Before we look ahead to Sunday’s stage, let’s revisit how Stage 8 turned out. It was a good day for the French, with Nans Peters of the AG2R racing away from the peloton early in the day. He climbed part of the way with Russian Ilnur Zakarin but left him in the dust on the descent from the HC-rated Port de Balès. Peters fended off challenges from a few other riders to claim the stage victory in his first Tour de France.
While Peters gave French fans reason to cheer, the performance of Thibaut Pinot did not. Coming into the Tour with high expectations on his shoulders, Pinot seemed to be suffering the after-effects of a crash on Stage 1. Frequently sitting up to stretch his back, the Frenchman’s grimace as he tried to keep pace with the peloton said it all. He survived to finish the race but I’m afraid his hopes of a podium placement in Paris did not.
The rest of the GC contenders tested each other over the course, with Tadej Pogacar making the biggest gains, climbing the ranks to 9th place overall. He looked strong all day and I wouldn’t bet against him on Sunday’s stage. Adam Yates, current holder of the yellow jersey, acquitted himself well, losing no time to his rivals. Others who fared well in the GC race were Primoz Roglic holding on to 2nd place; Guillaume Martin (now in 3rd ); and Romain Bardet (4th ). Then came the barrage of Colombian riders: Egan Bernal, Nairo Quintana, Miguel-Angel Lopez, and Rigoberto Uran, rounding out the top eight.
The race for yellow in Paris is shaping up.
Sunday’s Race: Pyrénées Part Deux
It will be another tough day in the saddle, with five categorized climbs. Stage 9 will test the mettle of the individual riders and the strength of their teams. Saturday showed a few chinks in the armor of Team Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers, with support riders peeling off earlier than expected.
We could see the GC guys throwing attacks throughout the day, trying to take advantage when they sense weakness in their competitors. It’s anyone’s game, and the Pyrénées will be the fiercest opponent of all. I dare not make a prediction as to the winner but I will be perched on the edge of my seat, watching every minute of the race.
Traditional Jurançon Wines from Clos Guirouilh
The wine region closest to our path on Sunday is Jurançon, represented by the largest yellow-green blob in the bottom-left corner of the map, above.
Clos Guirouilh has made wine in Jurançon since the 16th century, a family enterprise that continued even during the two world wars (when the women managed things while the men went to battle.) Soon there may be yet another woman at the helm: Jean Guirouilh’s daughter Marie-Francaise and her husband Luis are poised to take the reins of the estate.
The Jurançon area is unique for a few reasons: the grape varieties Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, and Petit Courbu are local to the region and not often found outside of it. And the topography resembles an amphitheater: a semi-circle of hillsides opening to the south, where the vines (most are 40+ years old) are exposed to the warm, dry Foehn wind that ensures a long, disease-free ripening season. Check out the video below, to see how it looks in real life!
Jean Guirouilh embraces traditional winemaking methods: hand-harvest, with multiple passes through the vineyards; spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts; long, winter fermentations in the cellar where, according to Jean, “nothing is rushed.”
Among the offerings are a Jurançon, Jurançon Sec, Vendange Tardive (late harvest) and a single-vineyard bottling called Petit Cuyalàa. Take a look at their importer’s website to learn more about the estate, its methods, and its wines.
Two Books that Feature the French-Spanish Border
As I watched Stage 8 my thoughts went back to two books I’ve read recently. (Anyone else burning through books at an unheard-of rate during the pandemic?) One is fiction; the other non-fiction that reads like a novel. I highly recommend both!
This book is intense and, I warn you, it will leave a mark. That said, it’s a beautifully written story about two sisters living in France during World War II. It takes the reader close – sometimes uncomfortably so – to the experience of women trying to survive and protect their families in wartime. You will laugh, you will definitely cry; you’ll experience devastation and triumph alongside these heroic characters. In fact, you’ll feel as if you’re walking in their shoes.
Paris, the Loire Valley, and the border region between France and Spain are all part of the scene, and Hannah does a great job of putting you in the middle of the action. That alone is worth the tears.
Amazing and inspiring biography of Virginia Hall, a Baltimore socialite who became a pivotal figure in the French resistance during WWII. Coming of age at a time when women were encouraged to marry young and hone their housewife skills, Virginia fought for her place in the U.S. intelligence service. Encountering prejudice on multiple levels – as a woman and an amputee – she never gave up. Among her achievements were driving a French army ambulance as the German air force dropped bombs all around her; coordinating a vast resistance network based in Lyon; and outperforming the privileged men of means who filled the ranks of the American intelligence operations. One of Hall’s greatest accomplishments was establishing an escape route through the Pyrénées that allowed political prisoners and downed RAF pilots to evade capture by the Nazis. Rarely have I been as inspired by a story as I was by this one. And it actually happened!
So, let’s make a triple toast (with Jurançon wine) this Sunday: to the peloton, the Pyrénées, and persistent women who leave a mark on history.