Saturday’s race saw a young French rider, Lilian Calmejane, win his first stage in the Tour de France. I was on the edge of my seat watching him climb those last few kilometers, fighting his legs as they cramped up and threatened to quit. When he crossed the finish line 30 seconds ahead of his closest competitor, it seemed as if all of France rejoiced! But that’s nothing compared to what race organizers have planned for Sunday. Check out the profile map:
In all my years following the Tour, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a stage with three HC climbs. In case you’re not familiar with cycling lingo, the hardest climbs are assigned a rating, with 4 being the “easiest,” 3 a bit harder; 2 harder still, and 1 among the most difficult. But then there is that last tier: Hors Catégorie (HC), or uncategorized, for ascents that are so tough they can’t be compared with the others.
If you take a closer look at the profile map, you’ll also notice the elevations of each HC climb: they range from about 3,000 feet to nearly 5,000 feet. Yikes! Sounds like a better day to watch the Tour than to ride in it! So what can we expect from Sunday’s race?
A critical stage for anyone dreaming of a podium spot in Paris, Stage 9 could very well decide the winner of the yellow jersey. With so many difficult climbs, strong teammates and sound strategy will be of utmost importance, and a juggernaut team like Sky could well separate themselves from the rest. That should leave Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas atop the leader board at the end of the day. But you never know: that’s the funny thing about the Tour de France. One day it’s all roses and top rankings for you; the next you’re upside down on the asphalt, waiting for the team car. Whatever happens within the peloton, it will be a phenomenal day for Tour spectators. Live coverage begins at 7am EDT in the states on NBCSN. Don’t miss it!
While the riders contend with the hardest stage in this year’s Tour, we French wine lovers face another challenge – finding a local wine to sample as we cheer on the peloton. Not that any region in France lacks for delectable wines produced nearby. Au contraire! Our problem is rather one of distribution. The wineries closest to our stage route today are located in an area known as the Savoie. Never heard of it? Not surprising given that most of the production is consumed locally, leaving little to none available for export to the States. A quick on-line search may dig up a few sources offering wines from the Savoie – a small shop specializing in French wines, or perhaps a restaurant whose menu is inspired by the gastronomy of the region.
Should you be so lucky as to track down a bottle or two, you’ll likely be drinking white wine made from a grape known as Jacquère. It is light, crisp and refreshing, as you’d expect from a wine made in the Alps. It’s not dissimilar to Muscadet, which I wrote about in the first week of the 2015 Tour, as the riders approached Brittany and the Loire Valley. Roussanne, an aromatic white grape familiar to aficionados of the Northern Rhône, is also produced here, where it is known as Bergeron. Production is concentrated in a few villages, the most acclaimed of which is Chignin. Red wine makes up a small percentage of production here, but it does exist, notably in the form of Mondeuse, a fresh, peppery wine that does well with some aging.
As we are still in the Alps, I must mention that there is also a flourishing cheese industry here in the land of fondue. One of the stand-outs is Reblochon which, although delicious on its own, plays the starring role in a traditional Savoyard dish called tartiflette. At first glance this heart-warming casserole of potatoes, Reblochon, and lardons (bacon), seems like simple country fare. Perhaps, but take a bite. Tartiflette is much more than the sum of its parts! On a cold day, there is nothing more comforting and delicious. Okay, I realize it’s the end of July and most of us are basking (or baking) in the balmy temperatures of summer. So crank up the AC for a bit, put on a sweatshirt, and indulge in a slice of gooey, cheesy tartiflette. Close your eyes and imagine you’re lounging fire-side in a snow-covered chalet after a rugged day on the slopes. Heaven! Wash it down with a glass of Jacquère or Riesling as you toast the riders through their sojourn in the Alps.
Anthony Bourdain’s Tartiflette (Food and Wine December 2012)
2 1/2 lb potatoes, peeled
1/2 lb slab bacon, cut in small dice
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 lb Reblochon-style cheese, sliced
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the potatoes in the pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are easily pierced with the knife. Remove from the heat, drain, and let sit until they are cool enough to handle. Cut the potatoes into small dice and set aside.
In the sauté pan, cook the bacon over high heat until browned. Drain, leaving 1 tablespoon of fat in the skillet and add the onion. Cook over moderately high heat for about 5 minutes until golden brown then add the bacon and wine and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes and season with salt and pepper.
Remove the potato mixture from the heat and place half of it in the ovenproof dish. Spread half the cheese slices atop the potato mixture. Cover this with the other half of the potato mixture. Top with the remainder of the cheese. Bake in the hot oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling. Serve hot.