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by Shane Stokes
August 24, 2014
General classification contenders Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde got their Vuelta a España campaigns off to a superb start on day one of the Vuelta a España, with their Movistar squad smashing the others in the team time trial and grabbing the early lead.
At the end of a technical 12.6 kilometre race in Jerez de la Frontera, Jonathan Castroviejo led the team home, finishing ahead of Alejandro Valverde to secure himself a stint in the red jersey of race leader.
The Cannondale team of Peter Sagan had led for much of the test but was dramatically bumped down to second by Movistar, the final team to start.
The Italian squad was six seconds back, while Orica GreenEdge was fractions of a second behind in third. Trek Factory racing, Omega Pharma Quick Step and Giant Shimano completed the top six placings, with their deficits ranging from nine to 16 seconds.
“We didn’t start with any fear….certainly not a time trial such as this,” said Castroviejo, a 27 year old Basque rider who was Spanish national time trial champion last year. “We checked out this course and I think we can be happy with our performance, especially on this opening day of the race.”
He finished ahead of Valverde, denying his team-mate an early tenure in the jersey. Castroviejo was asked if it the finishing order had been arranged beforehand by the team, but he said this wasn’t the case. “It wasn’t a decided plan, that is just the way it happened,” he said, moments before the podium presentation and being presented with the coveted red jersey.
General classification contenders Robert Gesink (Belkin), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo), Cadel Evans and Samuel Sanchez (BMC Racing Team) saw their squads taken places seventh through to tenth, giving up between 19 and 21 seconds. Chris Froome’s Team Sky had a modest ride, finishing 27 seconds back in eleventh place, while Grand Tour debutants MTN Qhubeka beat several WorldTour teams with a solid twelfth place.
The teams of Fabio Aru (Astana), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Dan Martin and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr) all dropped at least half a minute to Movistar, with Europcar finishing last of the 22 teams, one minute and three seconds in arrears.
It’s only day one, but the gaps are already opening up.
Castroviejo said it was crucial for general classification contenders to gain time wherever they can. Team-mates Valverde and Quintana can be happy with the early lead they have over the others, something he suggested was down to hunger as much as anything else.
“It can all come down to any day,” said Castroviejo, referring to decisive differences in the race. “It is a question of motivation, and of course we are highly motivated now.”
The Vuelta a España continues Sunday with a 174.4 kilometre race from Algeciras to San Fernando. A bunch sprint is predicted, raising the possibility that the race lead could stay on his shoulders.
MTN Qhubeka made history when it began the team time trial, with its Vuelta start marking both its Grand Tour debut and also the first time an African team had ridden one of the sport’s three week events. Another team with strong South African links had done so before, but Barloworld was registered in Britain and Italy during its time on the pro circuit.
Despite a lack of experience at this level MTN Qhubeka had a strong ride, covering the 12.6 kilometre distance in a time of 14 minutes 42 seconds.
This proved quicker than the next two teams, Cofidis and Europcar, but the fourth team to start was faster. Giant Shimano covered the course 13 seconds quicker, positing a time which would eventually net the team sixth overall.
Ag2r La Mondiale, Caja Rural-Seguros RGA and IAM Cycling came and went, with the French team best of the trio but still 17 seconds off the Giant Shimano benchmark. However Orica-GreenEdge, the eight team to start, was on a mission and blasted home ten seconds quicker.
However its celebrations were very short-lived; four minutes later Cannondale Pro Cycling raced home and just edged in front, taking the lead by milliseconds.
FDJ.fr and Lampre-Merida came and went, neither getting close, then the BMC Racing Team raced in for a provisional fourth. It was 15 seconds off the leaders, but the Trek Factory Racing team was much closer, crossing the line just three seconds back and sitting second overall.
The American team was led in by Fabian Cancellara, he and the others shrugging off the effects of the training ride crash which brought all nine riders down.
Belkin and Garmin-Sharp followed, with the former dropping 13 seconds for a provisional fifth and the latter only 11th, a full 35 seconds back.
While that team wasn’t expecting to win the test due to the GC-centric nature of the selection, it was further back than Hesjedal and co-leader Dan Martin would have hoped for. Ditto for Lotto-Belisol, who came in for a provisional ninth, 24 seconds off the Cannondale pace.
That left six teams left to finish, including the one tipped by many for stage success, Omega Pharma-QuickStep. The Belgian team started its effort while, minutes later, Astana came in for ninth, with Fabio Aru and the other riders conceding 24 seconds to Cannondale and bumping Lotto-Belisol down one slot.
Out on the course, Froome’s Sky team were just eleventh at the intermediate check, putting pressure on it to ramp up the pace in the second half. Omega Pharma-QuickStep was faring better but was still seven seconds slower than the fastest pace, taking a provisional fourth at that point.
Joaquim Rodriguez’s Katusha team was down to five riders when it finished, and had to make do with a modest 12th, 32 seconds behind.
Seconds later the final team in the race, Movistar, started its own Vuelta campaign, with Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana urging the other riders to their best possible time.
Froome pushed hard coming towards the line, then Vasil Kirienka brought Sky home for eighth, 21 seconds off the best pace.
Omega Pharma-QuickStep was the next team home and pushed hard towards the line, but had to be satisfied with fourth, five seconds adrift. This time was quick enough to hold off Tinkoff Saxo, who finished with seven riders and slotted in sixth, 13 seconds behind.
That left just one team out on the course, Nairo Quintana’s Movistar squad. It was riding directly into the setting sun, causing a strong glare for the riders, but that distraction didn’t slow them down at all. The Spanish team rode extremely well and sped down the finishing straight for the best time, beating Cannondale by a clear six seconds.
The effort put Castroviejo into the first red jersey of the race. More importantly, it enabled Valverde and Quintana to gain an early advantage over the other general classification rivals. A lot of racing lies ahead, but it’s first blood to the home squad.