ESPELETTE, France | The Tour de France’s final stage brings the curtain down on three weeks of gastronomic delights with the best saved for last in the French capital.
Sunday will be a day of indulgence.
Riders will toast champagne on their way to the Champs-Elysees, while Paris will offer its seductive best to a host of visitors arriving to see yellow jersey-holder Geraint Thomas claim his first Tour win.
Steak frites, steak tartare, coq au vin, snails in garlic, and a dessert created in honor of the Paris-Brest-Paris race are just some of the specialties perfected by the capital’s chefs.
Here’s a gastronomic, sporting and cultural glance at the route for Stage 21:
BAGUETTE AND BUTTER: The 116-kilometer stage from Houilles to the Champs-Elysees is mostly ceremonial, with most riders simply happy to complete the three-week challenge. They will have cycled 3,351 kilometers (2,082 miles) altogether. The top general classification riders will enjoy a leisurely day, chatting and toasting their achievement with champagne, before a sprint finish on Paris’ best-known avenue.
PLAT DU JOUR: Steak frites. Home to more than 35,000 restaurants and brasseries, Paris is spoiled for choice when it comes to sampling the best of French cuisine. Steak frites is a classic Parisian brasserie dish, a grilled cut of flavorful steak complimented by crispy fries – usually freshly cut – all set off by an assortment of various sauces and condiments.
CULTURE: The final resting place for a host of famous names, Paris’ cemeteries draw millions of visitors every year. The biggest, Pere-Lachaise, holds the remains of such luminaries as French playwright Moliere, American rock star Jim Morrison, Irish wordsmith Oscar Wilde, Polish composer Frederic Chopin, and French performer Edith Piaf among others. Montmartre, Montparnasse, and Passy also draw visitors for their ornate tombs, otherworldly charm, and peaceful nature.
VIN DU JOUR: Cuvee des lumieres, Montmartre rouge. Again, Paris is spoiled for choice with the best wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Loire Valley or Rhone, but few know that there is still a small vineyard producing its own wines in the city. Hidden behind the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, Le Clos Montmartre is all that remains of the vineyards that used to populate the district before it was swallowed up by the developing city. It produces around 500 liters every year through traditional methods, and bottles are sold at the vineyard’s annual harvest festival.
HISTORY: The origins of Paris go back to the Gallo-Roman town of Lutetia on the strategically advantageous island of Ile de la Cite in the Seine River. The Parisii tribe was thought to have had its main settlement on the island beforehand, but that has since been challenged by archeological findings. The Romans gave Lutetia its name and started developing the city after taking over around 50 BC.
The Asterix comic books keep stories of life in Lutetia alive, though complaints of overcrowding, pollution and traffic jams are more a reflection of the modern city.
STAT OF THE DAY: 1 — In seconds, the time gap between Stage 20 winner Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome in Saturday’s time trial.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The last time I cried was when I got married.” — Geraint Thomas, after effectively sealing his first Tour de France title by protecting his overall lead in the time trial.
DESSERT: Paris-Brest. Named after the cycling race from Paris to Brest and back, this wheel-shaped sweet pastry is made of “pate a choux” and praline-flavored cream. It’s garnished with almonds and powder sugar. The dessert was created to commemorate the Paris-Brest-Paris race and subsequently became popular with cyclists for the energy-boost it provided.
NEXT ORDER: The 2019 Tour starts in Brussels, Belgium, in tribute to Eddy Merckx. It will be 50 years since the Belgian great won the first of his joint-record five Tour wins. A la prochaine.
Associated Press writers Samuel Petrequin and Andrew Dampf contributed.
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