If you don’t yet know what happened in stage 6, do yourself a favor and watch the last hour of the race. It has everything that draws us to live sports: a seemingly impossible quest; youthful newcomers nipping at the heels of experienced veterans; and a landscape that looks untouched by humankind. Add the caprice of the cycling gods to the equation and you end up with one of the most exciting stages I’ve ever seen.
Here’s a quick recap of why I loved it:
- The last kilometer of the race runs along a stretch of unpaved road. Oh, and it’s really steep – think 24% gradient. Imagine trying to pedal your bike up a dirt wall – yeah, it’s like that.
- Some of the favorites to win the yellow jersey did well; alas, some did not. What happened to Ineos (formerly Team Sky)? Did we glimpse a small chink in the armor?
- We’ve been introduced to a phenomenal new talent who is riding in his first grand tour. I can’t wait to see how he fares over the next two-and-a-half weeks. Phew!
- As the dust swirled in the last part of the race, we watched Julian Alaphilippe will himself – and the yellow jersey – to the top. Coeur de lion: this man has the heart of a lion (and, perhaps, a champion.)
For those of you who can’t bear the suspense, here’s a short highlight video from NBCSN :
What to Expect in Stage 7
Nothing can compare to what happened on Thursday. That said, Friday’s stage is the longest of this year’s Tour (230 km) but it is pretty flat. All three categorized climbs come early in the day, prompting us to expect another breakaway group hoping to outlast the peloton to the finish.
Ambitious sprinters, however, may have their eyes on the prize: this might be the last chance for a stage win for a while. I guess we’ll have to see who has the energy, desire, and teammates to contest the bunch sprint at the end.
Wine along the Way
The early part of the race runs through the Jura region, which lies in the mountains of the same name, to the east of Bourgogne. You can find some really unusual and delicious wines in this region, one of which is Vins du Bugey, an appellation which received its AOC approval back in 2009. Despite that, this area has been making wine since medieval times, and was once classified as part of Burgundy.
It held a fairly important role in wine production at that time, especially impressive given its relatively small size (just over 1,200 acres.) Still a small fish in the large pond of French winemaking, Bugey puts out only four million bottles per year, most of which is consumed locally. But that is starting to change.
Half of total wine production in Bugey is devoted to a wine called Vin du Bugey Cerdon. Made from a blend of Gamay (the grape of nearby Beaujolais) and Poulsard (from neighboring Savoie) it is a pale pink, slightly sweet sparkling wine made by the ancestral method, so called because it is believed to be the method by which bubbly wines were originally produced centuries ago. Winemakers following the ancestral method would bottle the wine before all of the sugar had fermented into alcohol, leaving it with some residual sweetness.
Once bottled, the remaining sugar continues to ferment, creating carbon dioxide (i.e., bubbles). Compared to sparklers made by other methods, these wines tend to be sweeter and less bubbly. Vin du Bugey Cerdon and other ancestral method wines have found a growing fan base among modern sommeliers and wine critics who espouse the natural wine movement, which advocates for minimal intervention by winemakers in the production process. The recent surge in popularity of Pétillant-Naturel wines, also made by the ancestral method, is an example.
Aside from the old-school sparklers, Bugey also makes bubbly that we’d consider more traditional in style. Bugey Mousseux (French for sparkling) is made in both white and pink versions and follows the traditional method of production.
Lest you worry that Bugey is strictly for bubbles, fear not. Still wines from the white grapes Chardonnay, Aligoté, Pinot Gris, or Altesse, comprise most of the other half of production.
Roussette de Bugey is particularly good. Roussette is the local word for the Altesse grape which, in these parts, makes outstanding white wine that’s often aged in oak. Four villages within Bugey have established themselves as leaders in Roussette production and, as a reward, are permitted to include their names on the wine labels: Frangy, Monterminod, Monthoux, and Marestal.
Very little red wine is made, however some interesting examples of Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Mondeuse Noire can be found.
Can’t Find a Bottle?
Wines from Bugey might be a little hard to track down but, a local wine shop with an emphasis on French offerings might have something for you. Jura wine in general has quite a following among sommeliers and wine educators, so you never know what you might find. If that doesn’t pan out, just open your favorite cool-climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Gamay and enjoy the race.
Saturday takes us further west into Bourgogne, and I know we can all find a wine for that!
Cheers and à bientôt!