Tuesday, July 20, 2010

TDF 2010 Stage 16: Bagnères-de-Luchon to Pau

The logic exercised by the organizers of the Tour de France sometimes befuddles me. Take today's stage. Lead what's left of the original peloton, after two-plus weeks of long miles around the French countryside, up four massive climbs, two of them Category 1, the other two beyond category. Put one of the most famed, most feared climbs in Tour history, the Col du Tourmalet, at the midway point of the stage. Then plan the same stage to culminate in a long, flat run-in of over 40k from the top of the last climb to the eventual finish...? It's like unabashed punishment for the pure sprinters, who will never make it over all those climbs with a chance, and painfully titillating torture to the pure climbers, who won't attack for fear of spending themselves — or simply being caught by the less gravitationally gifted — on the long, flat run to the finish. Such was the case today....

One of the most inspired rides up the Col du Tourmalet I can remember witnessing — albeit from afar and via the wonders of modern technology — was that of Claudio Chiappucci in the 1991 Tour. A climbing specialist who raced on pure grit (and a little EPO as was later discovered...), Chiappucci made up in spirit for what he lacked in form and style. He was all over his bike, never the epitome of elegance, but nonetheless a force to be reckoned with. After coming oh so close to robbing Greg LeMond of his third Tour wine in 1990, Claudio went on to win the polka-dot jersey and to finish third overall in the '91 Tour, a dual success based largely on his performance up and over the Tourmalet (the highest point in this year's Tour) and on to a victorious stage finish at Sestrière.

Claudio Chiappucci, winner of the Maillot à Pois and first to crest the Col du Tourmalet in the 1991 Tour de France.

I've been loath to comment on the intricacies and specifics of this year's Tour for fear of playing spoiler to those who are running behind, as I often am myself, with catching the details of each day's stage. But after yesterday's action, I can't hold back.

Those of you who have been following the Tour closely will know that SaxoBank team member Andy Schleck, riding in the yellow jersey, dropped his chain just after putting in a strong attack on the upper slopes of the day's final ascent up the Port de Balès. Astana rider Alexandre Vinoukourov, who had been monitoring Schleck's wheel, put in an instant attack, followed closely and swiftly by an even more explosive attack from Alberto Contador. The twice winner of the Tour went on with his attack, joined by contenders Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel).

A good friend of mine, in a brief discussion that night, excused Contador for his actions. The ensuing film footage, just after Schleck's mechanical, showed Contador glancing back over his shoulder, suggesting he may have been concerned as to his competitor's misfortune. On top of that, as the race continued, he was just following along with the driving pace of Menchov and Sanchez....

At first I was inclined to agree. But after watching several repeats of the footage, it's clear to me that Contador knew perfectly well what had happened to Schleck. And he purposefully chose to attack, and to continue with that decision through to the stage finish.

I generally make an effort not to make gratuitous use of f-bombs and other such curses here at MFWT. One such word, one that I wouldn't have expected to ever have need of in this forum, cropped up in a comment from a cohort of mine just the other day. Who knew I'd find use for it so quickly....

Alberto "Douchebag" Contador, no doubt relieved to have a reprieve from Andy Schleck's promised vengeance in today's stage. Thursday should prove interesting....
Photo courtesy of Roberto Bettini.

Alright, that's enough venting for now. Did I mention that today's stage finished in Pau, just after crossing through the town of Jurançon, one of the most important white wine producing regions of Southwest France. No? Well, I should have....

For those who don't know Jurançon, it's a white-wine-only AOC centered around the village of Pau in the northwestern foothills of the French Pyrénées. The long standing tradition in the area was for production of medium sweet to sweet white wines made in the passerillage method from Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng, varieties specific to the southwestern corner of France. Though current trends of ambivalence toward if not dismissal of sweet wines has led to a more prominent market position for the dry wines of Jurançon, such dry wines still bear the add-on tag of "Sec" to designate their dryness, in respect to the old traditions in which Jurançon was generally expected to be moelleux in style.

Jurançon Sec, Camin Larredya (Jean-Marc Grussaute) 2004
$15 on release. 14% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Wine Traditions, Falls Church, VA.
One of my long-time favorite producers of Jurançon is Jean-Marc Grussaute at Camin Larredya. Grussaute's Jurançon Sec is a blend of roughly two-thirds Gros Manseng and one-third Petit Manseng, with just a dash of Petit Courbu thrown in for nuance. This is the cuvée now known as "a l’esguit," but in 2004 it was still simply labeled as Jurançon Sec.

According to Grussaute, this wine is best kept for about two years from the vintage. Having enjoyed his wines for years, though, I've always had a gut feeling that his Sec has the potential to grow a good deal further than that. While I've enjoyed bottles at 3-4 years of age in the past, I'm not sure I'd ever drunk one quite as old as this... at least not until tonight.

Straight off, I was surprised at how little obvious evolution the wine had undergone, still displaying a really solid tone in the glass, morphing only slightly from its original silvery green tones to its now subtly golden hue. A whisper of volatile acidity has developed in the bottle, but not nearly enough to be off-putting. What has more markedly changed is a rounding of the wine's textures and flavors, to a more honeyed, caramelized and intensely apple-y flavor profile. While it's much rounder and more perceptibly sweet-fruited than when young, it's still packing a monster punch of acidity, a signature of honest Jurançon Sec. Seriously masculine wine that's very interesting to drink at this point in its evolution.

Am I saying you should age your Jurançon Sec? No. I'm not sure this has "improved" so much as it has simply changed. But I am suggesting that, should you find occasion to procure three-to-six bottles of said wine in the current vintage, it wouldn't be a bad idea to forget about one of the bottles for several years, just for the sake of experience.

By the way, I'm drinking this as I watch today's stage coverage, eat my dinner and write this post. Whoever it was that said men can't multitask was cleerly worng.

Up next: Tomorrow is a rest day at Le Tour, but there's no rest here.


cgomezmoreno said...

I have enjoyed some of the posts over the last months, but I'm unsubscribing after the "douchebag" reference.

I'm sure you don't care.

David McDuff said...

Actually, I do care, cgm. I'm always sad to see a reader part ways and to know I've upset someone. In this case, I simply felt I had to express myself bluntly and, yes, coarsely. Contador's lack of respect for the code of cycling angered me. Like I said, it's not language I often choose to use, especially in this forum.

javier said...

I agree with your views.

Yesterday's course including the Tourmalet made no sense for anybody, neither sprinters nor climbers. What was the thinking here? Why having the Tourmalet (a whole race on its own) half way through the course, with another HC climb afterwards, which peaked 40K or so before the finish? They must know something I don't.

And regarding Contador, he said he apologized to Schleck. He may think he had a reason to apologize, no? If he really wants to be a champion, he could always delay his start by 39 seconds or so during the next time trial. Right at the starting gate. That alone will make him a true champion in my book. Apologies won't.

David McDuff said...

Thanks for your comment. Contador clearly knows he has/had something for which to apologize. Problem is, as you say, a simple apology doesn't really cover it. I'll admit that a 39 second pause on the starting ramp for the TT on Saturday afternoon would make up for it, but I don't see that happening.

I've yet to see or check in on today's results (Stage 17), so don't tell me. Still shaping up to be a very exciting finale.

Wicker Parker said...

Apologies for not being able to contribute to the TdF conversation, but I did want to weigh in about Jurançon sec, specifically about Charles Hours's (Domaine Uroulat) Cuvée Marie from 2007. I simply adore this wine, which doesn't come cheap (nearly $30 from my friendly local shop) but has just so much going on. Grass, peaches, minerals, all rendered with quiet confidence, great acid-driven structure, and effortless unity.

I do wish more late-harvest Jurançon made it over here, despite the fact that almost no one I know is willing to share sweeter wines with me. Those douchebags at Sutter Home really ruined things for the American market!

David McDuff said...

No worries, WP Mike. I'll just take it that means I'll be able to count you in for a stage next year! I'm sure something will correspond with your recent visits....

I've yet to try Hours' Jurançon, now duly added to my list of musts. Also, I must agree re: the sticky stuff. Though I do have a friend or two who I can always count on to share one with me, I get terribly sick of people in the day-to-day end of the biz telling me how much they HATE sweet wine. Grrr....

And thanks for piling on another d-bomb.

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