TASTE OF THE TOUR: Mushrooms on menu as race hits mountains
After the flat terrain and wooded valleys of Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, the Tour de France goes up in altitude on Wednesday, climbing into the dense pine forests of the Vosges Massif in eastern France - one of five mountain ranges the race is scaling this year.
In late summer and autumn, the forests become the enchanted home for an astounding array of mushrooms of all shapes, sizes and colors, pushing through the springy cushions of pine leaves underfoot.
Morels, chanterelles, porcinis and other mushrooms cry out to be picked by those who can tell edible varieties from poisonous ones. Pharmacists are often willing to advise if you're unsure.
Wednesday's 160.5-kilometer (100-mile) Stage 5 from the spa town of Vittel winds up at the Planche des Belles Filles ski resort, the first tough climbing challenge for riders aiming to win in Paris on July 23.
Here's a gastronomic, sporting and cultural glance to the stage that should show which riders are fit enough to harbor genuine ambitions for the race leader's yellow jersey:
BAGUETTE AND BUTTER: The 5.9-kilometer (3.1-mile) final climb to an altitude of 1,035 meters (3,395 feet) has some seriously steep sections that should see battles between climbers like Colombian Nairo Quintana and three-time champion Chris Froome, who won his first-ever Tour stage victory here in 2012.
PLAT DU JOUR: Cancoillotte cheese is as much of a mouthful to eat as it is to pronounce. The creamy, rich fondue is made from dried flakes of curdled cow's milk that are rehydrated with hot water or hot milk and butter, and served with potatoes or ladled onto bread. Pungent and tangy, it is an acquired taste. Also worth trying: smoked Montbeliard sausage, from ground pork spiced with cumin - lovely with lentils.
VIN DU JOUR: Not a wine, but a firewater. The midpoint of Stage 5 is the village of Fougerolles, which lends its name to a fine cherry brandy and is surrounded by cherry orchards. Blessed with sandstone soils and pure waters, the village holds a cherry festival in the first weekend of July. The fruit are fermented with the pits, for at least five weeks, without being heated and without the addition of sugar or yeast. After distillation, the brandy is then matured for years.
CULTURE: The Chapel of Notre-Dame du Haut, in Ronchamp, built in 1955 by modernist architect Le Corbusier, is a stunning must-visit, perched on a hill, with commanding views of the Jura and Vosges mountains the Tour is riding through. Crafted from cement, the chapel is a masterpiece of space and the use of light. Its roof is shaped like a crab shell.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: ''I'm not a fan of him putting his elbow in me like that'' - British rider Mark Cavendish on Peter Sagan, the world champion who was disqualified from the Tour on Tuesday for causing a crash that put Cavendish in hospital and brought down several others in a finishing sprint in Vittel.
STAT OF THE DAY: 1. The number of stages won by Sagan at this Tour before he was thrown out.
NEXT ORDER: At 216 kilometers (134 miles), Stage 6 from Vesoul to Troyes on Thursday is the second-longest of this Tour. The route through champagne country has a couple of notable hills but should finish in another frenetic mass sprint.