LA MONGIE, France – It’s one of the unwritten rules of the Tour de France. When the riders go uphill, cholesterol levels do, too.
Up in the Pyrenees where crops can’t grow, meats replace them on the menu: Sausages, cured ham from the southwestern Bigorre region, duck breast, pork pate, duckling filet …
Starving lard-guzzlers following the race were greeted with this festival of fat at the La Mongie ski resort station lying below the Col du Tourmalet, where Thibaut Pinot and overall leader Julian Alaphilippe secured a French 1-2 on Saturday.
Local chef Jean-Pierre Cenac, a restaurant owner in the Tarbes valley since 1964, cooked the delicatessen on display.
“Don’t worry, you’ve reached the French region where people with the lowest cholesterol concentrations live,” Cenac said, without the bat of an eyelid. “We only use duck fat and olive oil!”
Many nutritionists would disagree, but few would resist the lure of his cured duck magret.
A little bit hard outside yet soft inside, it’s delicately seasoned with Espelette pepper for an explosion of taste in your mouth.
Cenac says he works with local producers he’s known for decades, and transforms the meats himself.
“Once seasoned and brushed with salt, Espelette pepper, thyme and bay tree leaves, the magret should be left for one night in a cold room,” he said. “Then you leave it suspended for two to three weeks, that’s all there is to it.”
But vegetarians won’t be let down after climbing the Tourmalet. Cenac also cooks a humus made of Haricots Tarbais, the famous white beans discovered in South America that were imported in the Tarbes region in the 18th century.
“It’s a simple puree brightened up with cumin, it softens the slightly bitter taste of the bean.”
Bread and butter
The first super tough 2,000-meter (6,500-foot) climb of the Tour de France proved to be no obstacle for Alaphilippe, who kept his yellow jersey while defending champion Geraint Thomas struggled up the Tourmalet pass and lost time on Saturday. Pinot won Stage 14 on the famed ascent, making amends for misfortune on Stage 10 when he lost lots of time. Thomas cracked on the final inclines to the pass and couldn’t stay with Pinot and Alaphilippe, who increasingly appears to be justifying French hopes that he could become France’s first Tour winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985.
Quote of the day
“I would tell him to keep his money so we can use it to party in Paris whatever happens.” Alaphilippe, when asked if he would advise his best friend to place a bet on him winning the Tour.
Stat of the day
50. In seconds, the amount of time Alaphilippe has added between him and Thomas in two days.
Next on the menu
Coming right after the ascent of the Tourmalet, the last Pyrenean trek running close to the ancient Cathar castles is a grueling and daunting 185-kilometer ride from Limoux to Foix Prat d’Albis totaling more than 39 kilometers of climbing. The final ascent of the day leading to the finish line is an 12-kilometer climb at an average of 6.9 percent.
AP Sports Writer John Leicester contributed to this story.
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