Tour de France by the Glass Stage 5: Postcards from Alsace

As I predicted yesterday, stage 4 was a long day of rolling hills, followed by a bunch sprint at the finish. All the usual suspects queued up for the showdown: Peter Sagan, wearing the green jersey; Alexander Kristoff, dwarfing the more petite cyclists in the scrum; and Dylan Groenewegen looking sprightly after taking a tumble in stage 1.

The thrill of the afternoon was watching the bright yellow jersey powered by yesterday’s winner Julian Alaphilippe: it snaked in and out of the throng, leading the cobalt blue charge of Elia Viviani, sprinter extraordinaire for the Deceuninck – Quick-Step squad.

Just when it looked as though Sagan and Kristoff would take the battle to the line, Viviani streaked through on the left side, consigning them to also-ran status. A few minutes of excitement after a day of ho-hum country riding.

If you’d like to see what you didn’t miss in stage 4, here’s a video recap of the finish:

What to Expect from Stage 5

We exchange the idyllic, rural flatlands for a taste of the mountains: the Vosges Mountains, to be exact. While not as scary as the Alps or as brutal as the Pyrénées, the serpentine roads of the Vosges will present the first real opportunity for the true climbers in the peloton to show their stuff. And it’s possible that we might begin to see who’s got the chops to win the overall yellow jersey.

There will be four categorized climbs stretched out over 175 km, meaning it’s a good day for a break-away: when a few enterprising cyclists hatch an evil plan to outrun the rest of the group – usually early in the stage – and pedal like mad, trying to reach the finish line before the sprinters realize what’s happened.

I will go out on a limb and predict Thomas De Gendt from Lotto Soudal will act as ringleader, launching an attack that should draw in rabble-rousers like all the members of the Wanty team and perhaps Peter Sagan. Should be fun!

riquewihr-parmi-les-plus-beaux-villages-de-france
Riquewihr street scene (photo: Pays de Ribeauvillé et Riquewihr)

Wednesday’s stage will be a visual treat for the spectators, too: today’s course runs through the medieval village of Riquewihr, considered one of the most beautiful in France. As is the custom here in Alsace, homes are lovingly decorated with colorful flowers in the summer, with most featuring window boxes overflowing with blooms. It’s a remarkably charming part of France that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

We’ll see classic, half-timbered houses dating to the 15th century; a 13th century gate known as the Dolder; the Thieves’ Tower (a former prison); and the Winemaker’s House, a structure built in the 16th century.

And, if this is Alsace, you know there must be at least one castle! Tour organizers were so considerate as to ensure that the peloton will pedal past the famous Haut Koenigsbourg Castle. Quelle joie!

Haut Koenigsbourg Castle website
Haut Koenigsbourg Castle (photo: Tristan Vuano)

And, of course, there will be wine.

The Wines of Alsace

Thirteen different soil types make up the terroir of this wine region, all old, some ancient. The terrain is hilly, with excellent exposure to sunlight, thanks to the aforementioned Vosges Mountains. Despite being situated so far north, Alsace vineyards are among the sunniest and driest in France, offering the grapes lots of hang time just before harvest. Ripeness is rarely a problem in this part of the world!

F68.Riquewihr
Steep vineyards of Riquewihr (photo: Pays de Ribeauvillé et Riquewihr)

Alsace vignerons craft red, white, and pink wines; dry and sweet versions; and some very good sparkling wine (called Crémant) made via the same method as Champagne. There really is a wine for everyone in Alsace.

Alsace Rocks Line Up
A sample of wines from Alsace.

Primary white grapes are Riesling, Pinots Gris and Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Muscat à Petits Grains. In the red category you’ll find perpetual favorite, Pinot Noir.

I’ve written a couple of posts about Alsace, both of which have more detailed information on the region, styles of wine, and particular producers. If you’d like to read more, click here and here.

Which wine will you choose to sip as you watch stage 5? It’s so hot and humid in Miami right now that I’m all about nice, crisp sparkling wine. Going to the wine fridge now to ferret out a bottle of Crémant d’Alsace. Let’s hope there’s one in there!

Cremant Line Up
Sparkling wines from Alsace can be great values.

Enjoy the picturesque beauty of the route from Saint-Dié-des Vosges to Colmar and, as ever, raise a glass to the peloton as they zoom past.

Santé!

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