TASTE OF THE TOUR: The Alps, more than some can chew
ROMANS-SUR-ISERE, France (AP) Both for Tour de France riders and for gastronomes, the race's entry Wednesday into the Alps presents a big challenge. The mountains are the highest of this Tour and could easily puncture top riders' podium hopes if they crack on the fearsome climbs. As for the signature dishes, laden with mountain cheeses and creamy richness, they're better suited for snowy winter months, not the heat of July.
Still, with just four days of racing left before the final stage Sunday into Paris, it would be foolish not to make a last push now. So bring on the Col du Galibier, the Col d'Izoard and other famed ascents, and the fondue, tartiflette and crisp Savoie white wines.
Here is a sporting, gastronomic and cultural guide to Stage 17, the first of two days in the Alps:
BAGUETTE AND BUTTER: Rising to an altitude of 2,642 meters (8,668 feet), the Galibier is the high point of the 104th Tour. It's a long climb: 18 kilometers (11 miles), with a 10-percent gradient at the top. The Galibier is the last of four climbs on the 183-kilometer (114-mile) stage from La Mure to Serre Chevalier. The three riders all within 30 seconds of race leader Chris Froome will seek to test his strength on the ascents and his bravery on the long, high-speed descent to the finish. The three-time Tour champion and his Team Sky support riders will be watching for any attempt by his rivals to get away from them.
PLAT DU JOUR: Rich tartiflette is always welcome after a day of skiing in the Alps' many resorts. Fried onions and bacon cubes are added to sliced, boiled potatoes, and a whole round of reblochon cheese placed on top. Cream and white wine are then poured over the dish and the whole thing is baked until the cheese melts. The sole advantage of eating it in the summer: you can hop on your bike afterward to burn off the calories.
VIN DU JOUR: Savoie wines are mostly white, good for washing down heavy mountain cooking. Some Alpine restaurant owners will refuse to serve anything but white wine or hot tea with fondue, the dish of melted cheese served across the Alps, arguing that the cheese could harden into hard-to-digest lumps in clients' stomachs if they drink anything else.
HISTORY: The Tour first scaled the Galibier pass in 1911, and will be ascending it for the 60th time on Wednesday. The first rider over the top will get a prize of 5,000 euros ($5,800). The prize is awarded annually on the highest climb of each Tour. It is named after Henri Desgrange, the founder of the Tour.
STAT OF THE DAY: 51. The number of seconds that Irish rider Dan Martin lost on Stage 16. From fifth place overall at the start in Le Puy-en-Velay, he dropped to seventh, now 2:03 behind Froome.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: ''Not very sportsmanlike'' - Michael Matthews, winner of Stage 16, who said frustrated rival John Degenkolb grabbed him by the neck when tempers frayed after the sprint finish.
NEXT ORDER: Thursday's stage 18 culminates with a long and steep mountain-top finish at the Col d'Izoard, making it one of the toughest stages of the 104th Tour.