This Hors Course entry takes us back millions and millions of years and is courtesy of geotdf.org. You may know that I’m a big fan of Jurassic Park and on stage 4 we would encounter many dinosaurs if the Women’s Tour de France with Zwift had taken place in the Jurassic or Cretaceous era. Fortunately, we don’t.
170 million years ago, the terrain we run on today would be a shallow subtropical sea. This goes for all of Europe because there was no ice on the poles. There was an occasional island, but most of it was deep blue water. On the islands, plants rule because the amount of CO2 in the air was about five times higher than today.
If you’ve booked a tropical island vacation around this time and spent the day in the Gulf of Luxembourg, you might get the idea that this was life. Have a cocktail, read a book, doze under the parasol or ask that handsome guy a few meters away to apply sunscreen where you can’t. All great ideas, but don’t go, and I repeat, don’t go in the water.
The Jurassic seas were full of life. Cephalopods, squid-like creatures, and ammonites were fine, though they were vicious predators. But in the seas there were also marine reptiles like Ichthyosaurs. They were swimming dinosaurs with huge eyes and athletic, smooth bodies that look a lot like today’s dolphins. But that was not all. These apex predators that are near the top of the food chain had to be careful themselves. Other marine reptiles hunted them such as plesiosaurs and pliosaurs which could have monstrous dimensions of up to 20 meters!
On the terrain where we ride, the fourth stage also lived some pretty creatures. Sauropods, those huge, long-necked ones, and carnivorous therapods lived on the land masses that rose near the Vosges. There is also one of the first mammals. They survived the huge impact 65 million years ago that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and ushered in a new era.
We travel through the Champagne vineyards on white gravel roads. These vineyards are built on Jurassic limestone. Champagne can only be called Champagne when the grapes grow in a predefined area of France, are harvested there and are vinified there. All elements of the process must happen here otherwise it doesn’t count. This is one of the reasons champagne is so expensive. There is no infinite supply because the number of vineyards and therefore of wine is limited.
All other sparkling wines are called exactly that: sparkling wine.
Champagne is generally made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or Pinot Meunier grapes. Champagne itself is usually a blend of these three varieties, although you have Blanc des Blancs which is made from the white Chardonnay grape only.
The Aube region where we run stage 4 is mainly Pinot Noir which is not only the base of the greatest red wines of the Great Burgundy. How to use a red grape for white Champagne then? I asked myself the same question but the answer is relatively simple. They don’t use the peel or skin of the grape because that’s what gives red wine its color. The grape juice itself is much whiter. The blend is what distinguishes the winemaker. It takes several years of study in a Wine School to master this profession. Health