The Vuelta a España, last of the Grand Tours of professional cycling for the year, begins today in Jerez de la Frontera. It could be the most exciting of the Grand Tours of 2014 too, if for no other reason than it will pit so many of the sport’s best riders against each other for the first time this year. Many top riders opted not to ride in the Giro this year, while the Tour de France saw several hot favourites to win crash out. In Jerez today, though, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana, Peter Sagan, Joaquim Rodríguez and many others are present and ready to compete.
Last year’s Vuelta winner, Chris Horner, will unfortunately not be able to defend his title. Horner contracted bronchitis during the Tour de France and was given cortisone and a therapeutic use exemption to use it legally to treat his condition, but cortisone can lower cortisol levels in the body. Horner’s cortisol dropped below the minimum healthy level set by the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC), a union of seven professional teams sharing a common code of ethics to promote clean cycling, and as his team, Lampre-Merida, is a member, Horner was forced to withdraw before the Vuelta started.
If you look at the course of this year’s Vuelta (and if the image below doesn’t provide enough information for you, you can check the official Vuelta site for additional route details), you’ll see that it moves in a generally anti-clockwise direction from the start city of Jerez to the race finish not in Madrid, where the race frequently ends, but in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.
For lovers of Spanish wine, this is a wonderful route, leading as it does through so many of Spain’s outstanding wine regions. The image below will give you an idea, but click on it to see the fantastic full PDF version on the Wines from Spain website.
If you want to lift a glass to the beginning of this great cycle race, there can only be one choice for a race that begins in Jerez: sherry. Jerez is the 2014 European Wine City, so there’s never been a better time to enjoy sherry, or introduce yourself to it, if you aren’t yet that well acquainted. We took advantage of International Sherry Week back in June to taste a variety of sherries and it was well worth it.This image is of a sherry cask with a transparent lid lets you see the development of flor, the layer of yeast on the surface of the sherry as it ages. The entire process of making sherry is fascinating, and there’s a good overview of the method on Sherry Notes. Catavino also does a good job of summing up the myths surrounding sherry drinking (tip: put down that traditional sherry glass!).
We aren’t planning to cover every stage of the Vuelta in the way we did the Tour de France this year, but as we love Spanish wine, we probably won’t be able to resist a few posts about Spanish wines. What are your favourites?