France: the country that invented the Michelin star system for exceptionally fine dining and home to exquisite cuisine. Julia Child honed her craft here and brought that back to American kitchens where we are forever grateful. Additionally France is obviously the host of le Tour de France, the world’s most well renowned bike race. It is therefore utterly baffling to me that without fail France has such detestable food for bike racers. In fact, this characteristic transcends the culinary realm and extends to all facets of hospitality here while roving France on the two-wheeled circus that is a bike race.
My hypothesis on the matter is that this country is simply so accustomed to hosting bike races, that they have since learned all the corners available to cut and therefore take full advantage of them. Let me explain.
I wouldn’t be a cyclist if I didn’t have a reason to complain (It’s too hot, it’s too cold, the transfers are too long, the blah blah blah is blah blah blah…), but I ask you to please try to empathize and understand that I’m not exaggerating; ask any European cyclist and they’ll give you the same story. French hotel race food is known for its overcooked pasta and undercooked chicken. After countless plates of cold pasta arrived night after night, it all made sense with my favorite water-logged anecdote: we once asked for another plate of tepid, starchy, gummy pasta – simply for the sake of ingesting calories – and were apologetically turned down. Why, we asked, couldn’t they throw another bag of pasta on the stove for another seven minutes for the perfect al dente bite? Because, they replied, they cook pasta the night before for the following day’s race meal. (Ergo, we also learned that the pasta remains in the pot for many hours while cooling to room temperature, to give it the ideal, French texture of slime.) Seven minutes of cooking, seven seconds of straining, and three seconds of plating… or make it an all day event. Whatever.
And undercooked chicken? That’s their specialty. Gross? Dangerous? I won’t disagree. Meanwhile, I love a good rare steak. It frightens my teammates to be anything besides grizzly, charred gray both inside and out, but a delicately cooked, pink in the middle steak is just what the Doctor Ted King ordered! (I also enjoy a well prepared steak tartare, but central France at a one or two star hotel is not the place to request this from the menu.) Last night’s serving beef, however, was both bloody and cold. Asking for 4 more minutes on the grill was like asking if they would kindly donate to me their annual salary on a silver platter. Begrudgingly, the steak went back.
And since I don’t have any photos today, I’ll insert a Strava file instead:
And now examining beyond fine dining: Picture the smallest room in your house. Perhaps its a closet or maybe a half-bath? Yes, well now put two cyclists and their suitcases in there. Sleep tight fellas!
The year is 2013. Al Gore invented the internet a long time ago. So why can’t we learn that the best way to keep cyclists entertained is with hotels with even mildly functioning internet. The number of skinny, shorn-legged men in the hotel lobby cursing the wifi right now is comical.
And in related news, Paris-Nice has begun here in France, which marks my return to European racing in 2013. I kicked the season into gear back in January and then had a pleasant month free from racing in February, before jumping into the thick of things now in the Race to the Sun. It’s amazing how fast, how hard, and how full bore this race is. In my third go at it, I’ve decided that’s because this is the first
big BIG race on the global race calendar, and everyone wants to be guns-a-blazin’. You know it’s a big event on the race calendar if someone voluntarily gave up charcuterie for it.
That’ll do. Au revoir.