Le Grand Départ: Mont-Saint-Michel to Utah Beach/Saint-Marie-du-Mont
After starting last year’s Tour in the Netherlands, race organizers decided to kick off the 2016 Tour de France in one of the most iconic French spots, the Mont-Saint-Michel. While you might not remember the name, you would most definitely recognize the image: an island mountain off the coast of Normandy, dominated by a gothic monastery carved into the very top. Less than 1 km in circumference, the Mont-Saint-Michel is connected to France by 20 kms of salt marsh meadows which, at high tide, are completely flooded. It is quite a dramatic picture!
The Gothic/Benedictine monastery perched atop the Mont was constructed during the 10th century, but has been repurposed at various times since then. It has served as a fort (14th century) and a prison (19th century), before being rededicated to its original function, a shelter for the local monks in the 20th century. Its isolation from the mainland occurs quite rapidly during a spring tide, in which the exposed marshlands fill with water at a rate of 15 meters per hour. Easy to understand why it was considered a key military position by local armies, as well as a high-security prison.
Eating and Drinking
When the tide recedes, local sheep wade in to graze, feasting on plants that are, understandably, high in salinity and iodine. These sheep eventually end up on the dinner table in one of Normandy’s signature dishes – agneau pré-salé, which translates literally as “lamb from the salty meadow.” Their nutrient-rich diet results in meat that is intensely flavorful and prized as a regional delicacy.
So what should one drink with this dish? Normandy is best known for its apples, which mean cider and Calvados (apple brandy,) two beverages I truly enjoy. But as an accompaniment to lamb, they fall short, in my opinion. Therefore, my Stage One, Tour de France by the Glass recommendation is Syrah. France’s Northern Rhône region produces many versions, from elegant and expensive Hermitage or Côte-Rôtie, to less pricy Crozes-Hermitage. Dark purple, with aromas of blackberry and earth, wines from the syrah grape make powerful partners to grilled meat or game dishes. I particularly love them with grilled leg of lamb. Wines from the Northern Rhône are widely available and appeal to every budget. For dessert pick up a Camembert or Livarot, prime examples of Normandy’s devotion to cheese. Either would pair nicely with the last drops of Syrah from dinner.
Stage One Race Profile
Today’s stage takes the riders along a northerly coastal route from the Mont-Saint-Michel to Utah Beach, landing spot for American and British troops on D-Day, 1944. While most of the 188 km course is flat, there is a good chance of crosswinds, which could wreak havoc on the peloton and break it into multiple groups. It should be interesting to see who among the sprinters is able to stay at the front, assembling his team for a strong lead-out to the finish line. Who’s most likely to win the day? I always find it tough to count Mark Cavendish out; or Peter Sagan either, for that matter. For Stage One, I’m putting my money on Sagan!
Don’t forget: the Tour airs live Saturday, beginning at 6:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN. Check the complete programming schedule here. I’ll be back tomorrow with a preview and wine pairing for Stage Two. In the meantime . . .
Enjoy the Grand Départ and Vive le Tour!
Note: If you would like to learn the basics about the Tour de France, see my previous post, Are You Ready for Tour de France by the Glass 2016?