Did you watch the end of Stage 12?
Go back a few more days to Stage 9, when the world cheered a young Swiss rider to the finish. Remember him? That young man, Marc Hirschi, braved the highest climbs on his own, fending off challenges from the peloton to stay in the lead. As three of the GC contenders thundered closer to him in the final kilometer, Hirschi pedaled bravely.
He pedaled and we cheered from our living rooms. And then we despaired as he was caught by the Slovenian double threat of Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic, right on the line. Boy did that feel crappy for all of us.
So how great was it to see Hirschi prevail on Stage 12, staying ahead of the peloton (and two challenges from Julian Alaphilippe) to win the day? He kept looking over his shoulder as if even he couldn’t believe it. I think the cycling gods were impressed by this youngster’s grit and determination, deeming him worthy of one of cycling’s highest honors – a stage win in the Tour de France.
Hirschi’s victory reminded me of another Swiss cycling giant, Fabian Cancellara, who happens to be Hirschi’s neighbor and manager. Cancellara, nicknamed Spartacus for his warrior-like approach to the most daunting and difficult stages, retired a few years ago, and I was sorry to see him go. It was always fun to see the big guy in the Swiss champion’s jersey tackle the cobblestones in the one-day classic races; or watch him lead the peloton through the crosswinds.
With Hirschi out there, though, it’s almost as if Spartacus is still with us. Which nickname should we give him? One thing is for sure: Hirschi is the real deal, and he’ll be part of the future of the sport. In fact, a photo from the finish of Stage 9 offers a glimpse of what that future will look like: Pogacar, Roglic, Bernal, Hirschi. Remember all of those names . . .
Stage 13 and the Chaîne des Puys Mountains
Ugh, here we go again. No, that’s not my voice you’re hearing, but that of the sprinters who have little to look forward to in the days ahead. Friday sends the peloton onto an odyssey of climbing (about 14,500 feet in total) including a summit finish up the Category 1 Puy Mary Pas de Peyrol (5,200 feet).
As fast as the pace has been over the last two days, this one will hurt. But it will also bring forth attacks from the GC contenders looking to eke out a few seconds’ advantage over their rivals. Team Jumbo-Visma has been very strong thus far, and I expect they will try to expose riders (and teams) that are fatigued or just lacking fitness. Roglic himself seems comfortable, able to counter every attack made against him.
Pogacar has less power in his team but maybe more power in his legs. He has managed to keep pace with Roglic and Bernal, and his legs always seem impossibly fresh. Bernal is more of a question mark: his team has lost a step but he’s always at the front. Expect him to be tested over the next few days.
The two highest-placed French riders (Guillaume Martin and Romain Bardet) have been quiet but consistent, and both are great climbers who could launch a surprise move at any time. In fact, Bardet is riding on home turf for the next few days, so he might have a sense for the roads and where an attack would be most effective.
The green jersey should stay with Sam Bennett for the next couple of days, but the polka-dotted climbers’ jersey will likely change hands. Benoit Cosnefroy, who has held it for nine days, was at the back of the peloton on Stage 12, missing out on all opportunities to add to his 36 points. Nans Peters and the aforementioned Mr. Hirschi each have 31 points; either could steal the jersey in the coming days.
Wines from the Côtes d’Auvergne AOC
Nestled around the village of Clermont-Ferrand, between the Châine des Puys Mountains (actually extinct volcanoes) and the Limagne plain, the vineyards of the Côtes d’Auvergne are spread over an 800-hectare area, with 400 hectares planted to the vine. Of those plantings, 350 hectares are designated as AOC; 50 as IGP. Production favors red wines, most made from Gamay (with a little Pinot Noir grown in some places). White wines rely on Chardonnay, the only white grape approved for AOC-level wines.
After millennia of volcanic activity, soils are diverse: you can find pockets of limestone, clay, sand, and volcanic sediment. The mountain peaks act as a rain shadow for the vineyards to the east, trapping humid air from the Atlantic and drying it out before it flows down into the valley. Although the summers are quite warm, the region experiences large diurnal shifts in temperature at night, slowing the ripening process and allowing grapes to maintain acidity.
Individual villages – five of which may append their names to the Côtes d’Auvergne label – are as follows (from north to south)
- Madargue – considered the “elite core” or classic part of the region
- Châteaugay – around the village of Clermont-Ferrand, this is the largest subregion, responsible for 37% of all production
- Chanturgue – the smallest of the subregions
- Corent – the hub of rosé production, usually made from Gamay and via direct press
- Boudes – southernmost area, where the climate is hillier and drier.
Most of the wine made in Côtes d’Auvergne is consumed locally, although some is exported. There is a strong core of independent winemakers with a focus on high quality, probably the main reason the majority of wines are classified as AOC.
If you track down a bottle from Côtes d’Auvergne, please let me know how you enjoyed it. I can’t think of anything more refreshing than a pale rosé made from berry-scented Gamay. Maybe I can find one online . . .
Interested in learning more about the wines, winemakers, and terroir of the Cotes d’Auvergne? They have a great website, only part of which is in English. But, if you can decode a little French, there’s a lot of info at hand. Give it a look!
In the meantime, stay tuned for drama amid the volcanoes, and get ready for the mountains looming in the distance. From now until Paris, it’s gonna get real in the field. Glad I’m watching rather than riding.