We wanted Chris Froome to win the Tour and now he’s abandoned the race. You have to have a favourite, don’t you? It’s just too cold-blooded to sit and watch and genuinely wish for the best man to win. You have to hope your favourite will be the best man. So now we are at a loss. We are now accepting applications for a new favourite. Drug cheats need not apply. All nationalities welcome.
If there was any joy to be had in yesterday’s stage, it was in the sheer muddy brutality of it all. Riders falling over and over again, spectators thrown into ditches by out-of-control bikes, the mud so thick on the cyclists it looked as if a group of coal miners had taken over the peloton. Lars Boom loves the muck and so it made sense for him to win the day, but the biggest surprise was Vincenzo Nibali. Nibbles on cobbles! No one expected such a great performance from a rider not known for his riding on cobbles. If we don’t decide to support Richie Porte, who now has big shoes to fill as Sky’s team leader, it might have to be Nibbles.
Today’s stage will take the tour from Arras to Reims, beginning two days in France’s Champagne region, and it should be a much more civilised affair than yesterday’s muddy scramble over slippery cobbles. Rain is forecast and there may be moments of strong crosswinds, but otherwise the riders may decide to take things easy and recover from yesterday’s exhausting stage and the many injuries sustained completing it.
The end point of today’s race is the city of Reims, the largest city and capital of the Champagne region. The city is home to some of the largest Champagne brands and because it was almost completely destroyed during World War I and rebuilt in the 1920s and 1930s, it contains many examples of striking Art Deco architecture.
As far as we are concerned, when you’re in Reims area, there are four things you should definitely do (other than drink lots of Champagne, of course):
1. Tour a Champagne house.
2. Sample a grower Champagne.
3. Visit the only independent barrel-maker in Champagne.
We’ll save the grower Champagne until tomorrow, when the Tour leaves from Épernay, which is closer to the grower we have in mind.
Tour a Champagne House
Champagne Ruinart was the first established Champagne house, and is rumoured to be the best one to visit. It was established in 1729 by Nicholas Ruinart, a Reims draper, whose ledger for 1729 notes that he was making “wine with bubbles” as gifts for clients of his cloth business. By 1735, the Ruinart family had stopped selling fabric and become the first Champagne house. Chardonnay is the key to the Ruinart house style, and the flavours develop slowly during a long maturation in the Crayères (chalk cellars) for up to 3 years for non-vintage wines, and 9 to 10 years for a Dom Ruinart. You can tour the chalk cellars virtually, view a video of the cellars, or arrange a visit and two-hour tour, which always closes with a flute of the cuvée of your choice – whether “R” de Ruinart, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, Ruinart Rosé, as well as the Dom Ruinart and Dom Ruinart Rosé cuvees.
Visit Champagne’s Only Independent Barrel-Maker
Jerome Viard is the last maker of traditional barrels in Champagne. He took over the family business in the village of Cauroy-Les-Hermonville near Reims after studying oenology, and you can visit the cooperage for a tour and/or tasting by appointment. If you want to see a promotional video demonstrating the creation of a barrel from start to finish, it’s available on Vimeo, or see the cooperage website for further details.