Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Stage 3 and 4: Bienvenue en France!

Pop the bubbly today, because the boys finish in Reims, the capital of the Champagne region. And here's the place to tell you, if you don't already know, that champagne is not a style of wine, it is a place, so there is no such thing as American, Italian, or German champagne. Champagne is only champagne if it comes from this part of France. Prosecco, which I prefer to champagne, is also only Prosecco if it's from a certain region of Northern Italy. If it's from America and it's fizzy wine, call it sparkling, or spumante. But don't call it champagne or Prosecco. And if you must have champagne, have Veuve Clicquot.

The thing about French wine in general is that it's labeled by the place it's from, not for what is in it. Chateu Neuf de Pape, for example, is from the Pope's new Chateau, in that part of Avignon where the French popes lived in the 1300s. That is when it was "new"—before the Black Plague showed up in Europe. And the French Popes, no dummies, took over a lot of Avignon's booming wine business then. Funny times, the middle ages. You could get rich from salt, from wool, from wine. Anyway, you already have to know what's in certain types of French wine to know what you are getting. Chateau Neuf de Pape is a Rhone-style wine, which means it will have the grape varietals Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah, and possibly other local grapes.

Champagne will typically have Chardonnay grapes, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes. The process of making Champagne is expensive and time-consuming. The French government regulates their wine industry by establishing formulas and procedures. If a wine maker doesn't use these formulas and procedures, they could be sanctioned. Champagne is usually made from grapes of various years, unlike most other French wine. In this region they have wonderful sausage, called "andouillettes," (see above) Ardennes ham and trout. Yummy.

Well, back to cycling. Yesterday I was not happy to see Lance slip backward due to a flat, but I jumped up and down and cheered when he pulled his way back over the cobbles through the dust to finish only 50 seconds behind Contador. This isn't good for him, but the war isn't lost. Contador showed himself to be ready for the cobblestones, over which he had never raced before. Very sorry to see Frank Schleck crash out with a broken collarbone.

Today's stage is much more typical of week one on the tour—lovely rolling hills, fields, grapes, flats. Reading about this region makes me really want to do a bike tour here. Hopefully it will end in a good old sprint and we can finally see what Tyler Farrar, our American sprinter, can do against Mark Cavendish these days. Enough with changes due to bad luck. Let's see skill emerge.

Reims is where French kings have been crowned since the 11th century. Joan of Arc saw her Dauphin crowned here. The Cathedral (above) is called Notre Dame, and it is a particular fine example of the Gothic. The champagne region is also known for its Romanesque timber churches. (See above.) Lovely place.

Still a few miles to go. Stay strong, boys. The Alps are only a few days away!

Vive le Tour!

A demain!

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