If you’ve followed the first four days of the Tour de France, which kicked off Saturday, you’ve already witnessed enough drama for three entire weeks. In Stage One, wet road conditions and unyielding metal crowd barriers conspired to send two riders to the hospital and, the next day, out of the Tour. Stage Two seemed positively mild in comparison, giving German sprinter Marcel Kittel a pleasant moment in the sun. On the third day, fan favorite Peter Sagan worked his magic to out-pedal all the others on a tricky uphill finish. But none of that is unusual in the Tour; it rains, people crash, the favorites show up and win. And then we got to Stage Four.
After a long, rather snooze-worthy day in which Belgian Guillaume Van Keirsbulck led the peloton for over 100 kms – by himself – the sprinters’ teams jolted to life with just a few miles of road left to race. And that unsettled the yellow jersey contenders, interested in preserving their places in the overall classification. Again, nothing unusual here, just another stage in the world’s biggest bike race. However (I feel like I’m going to use that word many times over the next few weeks) the tricky terrain over the last few kilometers acted as a catalyst for mayhem.
First there was the crash that tossed Geraint Thomas (current overall leader) onto the asphalt, along with several of his teammates and close competitors. Luckily this occurred within the last 3 kms, leaving the overall standings intact. Not so for the sprinters!
Most of the big guys maneuvered their way to the front of the crowd (which is a euphemistic way of saying it was a rugby scrum on wheels) and battled each other for the best position to the finish line. Yet again, nothing unusual to see here. In the final 100 meters, France’s Arnaud Demare cut to his left and accelerated to the head of the pack, triggering the instincts of the guys following his wheel – today that included Nacer Bouhanni, Peter Sagan, and Mark Cavendish. Cav tried to finagle himself between Sagan and the crowd barrier, hoping to sneak in behind Demare and pass him.
Well, that didn’t exactly work out. Here’s the video:
I’ll leave you and the cycling pundits to point fingers where you see fit. But here’s the thing: race organizers reviewed the tape and EJECTED PETER SAGAN FROM THE RACE. In my opinion, that was an extreme measure. After watching the Tour for nearly 100 years now, I’ve seen these bunch sprints result in glory, disappointment and, yes, injury. It’s regrettable, but it happens. IT’S CYCLING’S BIGGEST RACE! The stakes are high. The fastest, ablest riders duke it out amongst themselves to see who’s best on that day. It’s a shame to see one of the sport’s great stars expelled after only four days. Okay, mini-rant over.
Stages Five and Six: Rosé de Riceys
Wednesday brings the first mountain stage, something I look forward to every year. I’m hoping to see Alberto Contador dancing on the pedals as he passes the other GC contenders on the way to the top of the Plateau des Belles Filles (elevation approx. 3,100 feet.) The next day should appeal to the sprinters, who will be overjoyed to put the mountain stage in the rear-view. The usual suspects (except for Sagan) will vie for honors at the finish.
For the next few days, the peloton skirts the wine-producing region of Champagne, particularly the southern area of the Côte des Bar. In fact, Troyes, our arrival city for Stage Six, sits smack in the region’s center of Pinot Noir production. While grapes grown here are most certainly used to craft Blanc des Noirs and rosé Champagne, they also star in an unusual still wine: Rosé de Riceys.
What is it? Rosé de Riceys is a pink still wine made using Pinot Noir grapes, which is labeled as AOC Rosé de Riceys, an appellation approved back in 1947. This year, the three communes that comprise Les Riceys are celebrating 70 years of making a wine that many folks – even wine enthusiasts – have never heard of, let alone tasted.
The wine is noteworthy for its exceptionally deep red-pink color and its ability to age. Rosé de Riceys is usually made via the saignée method but a few producers use carbonic maceration, a technique familiar to fans of Beaujolais. Some winemakers here even age the wine in neutral oak and keep the bottles in the cellar for a few years before releasing them. In this northern climate, vineyard aspect is critical to full ripening, and the most favored slopes are steep and face south. Cooler vintages can be a challenge, leading growers to sell off their grapes to the large Champagne production houses rather than making their own wines.
Even when the weather cooperates, not much Rosé de Riceys is made: only 60,000 bottles per year on average, compared with 300 million for Champagne in total. So this intensely pigmented rosé is a rare bird, indeed. Have you ever tried it? I haven’t; it’s new to me, but I will definitely look for it now that it’s on my radar. If you’d like to learn more about the aroma and flavor profile of Rosé de Riceys, here’s a great article from Decanter that also gives you a heads-up on the best producers.
On that note, I leave you to enjoy the next two days of the Tour de France. For all our sakes, let’s hope it’s a thrilling ride – just maybe not quite as bumpy as today.
As always, Vive le Tour!