Welcome to the Pyrénées!
Welcome to the Pyrénées! The climbers in the peloton have suffered through the first week of the Tour with its cobbles, sprint stages, and time trials, knowing that the first big mountain stage looms ahead on Tuesday. Stage Ten begins just north of Lourdes (see above), famous for its shrine to the Virgin Mary, who reportedly appeared here in 1858. The city receives 6 million visitors each year, and is France’s second most important tourist destination after Paris.
The stage itself boasts three Category 4 climbs, one sprint stage and, most important, our first HC climb, the Col de Soudat, which is a grizzly 1,540 meters long. (Remember the HC climbs are the toughest of all; so hard they defy categorization!) My pick to win the stage is Nairo Quintana, a Colombian on the Movistar squad. He finished second overall in the Tour in 2013 and he’s unbelievable in the mountains. And I think Chris Froome will continue to acquit himself well in the tough parts of the stage; he will keep the yellow jersey another day.
Now, on to the wine! The next couple of stages will take us through the far reaches of southwestern France, just above the border with Spain. The region, known as Gascogne (or Gascony) is home to some unique wines that you might not have discovered. For red wine lovers, I’m recommending a foray into the area called Madiran. Its wines are based on a grape called Tannat, and they can be quite tannic and intense. But if you’re a fan of Cabernet Sauvignon and the big reds of Napa Valley, this should be an interesting stretch for you. On a side note, Tannat has found a receptive home in the New World – Uruguay. Winemakers there are producing some very interesting specimens that are well worth searching out. Give it a try with a grilled rib-eye!
For you white wine lovers, ask your local wine specialist about an area known as Jurançon (the C sound is soft, like an S). A rather obscure (although less so lately) grape called Gros Manseng (see photo, right) is vinified into very crisp and delicious local wines. These wines have historically been tough to ferret out in the US, but times are changing. A local shop with a focus on French wine may have both of these wines on offer. Whichever you choose, lift your glass and toast to the peloton on Bastille Day!
Vive le Tour!