TASTE OF THE TOUR: Pilgrims and lentils on Tour's Stage 15

BY AP • July 15, 2017

RODEZ, France (AP) Having scaled the Jura and Vosges mountains in the east and the Pyrenees in the south, the Tour de France winds into the Massif Central, the fourth of five ranges the race is riding through. The Alps are last, next week.

Laissac-Severac L'Eglise, the start on Sunday of Stage 15 in the agricultural Aveyron region, is known for its weekly cattle and sheep market, France's second largest. Le Puy-en-Velay, the finish of the 189.5-kilometer (117-mile) trek, is the start of a famous Christian pilgrimage route and provides all of France with a prized brand of lentils.

BAGUETTE AND BUTTER: With four notable climbs - including a tough opening uphill slog in the first half-hour - the bumpy stage promises hard racing between top riders battling for the overall win. The scenery through the rugged, rocky and sometimes austere Massif Central also will be spectacular.

PLAT DU JOUR: Le Puy's small, slate-green lentils are used in soups or stewed with chunks of lard, onions, carrots, a sprig of thyme and, for those seeking extra flavor, a smoked sausage or two. Cooked lentils are also served cold with vinaigrette as a starter. Although generally eaten al dente, some prefer their lentils cooked for longer until they are almost mushy, like Indian dhal, and then lubricate the mixture with generous lashings of olive oil.

VIN DU JOUR: Not a wine but a strong alcohol, the bright green Verveine du Velay. Made with a flowering plant, verbena. Its leaves are either macerated in alcohol for weeks or distilled with alcohol. Sugar, spices and herbs are added. Family recipes for the liquor are handed down from one generation to the next. Drunk iced or with tonic water.

CULTURE: Pilgrims have come to Le Puy since the 5th century. Plan for 65 days of walking to cover the 1,568-kilometer (974-mile) pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. After morning mass in the Cathedral of Notre Dame du Puy, pilgrims introduce themselves to a statue of their patron saint, St. James, and say where they have come from and how far they plan to walk.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: ''I didn't think I could get back the jersey on a stage like this'' - Chris Froome, who took the yellow jersey back off Fabio Aru on Saturday. Aru got left behind on the final short, sharp climb at the finish in Rodez, in the south of France. Having led Froome by six seconds at the start of the stage in Blagnac, home to European aircraft maker Airbus, Aru trails Froome by 18 seconds.

STAT OF THE DAY: 29. The gap, in seconds, between the top four riders overall - unusually close at this stage of the race.

NEXT ORDER: Monday is a rest day, the second and last of this 104th Tour. Riders will take it easy ahead and recharge their batteries for two tough days of climbs in Alps coming on Wednesday and Thursday.

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