TASTE OF THE TOUR: James Bond, ancient stew and rare grapes
PAU, France (AP) It’s a shame that Tour de France riders will be too busy pedaling for a restaurant stop on Thursday.
Because in the Pyrenees, as they scale mountain climbs steep enough to make all of them hungry, they’ll be racing through the land of one of France’s heartiest stews.
With beans, vegetables and meats, garbure is so highly regarded that it even has its own world championship – ”La Garburade.” The event has been held every September since 1993 in the Pyrenean town of Oloron Sainte-Marie, southwest of Pau – the start of Thursday’s Stage 12.
Admittedly, it’s hard to eat such a dish in the saddle. After a big breakfast, the riders will instead stay fueled with energy gels, bars and drinks as they scale a succession of climbs, finishing with a short but sharp uphill finish that could tempt overall race leader Chris Froome and his rivals to try to leave each other behind.
Here is a sporting, gastronomic and cultural guide to the 214.5 kilometers (133 miles) between Pau, birthplace of 16th-century French King Henri IV, and the Peyragudes ski station – the location for opening scenes of the 1997 James Bond adventure “Tomorrow Never Dies” and also used for daredevil skateboard racing .
BAGUETTE AND BUTTER: Of the six notable climbs on Stage 12, three are hard enough to warrant the top two difficulty ratings – Category 1 and ”hors categorie,” meaning beyond rating. The length of the stage and the accumulation of climbs will combine to exhaust riders by the time they reach the foot of the uphill finish – 2.4 kilometers (1.2 miles) with an average 8-percent gradient to an altitude of 1,580 meters (5,200 feet).
PLAT DU JOUR: Garbure. This centuries-old mainstay stew of Pyrenean farmers derives its name from the Latin word for ”a bunch,” referring to the various vegetables – cabbage, beans, leeks, turnips, carrots, onions, potatoes – that go into it. Confit duck, lard rubbed with garlic and confit ham are added, depending on the recipe. It is traditionally served with rye bread.
VIN DU JOUR: Intense Madiran reds, from a region comprising 37 villages north of Pau, are made with the rare, blue-black tannat grapes. Their name derives from the word for ”tanned” in Occitan, a language spoken in the south of France. To get the Madiran label, at least half of the grapes that go into the wine must be of the tannat variety.
HISTORY: Stage 12 passes through the town of Tarbes, where British forces led by the Duke of Wellington won a battle against French troops in 1814, and heads north of the pilgrimage site of Lourdes, where Roman Catholic tradition holds that the Virgin Mary appeared before 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, in 1858.
STAT OF THE DAY: 5. The number of stages won at this Tour by German sprinter Marcel Kittel, who won again Wednesday on Stage 11.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: ”Quite savage” – Froome, describing the steepness of the stage finish on the Peyragudes’ airstrip that, in ”Tomorrow Never Dies,” was transformed into an arms bazaar.
FROMAGE: The round `Tommes des Pyrenees’ is a supple, pressed cheese from pasteurized cow’s milk. For more pungent flavor, try rounds made from ewe’s milk.
NEXT ORDER: At just 101 kilometers (63 miles), Stage 13 from Saint-Girons to Foix through the Pyrenees is the shortest of this Tour, barring the two time trials. But it includes three Category 1 climbs. The combo of climbs and brevity could make for some furious racing, with riders possibly attacking from the start.