Pike cakes and some wildcats in the Alps
The climbs, high-speed descents and hairpin turns on tap for Stage 9 of the Tour de France will be enough to make even spectators watching at home dizzy.
Fortunately, the culinary offerings available as the race enters the Alps on Sunday are gentler on the stomach.
Starting in Nantua, near Geneva, the peloton will scale three “hors categorie” — beyond rating — climbs before concluding with a serpentine descent into the Savoie town of Chambery.
Here’s a gastronomic, sporting and cultural glance at the 181.5-kilometer (113-mile) stage:
BAGUETTE AND BUTTER: Climbs with average gradients near 10 percent are fairly rare in the Tour. Yet there are three of them in this stage. First up is the Col de la Biche with its remarkable views of Mont Blanc, followed by the unprecedented and fearsome side of the Grand Colombier, known as the Directissime, which features gradients of up to 22 percent. Then only the fittest should be in contention up the Mont du Chat, which hasn’t been on the Tour map since 1974.
PLAT DU JOUR: Quenelles de Brochet. Pike cakes with Nantua sauce are an integral part of lyonnaise cuisine. While recipes differ from one town and chef to the next, traditionally the cakes are made by forming a “panade” of milk, butter, egg and flour, mixing in the fish and poaching the quenelles in salted water. The cakes are then doused in Nantua sauce made of crayfish butter and baked before serving.
CULTURE: The Musilac festival in picturesque Aix-les-Bains (located on the other side of Bourget Lake from the stage route) each July is a multi-genre event ranging from rock to electro and pop to reggae.
VIN DU JOUR: AOC Roussette du Bugey. This highly aromatic white wine made with the Altesse grape variety feature flavors of citrus, herbs and even olives sometimes.
HISTORY: The origins of Mont du Chat’s (Mount Cat) name are a source of debate. Theories for the naming range from a wildcat haunting the 1,504-meter (5,000-foot) summit to an animal killed by the knights of King Arthur, who obtained in exchange the estates of Chambery and Montmelian. This is the second time the climb is included in the Tour. In 1974, Raymond Poulidor took a minute off Eddy Merckx but the Belgian great caught up on the descent and went on to win in Aix-les-Bains.
STAT OF THE DAY: 4,600 meters (15,000 feet). The amount of climbing in Stage 9.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Tomorrow is going to be a monster stage.” — Yellow jersey holder Chris Froome.
DIGESTIF: Genepy, or genepi. This olive-colored herbal liqueur is made throughout the French Alps and in the Italian region of Valle d’Aosta. It’s the perfect drink to help digest a hearty mountain meal filled with potatoes and cheese.
NEXT ORDER: After the race’s first rest day on Monday and a long transfer to southwestern France, the Tour resumes on Tuesday with a flat 178-kilometer (111-mile) leg from Perigueux to Bergerac that suits up well for sprinters. Marcel Kittel will be aiming for his fourth stage win this year.