Tour of Britain: stage seven

There were cows last night at the 59.2km mark of stage six – thanks to @nellynog for tweeting the sighting. I was rather caught up trying to decide whether they were oversized sheep, however I am assured that they were cows (which has prompted me to update my glasses prescription). As a result of my dithering over what species they were  I have no pic, so imagine a group of large, blurry quadrupeds in the lush Welsh countryside.

Bradley Wiggins did not start yesterday; the Sky twitter account announced that he had stomach problems and promised further details would follow. Fortunately they didn’t elaborate – gastro is an area where the line between information and too much information is easily crossed. As for the stage itself, the two climbs of Caerphilly Mountain gave us two opportunities to reminisce about Wimpys and gave the crowds a chance to mimic the crowds at the European tours by closing in on the road (one guy took the mimicry a step too far, showing up in a mankini). Endura’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke attacked on the first ascent and was joined by NetApp’s Leopold Koenig on the descent. The two stayed together for the remainder of the race, with JTL doing most of the work as he had the gold jersey in his sights. Koenig took the stage win, but Endura’s perfectly planned race paid off and their guy will start in the leader’s jersey today, 13″ ahead of Orica-GreenEDGE’s Leigh Howard.

Stage seven takes us from Barnstaple to Dartmouth, a rolling 172.9km which rises with two Cat 1 climbs at 90.2 and 104.9kms (Merrivale and Coffin Stone), before heading down to Dartmouth. Set your alerts to ping you at 50.4km – Okehampton – to get stuck into Scottie’s suggested cheese for tonight. Heading over from Caerphilly to the start of the stage would have taken you through Cheddar country, so I’m popping some of that on my cheeseboard for tonight.

To Devon, and my Tour de Snack to match this this beautiful and wild county comes from Stockbeare Farm in North Devon. Made to a 17th century recipe using milk from their own Friesian herd, Devon Oke is a hard, full fat, rinded, brine washed cheese delivering a buttery taste and a nutty finish. Across the county line in Cornwall lies my favourite West-Country brewery, St Austell’s, but its wonderful Admiral Ale (named after national hero Lord Nelson) qualifies as today’s Beer de Jour due to the Devon malt which is specially produced by Tucker’s Maltings in Newton Abbot. This bottle-conditioned ale is blended with both Styrian Golding and Cascade hops, the result is a deep bronze beer with a delicious rich biscuit flavour, perfect for toasting local hero (and possible 2012 Gold Jersey winner) JT-L as he crosses the finishing line.

Flag watchers should look out, not only for the classic black and white Cornish cross of St Pirian, which can be traced back to the 8th century, but for the newer green and white Devon flag of St Petroc, designed by student Ryan Sealy in ten minutes on his computer in 2003, based on the colours of Plymouth Argyle football club but now adopted with zeal throughout the county.

Along with the Friesians producing milk for today’s featured cheese, we should keep an eye out for two local beef breeds, the Devon and the South Devon. The Devon is described as a

very old and handsome breed (that) should be a great deal more valued than it is, though it is much better appreciated overseas than at home, especially in hotter climates.

Cattle: A Handbook to the Breeds of the World

Image: Westons Farms

This breed developed in Exmoor, not far from our start town, and was the dominant breed in Devon and Somerset for a few hundred years. It’s a rich red colour – “a dark but bright blood colour” if that makes sense (from what I’ve read so far in Tyler Hamilton‘s book, I think he’d be pretty happy with his hematocrit if his blood were Devon coloured) – which prompted the nickname Ruby of the West. As mentioned above, the breed has become quite well-established in the USA, Australia, Brazil and South Africa, and are also being used to improve the native cattle in Kenya.

The South Devon is also a big, red cow – imaginatively nicknamed Big Red – and it is the biggest of the British breeds. It is also known as the Orange Elephant and is thought to be descended from the red cattle of Normandy. It is now used mainly as a beef breed, although it was initially a triple-purpose animal (draught, dairy and beef). Like the Ruby, the breed is well established outside Britain and is particularly popular in South Africa. They were first exported to the US in 1969 and they are appreciated by the North American South Devon Association as The Tender, Maternal Beef Breed.

Image: Brettles Farm