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A Gastronomic Tour of Spain: Summary of La Vuelta a España

This is the very last, and very delayed, installment of La Vuelta a España. We apologize for the rather large gap between the end of the La Vuelta and our final post, but life has taken the upper hand, as it is prone to do.

But before we dive into the exciting details of who won this exciting race, let’s review where they’ve been and what you should have savored along the way. If you want a more detailed explanation of the gastronomy within each stage, feel free to click on the hyperlink provided.

We began the first 4 stages of the race in the south of Spain, where the riders powered through the intense heat and radiating sun to enjoy such delicacies as cool and crisp Fino Sherry, nutty and seductive Oloroso Sherry or sweet and earthy Pedro Ximenez.

Come stages 5 through 9, we moved into the southwest portion of Spain, famous for its expansive orchards, dense vegetable patches and diverse vineyards. This is the land of Garnacha Tintorera, the only grape with a dark, inky purple pulp; Bobal, renowned for its high acidity and intense tannins; as well as Monastrell and Tempranillo.

At stages 10 through 12 our fearless cyclists looped their way north, along the coast, and through the Penedes, Pla de Bages, Costers del Segre and Cava country, where they sipped upon bubbly sparkling wines traditionally made with Xarel.lo, Parallada and Macabeo. They might also grow wild with excitement as they encountered aged whites made with Xarel.lo or Garnacha Blanca, not to mention a girth of vibrant reds including: Garnacha, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sumoll and Marselant.

Upon leaving Catalunya, the cyclists sped into Rioja and Txakoli during stages 13-14, two wine regions in the north of Spain that couldn’t be more distinct in their offerings. Where Rioja offers diverse examples of the national grape, Tempranillo, Txakoli provides you with its refreshing, effervescent white wines primarily made with Hondarribi Zuria.

At stages 15 and 16, the cyclists entered a vinous void in Spain, where apple cider, sidra, is the main attraction. Upon a hard day’s ride, we can only hope the cyclists savored Cabrales, a pungent blue cheese, with roast chicken, chorizo and plenty of sidra!

Stages 17 and 18 were hosted by Castilla y Leon, an enormous tract of land that boasts of both phenomenal red and white wines. From the Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) in Ribera del Duero, showing a bit more acidity and mulberry fruit than its Riojan brethren, to bold and expressive white wines made with Verdejo, Malvasia and Godello near Zamora, Castilla y Leon can temper and entice even the most picky palate. We can only hope that the cyclists paired their vinous explorations with the very famous and  traditional Cochinillo Asado (baby suckling pig), an incredible dish not to be experienced by the weak hearted.

And finally, we come to stages 19-21 where the cyclists sped through Madrid and Mentrida. D.O. Madrid is home to more than 45 producers and 8,000 hectares of vines. There are approximately 2500 growers in the area which are divided into 3 sub zones. The largest is Arganda, representing 50% of the vines within the D.O. and where Tempranillo and Malvar, a white grape variety, take center stage. Garnacha dominates both the Navalcarnero and San Martin subzones (lucky for us that it’s Garnacha Day), but the latter has the added benefit of Albillo, a lovely white grape that can make really beautiful wines!

We chose not to dive into these regions as the city itself is worthy of exploring any and all wines in Spain. With amazing bars on every corner, and fabulous locations to both buy and learn about Spanish wine, we’d prefer that you check out our Map of Spain to give you a wealth of suggestions for the next time you visit Madrid!

We hope you enjoyed our gastronomic tour of Spain and will leave you with the final installment from our dear friend Bill Bennett! (top 3 photos by Ryan Opaz)

Stages 19, 20 & 21 of the La Vuelta a Espana

Going into the final three days of racing, 38 seconds is all that separates Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia). Nibali, who finished on the podium in this year’s Giro d’Italia, has been riding very consistently throughout the Vuelta, but lost time on the Cotobello climb of Stage 16. Mosquera is a 34 year old journeyman who has experienced limited success in his career. As a climbing specialist, he has one opportunity on Saturday’s final mountain stage. To say it’s an upset in the making would be an understatement.

One can only wonder how the race would have shaped up if Igor Anton hadn’t crashed out of the race. His misfortune was Nibali’s gain, as he donned Red for the first time as a result of the crash. It should be an exciting finish to a well contested bike race.

Stage 19: : Piedrahita ? Toledo
Date: Friday, September 17
Distance: 231 km

Toledo, the stage 19 finish, is another town along this year’s special route which has hosted the Vuelta many times in the past.
After descending the central plateau to the plains, the peloton will continue a lumpy route south, past Madrid to the east and on to Toledo where they’ll do one lap of the city just like 2008. In the final kilometer, there is a 10% hill for 500m before a 500m flat finish.

This stage is well suited to a rider like Philippe Gilbert, the stage 3 winner this year. Gilbert will know this finish well since he placed second behind world champ Paulo Bettini in 2008. Don’t count Mark Cavendish. The guy knows how to win and seems to win stages in bunches. This is the longest stage of this year’s race and it takes place near the end of three weeks of racing. There is a cat 2 climb just 6 km from the start in Piedrahita where a break will get away. So if a sprinter wants to win in Toledo this year, he’ll probably have to get in the main break or his team will need to chase down all of the breaks.

Stage 20: San Martín de Valdeiglesias ? Bola del Mundo
Date: Saturday, September 18
Distance: 169 km

This is the stage that will determine the winner of this year’s Vuelta. It’s going to come down to whether or not Nibali and his Liquigas teammates can deliver him to the top of the summit finish without surrendering the lead to a determined Spaniard, Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia), who will be riding with the hopes of an entire nation buoying his spirit as he climbs the Bola del Mundo. The final three kilometers up Bola del Mundo are extremely steep, with ramps as steep as 20 percent. Road
conditions are equally horrible, with just a narrow strip of concrete up the side of a mountain ridge. While the players may not be those expected to contend for this year’s Jersey Rojo, there is no lack of excitement going into this stage. It’s a classic example of the underdog vs the established star. It is the beauty of bike racing because the road doesn’t lie. The best man will prevail.

Stage 21: San Sebastián de los Reyes ? Madrid
Date: Sunday, September 19
Distance: 100 km

The last stage on Sunday is largely ceremonial for the overall winner, although the sprinters do make a go for it to make up points. Mark Cavendish looks to have the Point Classification wrapped up with a 32 point lead after 18 stages. David Moncoutie leads the King of the Mountain Classification by 10 points over Serafin Martinez and Team Katusha currently sits 20 seconds in front of Caisse d’Eparne. That is a race within the race that could change by Sunday.

As to the winner of the 2010 La Vuelta? Whoop it up for Vincenzo Nibali of Italy!


Gabriella Opaz

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