The finish in Knowsley Safari Park promised wildlife, albeit of a non-local variety, but the closest we came to exotic species was in the headline of the official report: Leigh Howard roars to victory at Knowsley Safari Park. Anyway, it was a good result for the Aussie from Orica-GreenEDGE, who edged out Mark Cavendish in a sprint finish. The appealingly-named Boy Van Poppel United Healthcare Pro Cycling took third place in the stage and the lead in both the general and points classifications. The climbing was done by the time the Eurosport coverage began (although the rain was yet to come) but Euskaltel Euskadi’s Pablo Urtasun took the maximum KOM points at each of the three climbs and wears that jersey in today’s stage. Peter Williams of Node4-Giordana Racing leads the sprint classification and Orica’s good day at the races continued with Jack Bobridge getting the day’s combativity award.
Today’s 152.6km from Jedburgh to Dumfries-Whitesands is another stage where the three climbs are packed into the first 60 or so kilometres. Once again, Scottie has given a really in-depth commentary on the stage, complete with a guide to clan history and some local brews and curds to look out for. I’d be tempted not only by the Criffel, but also by the Crannog and the Kebbuck cheeses. With those names, how could they go wrong?
This is a Scottish stage, but I think it’s worth mentioning the ‘feral’ Chillingham cattle of Northumberland, since we won’t be heading any closer to these parts.
From a safe distance, perhaps 200 yards, they resemble sheep. But focus your binoculars on those shaggy white coats and you’re swept back 800 years to a time when the distant ancestors of these animals grazed these same hills. As we approach, the more curious bulls – no sheep here – trot towards us, bumping up against each other, pawing the ground. They are breathtakingly beautiful, with mottled white, scraggy faces and red, fox-like ears. They are Chillingham cattle, the oldest-known breed of cattle in the world.
There are less than 100 of them and since their enclosure over three centuries ago there has been no breeding outside the herd, which has very little human contact. They nearly died out after severe winter conditions in 1946-47, when only eight cows and five bulls remained, however they are now owned and protected by the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association. Have a look at this BBC slideshow for some images of the breed and a brief history.
As Scottie mentioned, we are headed towards Galloway for the finish of the race, so hopefully we will spot at least one of the versions of this magnificent animal. The belted galloway is the most striking of them (there are red and white belties and dun and white belties as well as the more recognisable black and whites), but look out for the shaggy all-black ones as well as the white galloways.
Images: Kranky Kids