BERGERAC, France (AP) After the heavy, duck-based dishes of France’s southwest, time for solid mountain fare.
Venturing into the Pyrenees – a perennial fixture of the Tour de France – forces riders to take on more calories to fuel their mountain climbs. Over Thursday and Friday, the Tour will scale a total of six ascents that are either Category 1 or ”hors categorie,” meaning beyond rating, on cycling’s sliding scale of climbing difficulty.
Wednesday’s Stage 11 is what Tour riders call a ”transition” day – an easier ride that takes them to the gateway to the mountains, the town of Pau. Here is a sporting, gastronomic and cultural guide to the 203.5 kilometers (126 miles) from the picture-postcard town of Eymet in the Dordogne, a tourist hotspot with its castles, caves and other sights, and long popular with British retirees who settle in the region for the French good-life.
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BAGUETTE AND BUTTER: For the second day in a row, a stage for burly sprinters before they make way for lighter riders who do better on climbs. Stage 11 is almost completely flat, with a slight downhill final stretch. It will be the Tour’s 69th visit to Pau, making it the race’s third most-visited town after Paris and Bordeaux.
PLAT DU JOUR: ”Poule au pot” (chicken in a pot). This recipe is said to have won the favor of Henri IV, the 16th-century French king born in Pau’s castle in 1553. The chicken, stuffed with sausage meat, garlic, onion and parsley, is stewed with carrots and leek until the meat falls easily off the bone. Served with rice that is cooked in the juice of the stew.
VIN DU JOUR: Jurancon dry and sweet white wines from the west and south of Pau are made from Manseng grapes, a local variety resistant to the sometimes cold Pyrenean climate, with fruit growing high on the vine, protecting it from spring frosts.
HISTORY: Pau-born King Henri IV is known for the era of prosperity he brought to France after ending the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants. Nicknamed the ”Good King,” he also earned another moniker: the Vert Galant (The Vigorous Suitor), a reference to his fondness for women. Historian Marylene Vincent suggested that some of his jealous lovers played a role in his assassination in 1610.
STAT OF THE DAY: 253. The number of kilometers (equivalent to 157 miles) that Frenchman Albert Bourlon rode alone in winning a stage from Carcassonne to Luchon in the Pyrenees at the Tour of 1947. Tuesday marked the 70th anniversary of Bourlon’s solo feat, a post-World War II record that is unlikely to be beaten because stages are no longer that lengthy. Bourlon rode in 16 minutes before anyone else.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: ”We are going to have to be ready to go to war” – overall Tour leader Chris Froome, saying he’s bracing for the risk of winds on Wednesday that could break up the race on the flats.
FROMAGE: In the Pyrenees, the Tour ventures into goat’s cheese country – both softer creamy cheeses that spread nicely on crusty baguette and harder, pressed cheeses that are sometimes crumbly and invariably tangy and flavorsome. Sturdy Pyrenees goats are characterized by their long, stiff hair, big heads, beards and impressive, backward-pointing curved horns.
DESSERT: ”Coucougnettes du Vert Galant” translate as the Vigorous Suitor’s testicles and are grilled almonds coated in dark chocolate and raspberry marzipan.
NEXT ORDER: Thursday’s Stage 12 gets progressively tougher and higher, with six rated climbs – three of them either rated one or ”hors categorie” – and a short but steep uphill finish to an altitude of 1,580 meters (5,200 feet).