Le Tour de Carbs in the Pyrenees

travfoodTourdecarbs2Philippa Davis has been catering for a group of cyclists in the Pyrenees – not the Tour de France, but still a pretty gruelling way to work off the calories!


THIS week I’ve been cooking for a group of 30 athletes cycling three cols of the Pyrenees. It was like discovering a secret bizarre club and then finding out that half the people I knew were members.

“I’m off to cook for a group doing some crazy Tour de France style cycle over the Pyrenees.”

“Oooh how interesting, yes, we did that last month” – or: “ Wonderful! Nothing more fun than a five hour bike ride up some hills” – and: “Ah yes, Milly and I often take our bikes on a challenging week’s ride across Scotland. Jolly good fun”!

travfoodTourdeCarbs4Everyone I talked to seemed to be into the cycling thing, in a serious way. Even the girl at the checkout when I was buying obscene amounts of jaffa cakes and jelly babies (for the cyclists not me) – (OK, I had a few) – to take with me had just come back from a weekend of cycling with her friends.

I really cannot think of many ways I would less like to spend my time. I have tried it (sort of) and just didn’t see the pleasure of reaching the top of the hills or particularly the kamikaze nature of coming down them.   Give me a horse as alternative transport any day of the week. What really did interest and excite me about this cycling extravaganza, however, was researching and creating a menu for the weekend.

There was to be a party on the Friday night to get everyone in the mood, a carb-happy lunch and dinner on the Saturday to help fuel them for their gruelling ride, take-away breakfast and cycle snacks to be distributed between three support vehicles following them up the mountains on the Sunday, and finally a grand feast on Sunday night to welcome home the champions.

travfoodTourdecarbsIt was easy to come up with ideas for the Friday and Saturday carb-happy meals and there was plenty of advice on the internet about the best slow release energy foods and protein dishes to help with muscle performance. (I should warn you, however, if you ever find yourself doing your own research, do not to type in “what to eat before and during a cycle” as you will be bombarded with menstrual related information.)

It was the “What would people want to eat during the cycle?” that was the most challenging and conflicting in results. Everyone I asked seemed to have different opinions. Some swore that a cheese sandwich and a few jelly babies in your back pocket were all you needed; some liked to delve into gels, mineral drinks and other lab concoctions of alarming colours that are available in the sporty fanatic world; and I even heard stories of members of this group last year happy to stop for a two-course lunch and glass or two of wine to help fuel them through the day. The only consistent item of food was bananas.

The food for the ride had to be split between three support vehicles (also carrying spare tyres, pumps, water, extra Lycra etc). It had to be appealing to those on the ride but also transportable and survive a day of being lugged up and down mountains. It helped that we bought half of France’s supply of Tupperware to aid us in this challenge.

travfoodTourdecarbs3Their take away breakfast and extreme picnic menu in the end read as follows:

Breakfast – Banana, bircher muesli, strawberry and blueberry pots, sausage sandwiches, roast mushroom rolls. fresh fruit smoothie with honey; coffee/tea.

Mountain sustenance – Bananas, cut up oranges, cheese sandwiches, home-made sausage rolls, peanut sandwiches, power balls, home made flapjacks, Jaffa cakes, banana and maple syrup cake, brownies, crisps, chocolate bars and jelly babies.

So come Sunday morning, after a very jolly Friday night (I was not sure at this point how seriously they were taking this) and a slightly more subdued Saturday night, the 30 Lycra-clad cyclists piled onto the bus and headed to the Pyrenees. It was like watching the start of a stage of the Tour de France (though with less egos, doping and politics clouding the enjoyment).

They were equipped with supplies that I hoped would satisfy any cravings that may appear and a few large boxes of iced cold beer ready for the end of the day.

Meanwhile back at base the team regrouped after an early start to prepare for the evening’s feast. When the victors returned it was fun hearing how their day went and how they got on with the supplies…

“Oooh your sausage rolls, the thought of them at the next stop helped me up that last 20 km!”

travfoodTourdecarbs5“Gosh, it really is all about power balls isn’t it ?”

Or my favourite feedback – “ I basically rewarded myself with a jelly baby every kilometre.” (that’s 110!)

I confess, having seen the pictures of the ride, hearing the stories of team work and camaraderie, observing the joy of triumph and achievement… I still have zero desire to ever do it myself.

Here is a carb-happy recipe for potato salad.
Serves 10

1 kilo waxy potatoes
2 egg yolks
squeeze of lemon
150 ml sunflower oil
150 ml olive oil
1 dsp Dijon mustard
30 gherkins roughly chopped
6 spring onions finely chopped
3 tbs roughly chopped parsley

Cook the potatoes in salted boiling water, drain and cool.

To make the mayonnaise:

Whizz the eggs yolks in a blender with lemon juice until thick and pale. Slowly pour in the two oils, then add the mustard and season with salt and pepper.

Mix the mayo through the cold potatoes along with the gherkins, spring onions and parsley. Serve room temperature at least a day before a big cycle as potatoes are a slow release carbohydrate.

Photos by Philippa Davis, or used with permission of the group. For more of Philippa’s travels and recipes visit her website www.philippadavis.com