Cavendish leads as Vuelta team time trial lights up Seville night

The 75th anniversary edition of the Vuelta a España kicked off this evening with a spectacular floodlit 13km team time trial around the streets of Seville, won by the HTC-Columbia team.

I know many purists would have me hung, drawn and quartered for saying so, but I like team time trials. I know it potentially penalises a good rider who has a weak team, but so what? Even though cycling races are won by individuals, no one rider can win a race entirely on their own. Just as even the best F1 driver is nothing without the support of a good team to give him a good car, the same is true in cycling.

Therefore the team time trial is an acknowledgement of the fact that even the best riders need to have a good team around them, and is a rare opportunity for an entire nine-man squad to taste glory collectively, rather than it being focussed on one or two star riders.

It also makes for a great visual spectacle and an interesting technical challenge, as nine individuals work together to achieve the fastest possible time, with a team’s overall time being taken from the fifth rider to cross the line.

Footon Servetto were the first team to start stage one - and also the slowest (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Tonight’s stage also presented other distinct challenges, not least the unusual experience of racing at night. Tight and twisty at first, the course then opened out into a series of long straights, demanding a combination of cornering ability, accelerating power, aerodynamic slipstreaming and efficient teamwork in order to deliver a fast time.

Some teams are noticeably better than others. The best maintain a smooth, tightly-knit train of nine riders punching as small a hole in the air as possible for as long as possible, with each rider taking approximately equal turns pulling on the front before dropping to the back of the line for a breather. Others are more straggly, allowing gaps to open between riders, or relying excessively on one or two stronger riders.

Mark Cavendish and his HTC-Columbia team were fastest around the 13 km team trial course (image courtesy of

HTC-Columbia, the team of British sprinter Mark Cavendish, very much fall into the first category, setting an impressive early benchmark of 14:06.2, at an average speed of 55.3 kph.

Just how good Columbia’s time was gradually became apparent. Sky were well off the pace. Liquigas, winners of the team time trial at the Giro d’Italia (albeit with different personnel), were fast but slightly ragged, and came in ten seconds behind. And Garmin-Transitions, another strong time-trialling squad, struggled throughout and finished only with a group of five, 17 seconds down.

Even Saxo Bank, the team of Fränk and Andy Schleck and world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara, were 12 seconds slower than Columbia – good enough for third, but looking anything like a team as they dribbled across the line in a disorganised rabble.

By the time ‘home’ team Andalucia-Caja Sur, the last team to go, had finished some 49 seconds off the pace, HTC-Columbia were confirmed as the winner of stage one. As the first man across the line for Columbia, Cavendish therefore became the first wearer of the race leader’s jersey, which this year is in the Spanish national colours of red rather than the traditional gold maillot oro.

Cavendish was delighted with what had been a fantastic team effort by Columbia:

The team time trial is my favourite discipline because the whole team gets rewarded – it’s special that way, and at the same time you need to get it one hundred percent right for it to work.

I get to stand on the podium quite a lot, but that’s because of eight other guys’ hard work. Today we all got to stand on the podium and I’m incredibly proud of what my team-mates did.

[The leader’s red jersey] it belonged to the whole squad. I’m wearing it on behalf of the team.

The time gaps on this relatively short stage are unlikely to be significant in the final analysis – none of the race favourites are separated by more than 20 seconds – but Cavendish and Columbia will revel in taking the early race lead, and will certainly stand a good chance of defending it on tomorrow’s lumpy but not excessively vertical stage two, which culminates in a long, 30-kilometre descent to the finish in Marbella. Indeed, should it end in a bunch sprint, the Manxman will be the favourite to add individual victory to tonight’s team triumph.

Stage 1 result:

1. HTC-Columbia 0:14:06

2. Liquigas-Doimo +0:10

3. Saxo Bank +0:12

4. Cervelo +0:13

5. Lampre +0:14

6. Garmin-Transitions +0:17

7. Omega Pharma-Lotto +0:17

8. Milram +0:18

9. Katusha +0:20

10. Quick Step +0:23

General classification:

1. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) 0:14:06

For up-to-the-minute news, results and analysis of the race, visit either the official Vuelta website or the always excellent


About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

2 Responses to Cavendish leads as Vuelta team time trial lights up Seville night

  1. Jack Sargeant says:

    Hi there, it’s Jack from VeloViews 🙂

    Great post, agreed about TTTs, I think that they are brilliant, and it goes to show you can’t win a grand tour without an excellent team.

    I was surprised at how technical the course was at first, but it became less twisty as it wore on.

    Beautiful spectacle, great start to what should be a great tour!

    • Tim says:

      Cheers Jack. I thought it was a really good course – not so long that it created big time splits, but putting demands on handling skills, power, aero and slick teamwork. It made for interesting viewing.

      Fingers crossed for a close and unpredictable race!

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