Stage 10: Tarbes -- La Pierre-Saint-Martin, 167km
The Tour's string of stages beginning in towns whose name ends in "es" rolls on. All the way to the Pyrénées.
About Tarbes And the Pyrénées
You know about the mountain peaks. From there you have surmised, correctly, that there be skiing. Tourism in general is a pretty happening thing once you get into the mountains. But the Midi-Pyrénées region is actually France's largest collection of farms, some 60,000 in operation, and the regional capital of Toulouse is powered in part by Airbus and other manufacturing. So it's not some economic island, and while driving to Barcelona may be the best idea for anyone passing thru, it's far from the only one.
La Pierre-Saint-Martin is a ski station in the Bearnaises Pyrénées, the westernmost group of high peaks. There are two iconic dog species from the area: Great Pyrénées and Pyrénéan Shepherds -- though they both herd livestock, so I suspect the job competition is pretty fierce. Apparently people around the area like Rugby Union, whatever that is. And of course, you can climb glorious mountain peaks in the summer, maybe even on your bike.
AmyBC's food and drink pairings:
Drink: Cider number three and jumping slightly over the hills to Spain: Zapiain Sagardoa Natural Cider NV
This cider is made in the Basque Country, where cider is king and is served with everything. This is a softer, easier style of Basque cider but with the typical iron note so common to the region. From the producer:
Gipuzkoa has been a major producer of apples used for transformation. The native varieties can be considered a cultural asset and the basis for making cider with its own personality. We are currently self-sufficient in terms of raw materials, to the extent that each season we give preference to quality native apples and meet our remaining needs with cider apples from other parts of Europe. Zapiain, together with a further 12 cider houses, takes part in the "gorenak" project, in which we are committed to using quality native apples and are expecting results in the medium term.
Food: Abbaye de Belloc cheese
Two more days of cheese ahead and this was by far my favorite of the two. Info about the cheese from Cowgirl Creamery:
Close to the sea in the foothills of the Pyrenees, the Abbaye de Belloc profits from an oceanic climate that has allowed a pastoral civilization to thrive for centuries. The abbey was inaugurated in 1875, and the Benedictine monks there began producing this cheese in the 1960s. The cheese is still made in an artisanal manner in the monastery, exclusively with milk from the red-headed Manech breed of ewes. The season's first cheeses are produced in December and aged for 3 or 4 months. The last cheeses of the season are produced in June and are typically aged a little longer -- 9 or 10 months.
Will's preview did the heavy lifting for all the mountain stages. Here was his summary:
La Pierre St-Martin is a ski station in the Pyrénées, perched high on the Spanish border. It appeared mid-stage 16 in the 2007 Tour, although they climbed from Spain. This seems a straight forward stage: I assumes all the bigs will arrive at the bottom of La Pierre-Saint-Martin together. Then we'll see who has legs.
And the map:
A rather circuitous route to a mega-climb.
Finally, we hit the high mountains and get some insight into how this Tour de France will be won, and by whom. Using the climbbybike.com ratings system, Will identified the closing climb as the sixth-hardest of the Tour, a 15km hors categoire beast that occasionally nudges past 10% in places. Nobody is going to be undone by the gradient alone, but the length and the 21 hairpin bends will make this a very hard day in the saddle. The route leading into it is an insignificant roll across the countryside, and while that may be tiring to a point, it's nothing like what comes later in the Tour. So really, look for the top teams to shelter the favorites to the bottom of the climb, and for all hell to break loose from there.
It'll be interesting to see exactly how the GC battle shapes up. Naturally, there will be one on this stage, though with so many mountains left to climb (non-metaphorically), the riders might not put all their eggs in this basket (metaphorically). Still, you can expect Team Sky to tap out a devilish pace and drop Froome off when he's ready to make his statement. Sky and Froome don't tend to delay the gratification. The question will then be, what will other teams do to stop them? Will they sit back and take their punishment, or can another team, or unholy alliance of teams, knock Sky off the pace at some point? Can Froome's rivals band together to take on the presumptive favorite in the mountains?
Peter Sagan has the jersey and will look to start putting it out of reach, day by day. Here, the only gettable points are intermediate ones, and even those are likely to be winnowed down by an early breakaway. But Sagan will surely take a share of the points, as they come before the first major climb of the Tour, and after some smaller ones. He'll probably have company for now, and do little to change the picture.
King of the Mountains
Daniel Teklehaimanot will be giving back his fancy jersey today, unless he's got something special planned. The Eritrean is sitting on a cool four points today, double his closest pursuer, and will have a chance at two more points on a couple cat-4 climbs early on... before reality comes crashing down. A MTF atop an HC climb is worth 50 points to the winner. And it's worth asking whether the yellow jersey wearer will in fact win the KOM competition this year for the first time since 1970.
Finally, some change a gonna come, yes it is. Nairo Quintana is the favorite to take home the jersey in Paris, and is likely to be among the survivors of the race for Yellow, albeit maybe not the first overall. His competition consists primarily of Warren Barguil, 40 seconds back from Quintana, as well as Romain Bardet another two minutes in arrears, and Thibaut Pinot, way off on the distant horizon. Sagan wears the jersey going into the climb, but will probably drop to the latter part of the top ten before the day is out.
It's the GC favorites. I don't think Quintana will come out guns blazing, and that this race will proceed somewhat cautiously, as first MTF stages do. Which means it'll fall in Froome's lap, and his rivals will have to start getting serious about taking him on.