Steve Cummings celebrates victory in Mende ahead of Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet on stage 14 of the 2015 Tour de France.

Hors Course stage 14: Architectural wonders and an underwhelming cheese dish

Before we revisit the spectacular Mende finale seen at the 2015 Tour, stage 14 visits some stunning sights and a less stunning recipe…

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As heard on the Tour Daily podcast, José Been is taking us off the race route for some local historical and cultural context for each stage, from Denmark all the way to Paris.

We are two thirds into the Tour de France so one more week of daily history, cheese and facts to go. Today’s race start features one of the most amazing castles straight away. The Château de Grangent is located on a small island located on a lake of the same name. 

Château de Grangent is mentioned for the first time in 1173. When the castle was built, it was located on a headland which rose about fifty meters above the Loire. The construction of the Grangent dam in 1957 radically changed the situation by isolating the castle on a newly formed island which makes for a stunning view. Tune in early and don’t miss this one.

107 kilometres from the finish, we arrive in Puy-en-Velay where Bauke Mollema won a stage in 2017. Here we find the amazing Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe chapel. The special location of the chapel on top of a very narrow basalt rock, was considered special early in history. 

Left to right: the Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe chapel, the statue of Notre-Dame de France and the Cathedrale Notre-Dame du Puy.

For example, the Romans would have worshiped the God Mercury on top of the rock. During the rise of Christianity, the site was dedicated to the Archangel Saint Michael. In the year 962 the construction of a chapel on this special location was started. This first chapel was quite simple but it attracted many pilgrims from far and wide. This was also due to the fact that Le Puy-en-Velay was the starting point of one of the routes to Santiago de Compostela. 

In the twelfth century, the chapel was further expanded including the restoration and further expansion of the original frescoes. Thanks in part to the presence of these special frescoes, the chapel of Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe is known as one of the most special sights in the Auvergne region. For centuries it looked as if the original frescoes had been lost, until around 1850 when the plaster was removed and the original frescoes emerged. 

One of the chapel’s better preserved frescoes.

This is also the region of many cheeses and today I have a recipe with another trillion calories. About 15 years ago my now husband and I were on holiday in the region, and in a restaurant I wanted try the menu bergère, the shepherd’s menu. It was ‘aligot’. Since it involved cheese, I didn’t need much convincing. What happened next is something my husband reminds me of every year, again and again. The look of disappointment on my face seeing a pile of potato mash with a sausage stuck in it, was priceless, he says. 

If you still want it, here is the recipe.

First, you need potatoes: 1 kilo for 4 people. Then, you have to get 100 grams of butter and 250 grams of fresh cream. Finally, the cheesemonger will provide you with 400 grams of fresh Laguiole cheese. To prepare an aligot, start by cutting the fresh cheese into strips. Leave it at room temperature while you prepare mashed potatoes. Add the butter and cream, salt and pepper. Once the mashed potatoes are hot and seasoned, add the cheese. 

Depending on your taste, a little crushed or finely chopped garlic can be added to the preparation of the aligot. This mash must be worked for a long time to obtain a very elastic texture. It is essential to let it melt, and … turn, turn, turn with a spatula. Be careful, you must turn regularly and always in the same direction! Sore arms guaranteed, reads the recipe.

Today’s finish is in Mende. One of the most memorable stage wins in recent years took place here at the Montée Laurent Jalabert. A very young and upcoming Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet were on their way to battle it out for the stage win. France was euphoric but on Mandela day, representing MTN-Qhubeka and wearing a special, dedicated helmet, Steve Cummings outsmarted the two youngsters and won the stage.

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