Before I get into what awaits us on Sunday’s stage, I must pay tribute to one of my favorite riders in the peloton: Thomas De Gendt of the Lotto Soudal squad. He’s been on the scene for a few years now and, regardless of the race, manages to be in the break-away almost every day.
That’s a lot of work! Basically you convince a couple of other guys to break away from the peloton, establishing as much distance as you can. Then you ride really fast, trying to prevent the peloton from catching you.
Most days the break-away is doomed to failure: sprinters want to win on the flat stages; the contenders for the yellow jersey want to protect their positions; and did I mention how freaking hard it is to pedal like a mad man for four hours, fending off 150 crazy cyclists hell-bent on pulling you back?
Well, today was an exception. Mr. De Gendt kept riding, even as his fellow travelers tired and dropped back. The group shrank from 14 down to 4. And then there were only two. Not long after, De Gendt was the lone survivor of the breakaway.
But he had a long way to go before the finish – maybe 50 km (about 30 miles.) And, sure enough, the two highest-placed Frenchmen in the overall competition came after him, desperate for the time bonuses granted to the first riders across the line.
We watched them cut the distance to De Gendt with every kilometer. They descended the mountains like devils from hell. And they came very, very close to catching him.
But they didn’t. De Gendt finished the 200 km race without ever giving up the lead. What a victory!
Here’s a video recap of the finish. I dare you not to cheer him on!
What to Expect in Stage 9
Sunday takes the peloton due west, into the very center of France. It’s a region known for a mountain range called the Massif Central, and it’s sure to give the riders fits as they battle through the day’s three categorized climbs.
Given the wacky nature of this year’s Tour, I’m going to refrain from making any grand predictions about what will happen in stage 9. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Julian Alaphilippe continue his feisty fight to keep the yellow jersey. And keep an eye on George Bennett of Jumbo-Visma: while keeping a low profile, he’s managed to stay in the top five overall.
Now, about the race route . . .
It’s a gorgeous region, with forests, rivers, and lots of natural beauty. There’s just not any wine here. Luckily for us, there are several nearby regions that do make wine, and good wine at that. For today’s stage I’m recommending the IGP Ardèche.
The Ardèche lies west of the Rhone river and is known for producing varietal wines, specifically Chardonnay and Viognier. One of the pioneers in winemaking here is Louis Latour, which began exploring the region in the 1970s and built a winery here in 1986.
Their approach is to bring a Burgundian approach to a place that is warmer, sunnier, and experiences fewer extreme weather events that could jeopardize a vintage. While the climate is definitely warmer than in Burgundy, vines are planted at altitude where it’s cooler. This helps the grapes retain freshness and acidity while achieving full phenolic ripeness.
All told, Latour works with 100 local growers whose holdings amount to 380 hectares. There are other producers in the region, including the Vignerons Ardechois Cooperative, which allows small-scale farmers to vinify their grapes without the capital outlay a full-service winery would require.
The Ardèche Wines from Louis Latour
Latour makes four white wines here:
Chardonnay d’Ardèche: fermentation and aging in stainless steel vats; full malolactic fermentation; a fresh and easy-to-drink wine.
Grand Ardèche Chardonnay: made from the best parcels of grapes this wine is fermented and aged in Burgundian oak barrels for 10 months. Barrels are made at Latour’s own cooperage. This is a richer style wine that has some aging potential.
Viognier d’Ardèche: fermented in stainless steel but aged partially (30%) in French oak; full malolactic fermentation. A wine for pairing with richer dishes like foie gras and chestnuts.
Duet (Chardonnay/Viognier blend): Latour describes this wine as having the purity of fruit of the Chardonnay and the smoothness of Viognier. I’ve never tasted this type of blend but it sounds pretty tempting – as long as there’s enough acidity to check all that body!
These wines are widely available (I’ve seen the Chardonnay at Costco) so you should be able to track down one or two.
Enjoy the Massif Central and the wines of the Ardèche.
Vive Le Tour