Stage 17 Pau to Col du Tourmalet
Since October 14, 2009 when the official 2010 route was announced it has been all about the Tourmalet, Pyrenees and the 100th anniversary of it being a part of the Tour de France. The first Tour took place in 1903 but from 1915 to 1918 and again from1940 to 1946 the years that fell during the First and Second World War the Tour was halted and did not run. But let’s back up a minute and see how the whole thing started. Newspaper editor Henri Desgrange of Le Auto-Velo newspaper needed an idea to boost circulation and it was over lunch with Victor Goddet their accountant and journalist Geo Lefevre at the Zimmer Madrid restaurant on the Boulevard Montmartre that Geo came up with an idea. On November 20, 1902 his idea was “What about a Tour de France in several stages with rest days”
On January 19, 1903 the front page of the now named L’Auto headline said “the Tour de France, the greatest cycle race in the world” and printed on yellow paper. The first race in 1903 was from July 1st to July 18th and was only 6 stages and was 1,508 miles. The route was: July 1st: Paris-Lyon, July 5th: Lyon to Marseille, July 8: Marseille to Toulouse, July 12th: Toulouse to Bordeaux, July 13th Bordeaux to Nantes and finally July 18th: Nantes to Paris. It started with 59 riders but only 20 or so riders would finish in Paris. Maurice Garin a friend of Henri Desgrange would go on to win the first Tour de France with a finishing time of 94 hours 33 minutes and 14 seconds. He would go on to win the 1904 Tour as well but would be stripped of the title for cheating. The exact reason is lost in time but at that time fans would topple trees, throw things and attack riders as well as other riders would puncture tires and poison fellow riders. He was also under suspicion of taking a train to one of the finish towns as well.
The 1910 Tour is what the organizers are celebrating this year; it was the first year that Pyrenees would be included even before the addition of the Alps. The three previous tour routes were very similar and the architect of the route, Adolphe Steines decided they should include the Pyrenees for 1910. Henri Desgrange at first was very reluctant but decided to send Steines to the southern mountain range for some recon and to see if the mountains were even passable. In late January 1910 he set off and took a car up the Tourmalet, greeted by snow the car could not get through any farther so he took off on foot. Hiking through the night and falling into a ravine where he would remain until a search party located him and pulled him out. The following day he sent a message onto Desgrange “Have crossed the Tourmalet on foot, road passable to vehicle, no snow” Not exactly a truthful and accurate description but it was announced that the Pyrenees would be included in the 1910 Tour de France. On July 10, 1910 the Peloton would take off into the uncharted territory of the Tourmalet. Octava Lapize of France would reach the summit of the Tourmalet first with fellow countryman Gustave Garrigou close behind and the only one that would make it to the top staying on his bike the entire climb. It wasn’t over yet, they still had the Col d’Aubisque, Soulor, Tortes. Octavia Lapize had to walk and carry his bike at one point and Gustave Garrigou fell and at the end Lapize yelled out to the organizers “You’re assassins, all of you! You can’t ask such things of mere mortals. I’ve had enough!”
Things are much different today than they were in 1910. For one thing the bikes have more than the one gear then they had back then and the riders do not have to carry the extra tire tubes on their back. But one thing remains the same one hundred years later, the excitement and action that happens in these high southern peeks is always a must see. Because of the success with the Pyrenees, in 1911 the Alps would be added.
They route for today is almost the same as it was on stage 16, just the opposite direction and ending at the summit of the Tourmalet. But it will start in the city of Pau, one of the loveliest towns on the edge of the Pyrenees. Deep in French aristocratic history the Chateau de Pau located in the center of the city at the end of the Pont Nemours and dates back to the 14th century in its current form. The Renaissance style started by Gaston Phoebus when he began the construction of a wall around the city and the foundation of the Chateau was laid. In 1512 the court of Navarre altered the chateau and became the residence of Henri d’Albret and Margauerite de Navarre. In 1533 their daughter Jeanne d’Albert was pregnant with a son with her husband Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendome, head of the house of Bourbon. Her son would be the heir to the crown and Jeanne d’Albert felt it important that her son be born in Pau, the capital of the Bearn region. She made it to Pau on December 3, 1533 and ten days later gave birth to the future King of France Henry IV. The famous legend says that upon his birth his grandfather Henri II wanted his lips “rubbed with a clove of garlic and then moistened with the local Jurancon wine to make sure he started out life as a proper Gascon” After he was born and rubbed with garlic a cradle could not be found, so he was laid into a large tortoise shell which he seemed to take quite a liking to. Later during the Revolutionary war a local Gascon saved the shell by replacing it with another one and hiding the original. Today the original can be seen within the museum along with a banner with the royal arms of France and Navarre and the helmet of Henry IV.
Louis XIII stayed in the Chateau during the conquest of Bearn and took most of the furnishing in the Chateau with him back to Paris. Marie Antoinette would spend time at the Chateau in the summers and created a small garden. It would serve as a royal prison for many years until Louis-Philipe began restoration in the 1830’s and continued through Napoleon III who liked to visit from Paris at the height of the resorts in the area. Today the Chateau is a national museum and piece of its history and has been painstakingly restored to appear as it did so long ago with period furnishing, tapestries and statues.
If there is one thing the Southwest of France is known for and used as just about every image of the place it is duck. Either as the luxurious Foie Gras or Confit it should be added to the flag of the area. For Stage 14 I made Cassoulet and for that Confit d’Oie. It was the first time I made it and it was very simple and took very little active time, mostly just putting it together and letting it rest in the refrigerator and then very slowly cooked in the oven. It was at the least, out of this world, the flavor is so rich and delicate. There are many ways to serve the Confit but one of the simplest and preferred is on a bed of greens with light vinaigrette. I made this very simple meal and I may need an intervention to keep me from licking the plate. This is one of the best French vinaigrettes, make the entire batch and it keeps in the refrigerator for days and is one of those things you should never by at the store since it is so simple and gratifying.
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good olive oil
In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, garlic, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2
teaspoon pepper. While whisking, slowly add the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified.
Place the salad greens in a medium bowl and add enough dressing to moisten. Sprinkle with a little extra salt and pepper, if desired, and serve immediately.
Confit of Duck
Confit is a French cooking term that means “cooking in its own fat and preserved completely immersed in the same fat to keep it from coming into contact with the air” The duck is first placed in a flat dish on a bed of salt, garlic, shallots and thyme and covered for up to two days in the refrigerator untouched. After that any remaining salt it brushed off and in a heavy Le Creuset casserole large enough for the duck to lay in a single layer covered with melted rendered duck fat and slow cooked up to 3 hours in a 225 degree oven or until the meat pulls away from the bones easily. There is a lot of time that goes into it but very little active time. After it is cooked it can be kept in the refrigerator immersed in its own duck fat for several weeks.
4 tablespoons salt
5 garlic cloves, smashed
1 shallot peeled and diced
6 sprigs of thyme
Coarsely ground black pepper
4 duck legs and thighs
4 cups of rendered duck fat (can be found at whole foods or ethnic markets)
Toss lettuce with a small amount of vinaigrette, you can add more later. Top with a Duck leg and enjoy. Serve with slices of French baguette!