Stage 1: Puerto Banús to Marbella (Team Time Trial)

Vuelta Twitter Stage 1

Wow, there’s controversy at the Vuelta and it hasn’t even started yet!  Officials have come under fire for the route selected for the team time trial in Saturday’s opening stage.  The 7 km route takes the riders over the beaches (literally, see above) and along the seaside of Spain’s spectacular Costa del Sol.  Admittedly, I look forward to watching the teams cycle through some of the most beautiful coastline in Europe.  The competitors, however, have a different feeling about it.

Froome Stage 1

Yesterday several riders, including Chris Froome, complained about the course to race officials.  Of particular concern are a section of the beachside path (see above), which is rather slippery and sandy, and a specially constructed causeway that will allow the riders to race over a stretch of the Mediterranean.  With social media abuzz expressing fears for the riders’ safety, race officials have decided that the team time trial will proceed as planned, but that the results will not be included in the calculations for the individual riders in the GC classification.  So basically everyone has to ride the course (dangers notwithstanding), but the results matter for the team competition only.

Many of the 22 teams vying for a win Saturday will look familiar to those of you who follow the Tour de France.  The usual suspects are all here – Movistar, Astana, Tinkoff-Saxo, Sky, BMC – but their rosters will look a bit different for this race.  As I mentioned in the introduction, Alberto Contador, having raced in both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, will sit this one out.  And Chris Froome will ride without Richie Porte by his side.  It remains to be seen which team will survive the next three weeks with enough gas in the tank to win the day.  That said, the early word is that the Astana team is stacked with talent and ready to go.  We shall see . . .

Wine in Southern Spain

So, what should we drink as we watch the riders battle sand, dirt, and elevated pathways in Stage One of the Vuelta?

Stage One takes place along the coast of Andalucía, Spain’s southernmost region, and Málaga, the nearest city, has a long heritage of winemaking.  As far back as 600 BC, the Greeks planted the first vines, a tradition kept alive by the Moors during their reign. By the 19th century, Málaga had nearly a quarter million acres under vine and exported its product throughout the world.  Unfortunately a few years later, most of the vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera, the same pest that wreaked havoc on the vineyards of France (and many other places).  Since then, the wine industry has recovered, but to only a fraction of its previous level.

Cliffs Close Up LW

Today, most of the wine produced in the Málaga DO is sweet and fortified.  Drier wines are being made in the hills north of the city in a sub-region called Serrania de Ronda, named after Ronda (see photos), one of the famous White Towns of Andalucía.  It’s a stunning town, divided by a magnificent gorge that is spanned by a stone bridge.  It offers breath-taking views but isn’t for the faint of heart!

My guess is that it will be difficult to find wines from the aforementioned areas in the U.S.  So, for my sip-along suggestion for Stage One, I recommend Cava.  It’s produced outside of Barcelona, which is not even close to Marbella, but so what?  On a warm summer day, pretend you’re rubbing elbows with the yachting crowd in Marbella, as you wait for the time trial to conclude.  And toast the riders with an ice-cold glass of sparkling goodness.

Viva la Vuelta!