Taste of the Tour: Stunning prizes, tasty steaks in Auvergne

|     Samuel Petrequin     |

BRIOUDE, France (AP) – After thrusting their arms in victory at the finish line, Tour de France stage winners are greeted by hostesses on the podium. As well as the yellow jersey, the Tour de France race leader is usually handed flowers and a fluffy lion, the mascot of a long-time sponsor of the race.

In the Massif Central mountains, they can get bigger — much bigger — animals. Trophies that would not fit in their suitcase, or even on their teams’ buses.

A 700-kilogramme Salers cow, for instance.

That was the gigantic prize for Frenchman Richard Virenque after his stage win on Bastille Day 15 years ago in the town of Saint-Flour, where Monday’s Stage 10 will start.

After all, there is a strong tradition of herding in the region, and a cow seemed a brilliant idea.

The pack rides during the ninth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 170.5 kilometres with start in Saint Etienne and finish in Brioude, France. – AP

Virenque managed to avoid any transport problems.

“He did not take the cow with him. Instead, he cashed in a 1,500-euro cheque corresponding to the animal’s value,” Jean Salat, the farmer who provided the animal that day, told The Associated Press.

Salat kept the cow at his farm, where she died 10 years later, aged 13.

“But Richard came back a year after his win to pay us a visit,” Salat said. “And he took her bell with him, which was quite heavy too.”

One of the world’s oldest breeds, Salers are reputed for their dark-red and curly coat of hair. They produce top-quality milk and are also popular with steak lovers because of the tenderness of their meat.

When Virenque got his cow after a 200-kilometre victorious breakaway, he could not immediately find a name for her. So Salat came to the rescue.

“I gave her a name,” the 70-year-old said in a phone interview. “I called her Tempest. Because that day, Virenque had ridden like a storm, crossing the line five or six minutes ahead of his rivals.”

BAGUETTE AND BUTTER: Daryl Impey did not win a cow in Brioude, but he finally tasted the sweetness of a stage victory in his seventh Tour appearance.

A day after Julian Alaphilippe claimed back the race leader’s yellow jersey during an epic stage to Saint-Etienne, top overall contenders were happy to take it easy on the hilly trek.

The 34-year-old Impey beat Belgian rider Tiesj Benoot in a two-man sprint. They were part of a 14-man group that rode away shortly after the stage start. Because none of the breakaway riders were contenders for the Tour title, Alaphilippe and other top riders allowed them to drift away. There was no significant change in the general classification.