Thursday was a long day on the road. And, while there were no major shake-ups in the race for the yellow jersey, a few GC contenders rode well enough to (probably) assure themselves of a top ten finish in Paris.
Richie Porte, whose luck in the Tour has never matched his skill as a rider, made a heroic comeback after suffering a flat tire on the 500 meter stretch of gravel toward the end of the race. Yes, you heard correctly – gravel.
Porte had done well all day, sticking with the group led by Jumbo-Visma and their man, Primoz Roglic. As they hit the stones, Phil Liggett and Bob Roll commented that this would be the worst place to have mechanical problems. The team cars were too far back to offer assistance in a timely manner, causing a stranded cyclist to lose precious seconds while he waited for help.
And that’s exactly what happened to Porte. We watched him jump on a spare bike and make his way through the dust of the riders before him. A few minutes later, he’d caught up to the stragglers who had drifted off the yellow jersey group.
One of those stragglers was Wout Van Aert of Jumbo-Visma, who was pedaling like mad to get back to Roglic and his teammates. What good luck for Porte! In no time, they had rejoined the top contenders, and Porte preserved his fourth place in the standings.
Others who acquitted themselves well: Mikel Landa who, on Stage 17, didn’t have the legs to finish what his team had started, rode himself into fifth place overall. Spanish rider Enric Mas of Movistar moved up to sixth place, while Rigoberto Uran (third after Stage 17) dropped to eighth.
Team Ineos Grenadier redeemed itself by taking the stage win (Kwiatkowski) and the polka-dot jersey (Carapaz), crossing the finish line together, arms on each other’s shoulders. It was nice to see Kwiatkowski get the stage win; as a former world champion and long-time member of the Sky/Ineos squad, this was his first Tour victory and he worked damned hard for it.
Barring a disaster between now and Saturday evening, Carapaz should be the ultimate wearer of the climbers’ jersey in Paris. There are simply not enough points left in this year’s Tour for any of his challengers to surpass him.
That might also be true in the green jersey race. Sam Bennett looked strong again today (and Sagan looked uncharacteristically mediocre); Matteo Trentin is quietly closing the gap to Sagan. We might have to wait for the final sprint on the Champs-Elysées in Paris to know the exact podium placements.
As you can see from the map, Friday won’t be an easy-peasy ride in the park. Sure, there’s only one categorized climb – a relatively benign cat 4 about halfway through the day. But all those little lumps on the profile map represent inclines that will punish tired legs. As difficult as this Tour has been, there’s no such thing as an easy day.
The sprint point comes much later – at about 120 kms – and might offer Peter Sagan one last chance to score some points. The question is, does he have the fire to create one more dominating burst of speed? I don’t know the answer, but I sure hope he gives it his all.
Vin Jaune – A Jura Specialty
This so-called “yellow wine” is a treasure of the Jura region; there’s really nothing like it made anywhere else. While it shares some characteristics with Sherry (both are aged under a blanket of yeast called flor), that is where the similarities end.
Since the peloton passes through the center of Château-Chalon, one of the most esteemed appellations of Vin Jaune, I thought it the logical choice for today’s sip-along recommendation.
Created in 1936, the Château-Chalon AOC is for the production of Vin Jaune only. The wine must be made from 100% Savagnin grapes, which must be grown on gray marl soils. Grapes are harvested late in the season but cannot have traces of noble rot, aka botrytis cinerea, the mold famous for its role in the sweet white wines of Bordeaux.
Like Sherry, with which it is sometimes compared, Vin Jaune ages under flor (a blanket of yeast that naturally develops on the wine’s surface in barrel) and is aged oxidatively, producing a dry wine with high acidity, nutty aromas and apple skin flavors. It can age for decades, well beyond the required minimum period of six years and three months (at least five years of which must be sous voile, or under flor.)
Sold in bottles that are as unique as the wine, Château-Chalon Vin Jaune is easy to spot: the 62-cl clavelins are short and squat compared to the larger bottles we are more acquainted with.
Originally a family of barrel makers, the Macle family came to Château-Chalon in 1850 to make wine. Under the guidance of Laurent Macle, who represents the seventh generation of the family, farming of their 12 hectares of vines is now organic: there are eight hectares of Chardonnay that goes into the Côte du Jura AOC wines; and four of Savagnin, devoted to Vin Jaune de Château Chalon.
Laurent’s father Jean is considered the “Master of Château-Chalon”; he maintains a vast library of the domaine’s wines, and keeps detailed reports of each vintage. All of this is located in a 16th century cave, where barrels are equipped with small taps that allow sampling of the wine without disturbing the layer of flor.
Pretty cool, right?
While I have never tasted their wines, they’re definitely on my must-try list (which, at this point in my life is still pretty long.) See if you can find a bottle of Château-Chalon for Friday’s race; or even a Vin Jaune from one of the other AOCs that produces them.
Enjoy the day; tomorrow we get ready for the time trial on Saturday. Hint: it has hills!