamrousse at 1730m.

Gabs knew the riders were going to need loads of fuel in the tank for a stage in the big mountains so he grabbed some zucchinis gratefully offloaded by locals up to their ears in the things and some Saint-Marcellin cheese and cooked up a big bunch of Zucchini and Cheese Flan. The butter in this recipe is used to grease gratin dishes used to bake the flan in so don’t be shy and go the whole hog on a block of butter. This takes the Beurremetric Counter up to 750g.

Back to the race the riders were facing awesome climbs in the heat. I see teams are slow off the mark on the helmet shower idea. According to Matthew Keenan, or Keeno for short, noted fire trucks were deployed ahead of the peloton in case the tarmac suddenly erupted into flames in the heat. 30 degree temperatures are pretty warm but these French roads can’t take a bit of heat? Seriously? On a 40+ degree day the road to my chateau is as good as gold.

On the slopes spectators were out in force. Phil seriously needs to brush up on popular culture. As the motocamera passed two spectators in superhero costume Phil asked, “Is that Star Trek?”. Paul corrected him with, “That’s Captain America”.

So far there hasn’t been a lot of discussion on the roadside random front (morph suits, whatever happened to those?) There has been a little more commercialisation this year with oversized bidons running up the road flogging fruit juice or whatever.

Oversized bidons are the least of the rider’s problems with Jakob Fuglsang (Asstana) coming a cropper on a carelessly discarded regular sized bidon on the road. He picked himself up, kit torn and bloodied, but pushed on insisting it was ‘just a superficial flesh wound’.

Just a superficial flesh wound

The talk of the day was Richie Porte (Sky). All eyes were on the Tasmanian to start nibbling into Vincenzo Nibali’s (Asstana) lead. But it all went wrong on the lower slopes of the final climb to Chamrousse. Whether it was a hunger flat, melting roads, lack of a shower helmet or as Paul calls it simply ‘a strange reaction’, Porte looked like he was rolling back down the hill. Instead of nibbling into the lead Porte found himself left holding a plate heaped with time. If he’s going to get back into the race he’s got a lot of eating to do.

Further up the road Alejandro Valverde (Moviestar) made a move but Nibs wasn’t having any of it launching a shark attack at 7km to go. Nibs triumphed on the stage and added some valuable time.

It’d be brave/foolhardy of me to declare Vincenzo Nibali Tour winner with still a week to go, but from here it’s looking like it’s his Tour to lose.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Stage 12 Bourg-en-Bresse / Saint-Étienne

The Tour has passed the halfway mark but there’s still a long way to go. The stage 12 parcours from Bourg-en-Bresse to Saint-Étienne is very similar to stage 11 but different. For starters it’s in a different place with roads that take in the vineyards of the oh so pretty Beaujolais region. 

In the Tour caravan kitchen Gabriel Gate has been really hitting up on the desserts this year. And why not celebrate summer fruits in season by drowning them in a delightfully fruity Beaujolais from the vineyards of the region? The cherries are plump and plentiful so Gabs put wine and cherries together to create Cherry and Beaujolais Syrup with Almonds. No butter. The Beurremetric Counter is firmly stuck on 500g. Don’t tell us you’re on a health kick again Gabs?

After a week of freezing cold rain the riders have been hit with a sudden burst of summer heat. As the temperature rises so does the need for water for drinking and cooling off.

Forget the hoohah of experimenting with on board bike cameras, I reckon the next thing teams will be toying with is a helmet shower system. All they’d need is one of those Tinkie bottle vests with some plastic tubing, a small battery powered pump and a shower-head mounted on the helmet et voila, automatic cooling system. No need for riders to fumble with bidons as they try to squirt fluids over themselves.

An early prototype helmet shower system

Vineyards, chateaux and pretty churches. This stage had all the elements of an all inclusive Scenic Cruise on a bike package. Whether David de La Cruz (NetApp-Endura) was distracted by the sightseeing on his first Tour or his front wheel slipped out on the taffy like surface of the melting roads, he came a cropper on a bend and went out with a broken collar bone. Ouch.

Clarke, Clarkie, Sims, Simo, knackers, whatever you call that bloke from Orica-GreenWEDGE was out in front with the likes of Gotye (Oooooropcar) until hunger-flatting at 5km to go. 

The run home wasn’t without drama. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Sylvain Chavanel (IAM, YOUARE, WEARE Cycling) crashed and the Gorilla and Chava had words. 

In the final bunched sprint to the line Peter Sagan (Cannonball) was bridesmaid again pipped by Alexander Kristoff (Katusha). 

It would be amiss not to mention the terrible news of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 shot down over eastern Ukraine. Tweets reporting a crash of a Malaysian airliner in eastern Ukraine started to appear as the Tour stage was nearing its conclusion.

My initial reaction was to suspect a cruel hoax or a sick joke. Sadly the news turned out to be true and the cause of the crash, apparently from a surface to air missile, makes it even more horrifying.

These events are beyond words and sympathies go out to friends and families of the victims.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Stage 11 Besançon / Oyonnax - The Bike is Mightier Than The Sword

The Tour resumed from Tuesday’s rest day in Besançon for the 187.5km route to Oyonnax. As Paul likes to remind us the day after the rest day can be tough for a rider. It’s crucial to keep the engines idling and ready to go for another big week of racing. Slack off and a big question mark can appear over the body on a break from its habitual daily pounding. Thankfully the riders had a somewhat gentler run than the ball-buster on Monday.

Still, there was time for some rest day  fun and frivolity. For once the weather warmed enough for a pool party, which was a rip-roaring success as the riders got to play with their inflatable toys.

A rest day should be a time for the body to take in vital nutrients and what better way than with a healthy Gourmet Cheese Salad prepared by Gabs. Well, it is a salad, right? Salads are healthy, right? The comte and morbier cheeses more than make up for the lack of butter. The dial on the Beurremetric Counter is beginning to rust on 500g.

Chapeau to Andrew Talansky (Sharmin-Garp) for showing true grit and finishing the stage. His back was giving him hell at 80km to go when he fell behind the peloton. After 20kms of battling on he stopped in front of the SAG Wagon. Talansky looked like he was about to abandon. With some encouragement from his directeur sportif he got back on his bike and at times looked to be in tears. He came in across the line to an ovation.

Here comes the SAG Wagon

Abandoning a Tour is a really big deal. Paul compared it to a military failure where an officer faced the humiliation of having his epaulettes ripped off and sword broken. This was the fate of Trekie Fabian Cancellara. He pulled out on the rest day to concentrate on other races. This begs the question if Spartacus intended to focus on other races, why did he start this one in the first place? I hope he had more than his gladius broken.

The punishment for abandoning the Tour isn’t as drastic as at the Road Nationals this year in Ballarat. If a rider abandoned he faced the muskets of the Sovereign Hill firing squad.

Peter Sagan (Cannonball) went into this stage as favourite but sagged at the critical moment. Frenchman Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) emerged victorious after an attack of swashbuckling daring-do at 2.5km to go to gallop to the line. What a Tour Gallopin’s having. He got to wear yellow on Bastille Day and now has a stage win.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Stage 10 Mulhouse / La Planche des Belles Filles - Boom, Boom And Out Go The Lights

Well, what can we say, what a dramatic stage. We always knew this would be really tough on the final day of the Tour’s foray into the Vosges Mountains before a well earned rest day. The 161.5km rollercoaster route had no less than seven categorised climbs with four tough cat 1 climbs and gradients that ramped up to as much as 20% in places.

But we begin as usual in the kitchen and Gabs whipped up a Red Fruit Gratin with Pear Liqueur. First rider across the line gets to eat the cherry on top. Dairy is represented in the grilled custard-cream but what, no butter? After a reasonable start the Beurremetric Counter has plateaued on 500g. Clearly Gabs has some work to do before the Tour reaches Paris.

The talk of the day was Sinkoff -Taxo’s Alberto Contador’s (yes, got his name right this time) crash and exit from the Tour. What happened was not clear. Initially it was thought his bike split in two mid-flight. In another version of events the bike broke when it hit the deck leaving a 70m long skid mark. Then the story grew to a T-Rex stomping on the bike smashing it to smithereens. Or was the CIA involved? Did the shots come from the book depository or the grassy knoll?

No, not that T-Rex

Well, if the real explanation is a choice between a conspiracy or a stuff up it’s usually a stuff up and a mundane one at that. As it turns out he was eating an energy bar at the time and with one hand on the handle bar lost control hitting a pothole.

Tough on Bertie, but that’s bike racing. He broke his shin bone and even then rode on for another 20km before abandoning. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for the Vuelta.

The other story of the day was Mega Farmer-Quick Stop’s Tony Martin and his amazing ride. He showed just why he’s called ‘Panzerwagen’ as he worked hard up front to the top of the second last climb before Paul Sherwen declared, ”Boom, boom and out go the lights”. Remarkable after his solo effort of the day before.

Rockin’ Rodriquez (Katusha Rockets) showed what he’s made of by going on the attack in the final 5km. Vincenzo Nibali (Asstana) was clearly not happy to see yellow on someone else’s back so charged up the hill to catch Rodriquez with a little over 1km to go. And with that Nibs flew up that nasty little 20% ramp at the finish to take the stage, the yellow and the cherry on top.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Stage 9 Gérardmer / Mulhouse – Tony’s Theme

Day nine’s route from Gérardmer to Mulhouse is the second of three stages in the Vosges Mountains. The parcours was very hilly in 149km of this 170km stage promising a hard day in the saddle.

Situated in the Alsace region, the local cuisine leans heavily on German influences. It can get pretty cold in the Vosges, even in summer and Gabriel Gate had just the ticket with a giant cauldron of Ham Knuckle with Braised Green Cabbage. There’s no butter in this recipe so it can’t be French. The Beurremetric Counter sits on 500g. But as a German style dish it ticks all the boxes. It has pork (tick), potatoes (tick), cabbage (double tick).

However, this dish should come with a warning label. After all that cabbage it might be a good idea to avoid confined spaces for a while. And after years of having to share a tiny commentary van with Phil and Paul, Matt Keenan had the sense to install a high powered extractor fan. It’ll come in good use too when the Tour heads toward the south west, the home of cassoulet.

The day’s stage was uphill from the get-go and as expected there was an early breakaway with Thomas Voeckler’s (Oooooropcar) tongue out in front before being reeled in. Alessandro De Marchi (Cannonball) was on the march along with Mega Farmer-Quick Stop’s Tony Martin.

Now THAT'S a time trial bike

What a ride from Tony Martin - the cyclist, not the comedian that is. The man they call the Panzerwagen (armoured car) because he’s German and wears body armour under his kit and it’s a funny sounding nickname seemed to have  forgotten he was in a road race and drawing on his superhero time trialling abilities soloed the final 59km to the finish.

The quest for the golden fleece took a turn with Frenchman Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) galloping into yellow on the eve of Bastille Day. Vincenzo Nibali (Asstana) might appear to be OK with this on the surface but underneath you just know he wants his yellow jersey back.

In the post race wrap up Mike Tomalaris noted that the last time a German stood on the podium as Germany faced Argentina in the World Cup final the Germans won. Armed with Tomo’s  insight punters rushed to the bookies sparking a heavy betting plunge on the Mannschaft. A few hours later Germany emerged victorious 1-0 over Argentina.

Pork and cabbage, a German wins the stage and Germany wins the World Cup. A good day for Germany, and people called Tony.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Stage 8 Tomblaine / Gérardmer La Mauselaine - The Pain and the Rain Falls Mainly in Lorraine

The Tour has finally arrived for the mountains in the beautiful Vosges region.

Riding on the success of Nancy’s Chocolate Cake, Gabriel Gate continued with the baking theme and prepared a Plum Tart from ripe plums he, ahem, found hanging from over people’s fences in Tomblaine. This tart is very popular in the region but not as widely known as quiche Lorriane.

Perhaps Gabs was inspired by the giant piece of field art spotted in stage seven. At first we thought it was Pacman, then a quiche Lorraine, or was it a lemon tart? Whatever it was I like to call it the ‘field art tart’ or ‘fieldtart’ for short.

The riders sure appreciated that plum tart for once the 133km flat hit the Col de la Croix des Moinats and the peloton headed skyward they were going to need all the energy they could get. They faced  two category 2 and a category 3 mountain climbs and the final 1.8km kicked up at a nasty average gradient of 10.3%. The profile resembled a ski jump the riders would take on in reverse.

It appears Tour organisers have heeded the message of stage six and got hold of a black kite for release to keep Phil occupied. It turns out the bird hire shop was out of buzzards and all they had left were a black kite and some pigeons so the black kite had to do.

Lightning and thunder were forecast which had the riders cursing whoever came up with the phrase ‘cycling is the new golf’. And the heavens did open up causing flashbacks to some in the peloton to the misery of the Giro. The sun managed to peek through but so far the weather’s been worse here in France than rainy old England.

Contador contemplates his next move

In the end the last survivor of the early breakaway got to taste victory and an extra slice of the plum tart. Blel Kadri (AG2R-3CPO) notched up the first stage victory for France and it’s not even Bastille Day yet.

In the GC contest we were all thinking Rui Contador (Mampre-Taxo) would start nibbling into Vincenzo Nibali’s (Asstana) lead. By day’s end Contador only took three seconds. Nibali must be really loving that yellow and is going to put up one hell of a fight to keep it.

Before I go chapeau to Cheng Ji (Giant-Shimano) the first ever Chinese rider in the Tour de France. Known as ‘the breakaway killer’, Cheng has been turning himself inside out all week for Marcel Kitteh.

It’s curious that for a country that produces practically every bicycle on the planet it’s taken this long to produce a Tour rider. Then again, China is probably too busy making bikes than to be riding them.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Stage 7 Épernay / Nancy – Movin’ Right Along

Day seven and the 234.5km transitional stage from Epernay to Nancy (the second longest of the Tour) wraps up nearly a week of racing before the Tour heads off into the Vosges Mountains.

Gabriel Gate thought the riders deserved a mid-afternoon treat. He thought a rich cake would help them with their energy levels too and baked Nancy’s Chocolate Cake. Don’t bother Gab’s Tante Nancy for the recipe. She doesn’t have it and might curse in French and beat you with her ear trumpet. The cake is a speciality of the town of Nancy, hence the name ‘Nancy’s Chocolate Cake’. And besides, Tante Nancy is not a real person. Drum roll, the recipe has 125g of butter giving the Beurremetric Counter a boost to 500g.

If you squint and try not to think you’re in France, this stage has been likened to a shorter version of the one-day classic Milano–San Remo. The terrain is mostly flat with two short steep climbs with a mad descent in the 5.5km to the line.

These transitional stages are usually a bit ho-hum leading to Troll DJ to bring out the transition stage standard ‘Movin’ Right Along’ by the Muppets. Speaking of Muppets, the Ps managed to behave themselves after former apprentice Matt Keenan gave them a stern talking to. Paul might have mentioned fishing once but I think he got away with it.

Movin' right along

Just as Tour fans were yawning and looking at their watches the first sunflowers popped into view. That’s one of the highlights to see the peloton riding past cheery yellow fields of tournesol. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better it does with some curious cows that galloped up to the roadside. Les Vaches du Tour fans erupted in joy. Yours truly ran outside into the cold night, air humped and shouted, “TAKE THAT YORKSHIRE AND YOUR STOOPID YELLOW SHEEP!”...Ahem.

There were a few more inexplicable crashes out on the parcours. The roads were straight and dry and not a cobble in site. There were no ‘strange noises’ detected either. The only explanation I can come up with is a curse. Not a curse from Tante Nancy kind of curse but one of supernatural origins. If this continues they’re have to re-name the event ‘Le Tour de Chute’.

The cycling action got going with Thomas Voeckler (Oooooropcar) coming out pumping and blowing but was quickly reeled in. Peter Sagan and his Cannonball team worked hard all day setting the pace. Sagz could taste victory and a pilsner waiting at the end. In the sprint to the line Andrew Talansky (Sharmin-Garp) went down. Sagz thought he had it in the bag but the photo revealed he’d been pipped at the line by Mega Farmer-Quick Stop’s Matteo Trentin.

The race finished in time for beer o’clock and the riders relaxed over some Friday arvo frothies. Not the pretend French stuff but the real deal smuggled in from over the German border.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Stage 6 Arras / Reims - The Turn of the Screw

After yesterday’s epic battle on the cobbles, the Tour continued to pay tribute to the centenary of the beginning of World War I with a 194km stage from Arras through the Plains of the Somme and on to one of the champagne production centres of the region Reims. The terrain is pancake flat with just 2 category 4 climbs and an intermediate sprint at the 119km mark.

Since the race was heading to the Champagne region Gabriel Gate had something special planned, Chicken with Champagne and Mushroom Sauce. Not too many wild chickens in the north of France, so Gabs did what any one else would do and filled up a trolley down at the local supermarché. No butter in this recipe, the only dairy to speak of is a half cup of cream. However, what it lacks in dairy is more than made up for in booze with a little cognac and half a bottle of champagne for the dish and the rest for chef. The Beurremetric Counter sits on a tipsy 375g.

This route was designed with the sprinter in mind but not the Tour fan. Let’s be honest, this was a pretty boring stage on mostly flat fields with not a lot to see. Phil and Paul did manage to occupy themselves with some occasional  chateau and medieval ruin spotting but quickly got tired of it. And you know Paul is really bored when he starts talking about fishing. There were no bird spotting opportunities for Phil either. At times like this you wish Tour organisers would keep a buzzard on standby to release just to keep him occupied.

Boredom can be the enemy of the rider too leading to inattention. Conditions were moist but there were a lot of silly crashes on good straight roads resulting in more race abandons than on the cobbles the day before. Paul put it down to reactions to ‘strange noises’ causing riders to touch on the brakes and skid on the road. And the source of these strange noises? Well, Troll DJ gave us a clue with the theme to ‘Blazing Saddles’.

Speaking of wind, the cross winds over the fields caused some havoc in the peloton. And if cross winds weren’t enough, there were nine sectors of roundabouts to deal with on the run in to Reims.

Mega Farmer-Quick Stop ‘put the hammer down and turned up the screws’ in the final kilometres. ‘Hammers down’, ‘screws turned up’, classic  Sherwenisms. However, if these expressions are indicative of Paul’s handyman skills there’s no way I’m letting him do work around my chateau.

Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) was highly fancied to win the stage and in the final sprint to the line punctured along with Trekie Danny Van Poppel, whose tyre, well, popped.  A repeat of stage 14’s ‘tackgate’ in 2012? No, it turns out the screws were turned up so high they fell out and ended up all over the road.

It was Andre Greipel’s (Lotto-Belisol) time to shine as he appeared out of nowhere to take the stage. Vincenzo Nibali (Asstana) hangs on to yellow and Peter Sagan (Cannonball) looked bored on the podium accepting another green jersey. Will we see him pop a wheelie on the line in Nancy?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Stage 5 Ypres / Arenberg Porte du Hainaut - Exit Froome, Lars Goes BOOM!

Day five commenced in Belgium for the start of stage five in the town of Ypres as the Tour marked the centenary of the beginning of World War I before crossing the border into northern France and finishing at Arenberg Porte du Hainaut.

Meanwhile locavore Gabriel Gate went out trapping rabbits and when he’d caught enough to feed the peloton, he returned to the kitchen to cook them up with that most famous of local ingredients Belgian beer to produce a hearty Flemish Rabbit Carbonnade. The recipe calls for half a tablespoon of butter taking the Beurremetric Counter to 375g.

The 155km route takes in the battlefields of World War I, but the real battle the riders faced was crap weather and nine sectors on lumpy, bumpy, muddy, slimy cobbles totalling 15.4km. The puddles were so deep the riders had to pack snorkels.

Taking on the cobbles

Two sectors of cobbles were removed before the race so if anyone sees cheap driveway paving materials up for sale tell them the locals are really pissed off and want their road back.

This version of Melburn-Roobaix, or ‘The Hell of the Northcote’, promised bone-jarring punishment to body and bike but many of the spills happened before the riders hit the rough stuff. Still,  there were plenty more spills on the cobbles with  Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) somersaulting on his bike and a Moviestar knocking a spectator into a ditch.

The social media was ‘red hot’, according to Paul, with the news of Chris Froome (Sky) abandoning after his second crash of the day. Sad to see the defending champion exit this way. Now he knows how Brazil feels. Curiously, Froome kept his helmet on in the team car. Was he worried about it crashing too?

This stage suited the cobblestone specialists, but factor in riders with very little experience on the ‘pave’ and you have a recipe for chaos. In the words of Paul this was a race about courage and you need suitcases of the stuff to take on wet cobbles.

Troll DJ got into the spirit of the day with ‘Shakin’ All Over’ and cheekily snuck in ‘I See You Baby’. Asstana’s Vincenzo Nibali gave his ass a shake in his determination to hang on to brown, er, yellow, going out on his own without his teammates embracing the philosophy, ‘if you want something done, do it yourself’.

Rui Contador (Mampre-Taxo) looked threatening until he hit a hunger flat and was left ruing the decision not to have that second helping of rabbit stew. The man known as Spartacus, Fabian Cancellara was favourite to win the stage but the day went to Lars Boom (Belkin).

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Stage 4 Le Touquet-Paris-Plage / Lille Métropole - The Ministry for Pulling Faces

The Tour bid farewell to a magnificent three days in Britain and the challenge now was how to cross the English Channel to the race back home on French soil.

Last year’s transfer from Corsica to the French mainland saw the riders commandeer every available flying dinghy. No such luck for the riders this time. Swimming the channel covered in pig fat in freezing cold water with a bike strapped to one’s back wasn’t exactly appealing. Fortunately there’s a rail tunnel under the Channel. It was a bumpy ride over 50km of railway sleepers but many riders saw it as good training for the cobbles of stage five.

After three days in Britain the riders were well and truly sick of a diet of Yorkshire pudding, deep fried Mars Bars and flat beer. Gabriel Gate had just the thing waiting as the peloton emerged from the Chunnel - Scallop Mousse with Prawn Sauce. This delicate dish contains no butter in the actual recipe but is saved by the four buttered soufflé moulds. Now you’d want to do this properly, so I’d go for a whole 250g block. This takes the Beurremetric Counter to a healthy 350g.

But it must be remembered the riders are here for a bike race and the day’s 163.5km stage took the riders from the coastal resort town of Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, a popular playground with water sports enthusiasts, to Lille Metropole.

Trekie Andy Schleck was forced to abandon the Tour due that tumble in London the day before involving a spectator trying to take a picture. Some 2.5m spectators came out to watch the Tour’s three days in the UK. Fantastic for Tour organisers but was that too many for the riders? Well, you can’t legislate against the stupidity of spectators but then again we wouldn’t want to see dry stone wall barriers for every future Tour event held in the British Isles – the endless dry stone wall blather from Phil and Paul would just be too much!

Chris Froome (Sky) managed to chute in the first couple of kilometers but Frenchman Thomas Voeckler (Oooooropecar) broke free from the peloton ‘pumping and blowing’, according to Phil. He had a one and half minute lead at one stage until he was caught on the outskirts of Lille. ‘The Ministry for Pulling Faces’ is renowned for his solo breakaways in France, not for national pride but for TV exposure for the team sponsors.

Voeckler smiles for the cameras

Again, this was another day for the sprinters. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha Rocket) gave it a shake but Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) proved too good again making it stage victory number three.

Everyone’s attention has turned to stage five on the cobbles. Cobbles are like a horizontal dry stone walls when you think about it. Phil and Paul are going to be insufferable.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Stage 3 Cambridge / Londres - London Calling

Day three and it’s the final stage on British soil before the Tour caravan crosses the English Channel for France. At 155km this ‘transitional stage’ is one of the shortest in this year’s Tour. The route was best described as pancake flat or at least considerably flatter than the so-called flat stage we saw in Yorkshire on Saturday. I always wonder about the phrase ‘pancake flat’. Obviously no one’s seen my attempts at making them.

In honour of the memory of the now defunct Euskaltel-Euskadi team, Gabriel Gate prepared a quintessential English dish of Steak and Kidney Casserole with Carrots. The absence of butter was a little disappointing and the Beurremetric Counter sits on 100g.

After a jaunt through the Essex countryside and with The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ blasting out over race radio, the peloton reached the edge of Greater London. By the time the riders hit the centre of London the race started to resemble more of a City Sightseeing bus stage than a transitional one.

Riders passed Olympic Park and Paul claimed to have met people who have actually swum in the pool of the Olympic Aquatic Centre. Well blow me down, we were all thinking it was only for show or frozen over for ‘Disney on Ice’ gigs on the school holidays.

The famous gherkin and City Hall ‘glass onion’ (or testicle, depending on your imagine) loomed into view before the peloton continued on past other landmarks such as the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London before a sprint on The Mall to the finish at Buckingham Palace.

Good thing the council put down that horse anti-slip coating for cavalry parades on The Mall because typical of London, it started to rain. So long as the riders could stay away from the ‘death-traps’ of white line markings and horse poo they knew that’d be safe.

Short of putting up dry stone wall barriers, not much could be done about  keeping spectators off the road. All it takes is one berk with a Brownie box camera to step out on the road and get clipped, which is exactly what happened at around 30km to go. David Lopez (Sky) sent the Brownie flying and several riders went down. Trekie Andy Schleck, some metres from the downed riders, insisted the spectator had nothing to do with his chute and that the bike inexplicably threw itself to the ground with him on it.


Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Peter Sagan (Cannonball) were all expected to duke it out on for line honours. Somewhere Greipel went missing in action and Kittel came thundering down The Mall like a Mack truck and was too good for Sagan by a bike length.

Vincenzo Nibali (Asstana) gets to wear yellow for the Tour’s resumption on French soil.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Stage 2 York / Sheffield - Dambuster Spirit Gives Nibali a Bounce

Day two and the Tour continued through the beautiful Yorkshire countryside from York to Sheffield. The riders took on no less than nine climbs rated mostly as category 3 and 4. The design of the 201km stage has been likened to a re-imagining of ‘La Doyenne’, the one-day Spring classic Liege-Bastonge-Liege held in the Ardennes region of Belgium.

Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenWEDGE) became the first Aussie to win Liege-Bastonge-Liege back in April. But as a re-imaging this story was to have a different ending. It was probably too much of an ask for Gerro to win given his heavy spill with Cav in the sprint the day before. Cav is consequently out of the Tour due to a dislocated collar bone.

Back in the kitchen Gabriel Gate was cooking up a Sunday treat for the riders. There are lots of mouths to feed on the Tour, and what better way to feed the multitudes than with a delicious Fisherman’s Pie. It’s very important to keep those energy levels up on a Grand Tour. Paul observed that a rider can burn up to 6,000 calories in a day on the road, the equivalent of three Yorkshire puddings.

The Fisherman’s Pie gets a big tick but not from the Heart Foundation for its inclusion of butter in the recipe, thus officially opening the account on the Beurremetric Counter at a respectful 100g.

Thankfully we were spared of Paul’s worrying obsession with dry stone walls in the commentary and attention turned to other structures on the landscape. The riders passed a number of large bodies of water resulting from dam building in the area over the years. During the Second World War the British were determined to knock down a few in the Ruhr Valley, Germany. The Derwent Dam became a training ground for the famous Derwent 617 ‘Dambuster’ Squadron. Chapeau to Troll DJ for giving us some of the theme.


Oh, and I have a theory about all the yellow, green and polka dot sheep we saw in stage 1. That dyed sheep story is just a ruse to cover up a secret revolutionary experiment to genetically modify sheep to produce a new generation of breathable fabrics for Tour jerseys. Imagine that, they’ll never fade!

The stage concluded in Sheffield, the home town of The Human League’s Phil Oakey. One wonders if some of the riders in the dash to the line found inspiration in that awesome low fly-over by a Lancaster bomber and Spitfire in back in York. 

In the spirit of Derwent 617 Squadron Vincenzo Nibali (Asstana) went out and did some dambusting of his own bursting out of the peloton to win the stage and don yellow with a two second advantage over Peter Sagan (Cannonball).

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Stage 1 Leeds / Harrogate - Ee by Gum, it's the Tour de France!

As sure as tax time, the Wimbledon final and dubious ‘Christmas in July’ events, the Tour de France has rolled around once more for the 101st edition of the great race.

Gabriel Gate returned with his tenth Taste Le Tour series. He kicked off not with Yorkshire pudding as you might expect but with Rhubarb andStrawberry Fool. Apparently 80% of England’s rhubarb comes from the Yorkshire ‘rhubarb triangle’, not to be confused with the infamous Bermuda triangle or pedaling in triangles. The recipe fails to budge the Taste Le Tour ‘Beurremetric Counter’ (yes, it’s back) but what it lacks in butter is made up in mascarpone and whipped cream from the other end of the dairy cabinet.

198 riders from 22 teams lined up for the Grand Depart from Leeds, Yorkshire to Harrogate on 190.5km of narrow twisty dry stone wall lined roads typical of the Yorkshire countryside.

First day of a big occasion like Le Tour tends to bring out the nerves and the riders can thank their lucky stars race radio isn't tuned into SBS to jangle those nerves further. Yes that's right, every Tour fan’s favourite commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen are back and while they weren’t commentating the scintillating dry stone wall action and blathering on about Jens Voigt’s age, they found the time to make some passing comment about a bike race that so rudely interrupted.

Paul pointed out that there’s even a festival event dedicated to the building of dry stone walls and you just know he’s going to go ape when he pops in on Sunday morning. I suspect though if these walls could talk they’d be saying, “Shut up Paul”.

If these walls could talk

The cow spotting in the hills and dales of Yorkshire was pretty abysmal. Have to hand this stage to the sheep who were out in vast numbers, some sporting leader jersey colours. You could say they are the real dyed-in-the-wool Tour fans. And the explanation for the profusion of mouton? This could either be the result of a secret breeding program or the people of Yorkshire paid Somali pirates to hijack a livestock ship bound for the Middle East.

Yorkshire looked gorgeous and no one’s quite sure if it was the rare sunshine or the Tour that accounted for the enormous turn out of spectators. Paul observed (because he counted them) there were Super Bowl sized crowds in every town along the route. Thankfully no wardrobe malfunctions in the peloton and Wills made doubly sure Kate was properly dressed for Yellow jersey presso.

Tour officials also made doubly sure the Orica-GreenWEDGE team bus was parked well away from the finish line. It was the sprinter’s time to shine and didn’t disappoint in a thrilling finish that saw Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) take the stage and yellow.

No word on whether Mark Cavendish (Mega Farmer-Quick Stop) will race who blamed no one but himself for a crash short of the finish line that also took down Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenWEDGE). Gerro seems OK apart from bruises and some lost skin but I suspect the Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner will be giving stage 2 a real nudge with the help of his team mates.

Before I go I’ll leave you with a song I penned in honour of the great race and to ordinary riders everywhere.

Rollands (to the tune of Lorde’s Royals)

I’ve never seen a maillot jaune in the flesh
I’ve counted teeth on elliptical rings – in the movies
And I’m not proud of my progress
Just out of town, got dropped at Epping
But every rides like cog teeth, don’t chute, Sammy and his gold shoes
Blood stains, bidons, chasing down Chris Froome
We don’t care, we’re riding Cannondales in our dreams
But everybody’s like skin suits, gel packs, directeur in your earpiece
Team cars, extension bars, chamois cream in the butt crease
They don’t care, they’re not caught up in your cycling love affair.

And we’ll never be a Rollands (Rollands)
They’ll never test our blood
That kind of ride just ain’t for us
We crave a coffee buzz
Let me be your rouleur (rouleur)
Or super domestique
And baby I’ll roul, I’ll roul, I’ll roul
Let me live that fantasy.

My friends and I hit the frog and toad
We don’t count watts like the Sky train, we party
And everyone who knows us knows that where fine with this
We don’t ride for money.

But every rides like cog teeth, don’t chute, Sammy and his gold shoes
Blood stains, bidons, chasing down Chris Froome
We don’t care, we’re riding Cannondales in our dreams
But everybody’s like skin suits, gel packs, directeur in your earpiece
Team cars, extension bars, chamois cream in the butt crease
They don’t care, they’re not caught up in your cycling love affair.

And we’ll never be a Rollands (Rollands)
They’ll never test our blood
That kind of ride just ain’t for us
We crave a coffee buzz
Let me be your rouleur (rouleur)
Or super domestique
And baby I’ll roul, I’ll roul, I’ll roul
Let me live that fantasy.

Ooh, ooh, oh
We’re bigger than we ever dreamed
And we’re in love with the cycling scene
Ooh, ooh, oh
Life is great without a care
They aren’t caught up in your cycling love affair.

And we’ll never be a Rollands (Rollands)
They’ll never test our blood
That kind of ride just ain’t for us
We crave a coffee buzz
Let me be your rouleur (rouleur)
Or super domestique
And baby I’ll roul, I’ll roul, I’ll roul
Let me live that fantasy.