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Vuelta España Stages 15-16: Sidra, Cabrales and Roast Chicken

In our next installment of La Vuelta a España (check out the first, second, third and fourth installments), we head north to the wine barren land of the Iberian Peninsula.

With Spain being slightly smaller in size than Texas, and with a population roughly equivalent to that of the west coast of the United States of America, it’s rather impressive that they have the potential to be the largest wine producing country in the world, yet large tracks of land remain untouched by vines. Both Asturias and Cantabria fall into this category; however, despite their grape-less status, the landscape could easily be the setting for any Fairy Tale with its lush rolling hills, rustic pueblos and phenomenal food.

Today’s post is a quickie, as we describe the few, but treasured, elements that have made us fall in love with these regions – and surprisingly, it’s not the seafood. Despite being located along the Bay of Biscay, notorious for its unpredictable storms and stunning coastline, seafood was not the string that pulled at our heartstrings. No, surprisingly, it was the chicken.

Butter roasted chicken, and other hearty dishes – such as the cocido montañés, made with beans and collard greens – is what makes this region completely unique and enticing. On wickedly blustering Asturian nights, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a warm, juicy piece of chicken to warm your insides and heal the soul. Yum!

Then, there’s Cabrales, considered one of the most intense and pungent cheeses of Spain. Blue, spicy and delicious, a piece of Cabrales removes subtle from the vocabulary of any foodie. It’s made exclusively from herds raised in a small area in Asturias, in the mountains of the Picos de Europa, and when combined with local chorizo, it’s heavenly.

And what do you pair with a cheese that lights your senses aflame? Simple, you find a refreshing glass of Sidra! Sidra is a style of hard cider made from over a dozen approved apples such as Coloradona, Durona de Tresali and Raxao – to name a few. There are two styles of Sidra to choose from: a sweeter, lighter style that often holds a bit of residual gas or the traditional dry, still cider. And when we say dry, we do not mean crisp. Instead, it shows a more elegant and airy character, much like an apple breeze.

Trapped in liquid air, Sidra contains a vibrant world of diverse apples, but to release its flavorful core, one must follow a few simple steps. When served, you will be provided with a large, straight sided glass, that is approximately 10 times larger than the amount you will receive. Put another way, you’ll be drinking from a small glass bucket, as it were. From a height that is only determined by the length of the server’s arm, Sidra is poured high above their head, in a finger length stream, into a glass situated well below their waist. In this way, it’s aerated, allowing the trapped flavors to come alive. Now, here comes the fun part. As the quantity of the Sidra poured is minimal, the person who receives it, quickly downs the contents, refills it and passes it to the next willing victim. Consequently, the sequestered Asturian flavors come alive, refreshing you with a gorgeous flavor that is absolutely pure heaven.

But the best is yet to come! In order to bring forth the full symphony of flavors, the Asturians have created a few delicious combinations that should always be adhered to: Chorizos are boiled in Sidra; Cabrales is mixed with Sidra and spread on a toasted baguette; and chicken, already soaked in butter, is further lubricated with, you guessed it, Sidra. It’s pure ecstasy! And if you visit Asturias or Cantabria, enjoying these gastronomic delicacies among a dramatic mountain landscape and a stunning coastal view, you’ll appreciate that wine cannot be made here. Instead, you’ll find exotic flavors unique to this area that can only enhance your curiosity, expand your palate, and hopefully, make you appreciate the unique terroir of the region.

Now let’s check in with our Iberian sports correspondent, Bill Bennett; however, please note that this post was supposed to go up a few days ago, but do to technical difficulties we’re putting it up today.

Previewing Stages 15 & 16 of La Vuelta a Espana

The race for the Jersey Rojo continues to intrigue, with just under 4 minutes separating the top ten riders in contention. Vicenzo Nibali of Liquigas took the overall lead by 4 seconds over Joaquim Rodriguez of Team Katusha by finishing 20 seconds behind Rodrigeuz on the steep climb up Peña Cabarga. Sadly, Igor Anton, who started Stage 14 in the Jersey Rojo, had to abandon the race after crashing badly on a steep descent and breaking his elbow less than 10k from the finish.

The next two stages both feature summit finishes, with Stage 16 containing four climbs totaling over 5000 vertical meters. At this point in the race, Rodriguez must be considered the favorite. He’s showing that his 8th place finish in the Tour de France was no fluke and his Team Katusha squad appears to be stronger than Nibali’s Liquigas squad, as they are ahead by over 26 minutes in the team competition. Frank Schleck continues as a dark horse, 2:12 back.

Stage 15: Solares → Lagos de Covadonga, Date: Sunday, September 12, Distance: 170 km

Just one day after Peña Cabarga comes Lagos de Covadonga, the second of three consecutive mountaintop finishes.

This stage winds along the beautiful northern coast for 155 km of relatively flat road before turning inland to a summit finish with a massive climb up the 13 km, Categoría Especial, Lagos de Covadonga at 1110 meters above sea level.

The breakaways should come fast and furious early on this stage. The top contenders will be marking each other throughout the race. The attacks will come on the final climb. GC contenders like Schleck, Tom Danielson and Carlos Sastre will be desperate to make up time on their rivals and must decide whether to go today or wait for Monday’s Queen stage and it’s three monster climbs.

Stage 16: Gijón → Cotobello, Date: Monday, September 13, Distance: 179 km

Stage 16 is the so-called “Queen” stage, representing the most difficult day of racing in this year’s Vuelta. Four climbs, three of which are rated Cat 1, should put some serious hurt on riders who will have already endured over two weeks of racing, with summit finishes on the previous two mountain stages. The three cat 1′s are San Lorenzo, La Cobertoria and Cotobello, which is making its inaugural appearance in this year’s Vuelta. Cotobello is 10.1 kilometers long, with an average gradient of 8.4%.
Whoever is in the Red Jersey at the end of three brutal days of climbing should be in a great position to carry on to Madrid and victory. It ought to be an epic battle of wills, determination and strategy.