(Céré-la-Blonde – squeeze the blonde)
Montrichard and its fortress: where the Tour crosses the Cher
At L'Homme the race turns east staying on the north bank of Le Loir to Trôo, famous for its troglodyte houses. The late Jane Grigson, a leading food writer, had a holiday home here. Then it's on to the attractive little town of Montoire, where on 24th October 1940 Maréchal Petain and Adolf Hitler met and Petain agreed to collaborate with the Germans with the setting up of Vichy France. Montoire is on the western edge of the AC Coteaux du Vendômois.
The race crosses Le Loir here and heads south eastwards through to Le Loir's big sister. La Loire is crossed at Chaumont just beyond the most easterly point of the Touraine-Amboise appellation. Château de Chaumont's biggest current claim to fame is its annual garden festival, which runs from April right through to mid-October.
Diane de Poitiers was moved to Chaumont after she was booted out of Château de Chenonceau by Catherine of Medici, wife of Henri II, following the king's death. Obviously Catherine decided that once Henri had died there was no point allowing his mistress to remain in the lovely Chenonceau. Diane apparently didn’t find Chaumont to her taste and moved further north to Anet.
Next up is Céré-la-Ronde famous for its goats. There is an annual goat fair held here at the end of October. This is very much Chèvre (goats’ cheese) country and it lies in several cheese appellations including Sainte-Maure, Selles-sur-Cher and Valençay.
The last time the Tour passed through this part of the Cher Valley was in 1992 when French sprinter Thierry Marie won the stage from Montluçon to Tours. The race came through Genillé, le Liège and Luzillé and on to Tours. Overall winner that year was Big Mig (Miguel Indurain), who won the time trial the next day from Tours to Blois.
After Céré the route is gently undulating through peaceful agricultural land passing through the small towns of Nouans-les-Fontaines and Ecueillé before reaching Pellevoisin at 178 metres the high point of the stage. (The lowest point was 61 metres crossing the Cher at Montrichard.) At Buzançais there is the intermediate sprint – very late in the stage this time.
Here the riders reach the long flat approach to Châteauroux. Mark Cavendish won his first Tour stage here and he must be hoping to win again here as this is a classic bunch sprint with flat wide open roads. Cav or another sprinter could easily pick up 70 points towards the green jersey today.
The weather forecast is rather mixed - showers around Le Mans for the start becoming rarer as the riders head south. A few isolated showers south of the Cher with a dry finish at Châteauroux. Let's hope that is the way it pans out!