Vuelta a España: Team time trial winners & losers

Stage 1: Benidorm, 13.5km team time trial

Leopard-Trek stormed to victory on a hilly and technical team time trial course in Benidorm to open the 66th Vuelta a España, beating the Liquigas-Cannondale squad of defending champion Vincenzo Nibali by four seconds. As the first man across the line for the winning team, Jakob Fuglsang had the honour of being the first recipient of the race leader’s red jersey. Meanwhile, the twin British challenge of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish suffered a faltering start.

Leopard-Trek powered to victory in the opening team time trial (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

With the stage being just 13.5km long, this was never meant to be more than an appetiser ahead of a wealth of more demanding and decisive days to come. Nonetheless, there were several clear winners and losers today. Let’s have a quick look at who finished the opening stage in credit, and who faces an uphill battle to recover unexpected losses.


Fuglsang is the Vuelta's first leader

Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek)

A talented climber and all-rounder, Jakob Fuglsang had a fairly quiet Tour de France riding in the service of Andy and Fränk Schleck, contributing surprisingly little to the overall team effort in the mountains and finishing a lowly and rather anonymous 50th. However, the performance of his team – who, according to the UCI ranking system, are currently the top team in 2011 – in winning the opening stage means he must be considered a threat for a high general classification finish.

Being the first wearer of the red jersey is a nice bonus as well, and with other results going his way the 26-year old Danish rider may even be able to defend it from the top sprinters over the next two days.

Antón will have been pleased with a solid team result

Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha)

Spanish teams historically tend to produce poor results in team time trials. So for Euskaltel-Euskadi to finish 12th, just 28 seconds down on Leopard-Trek, counts as a fine result for the team of Igor Antón. The 28-year old Basque rider won two stages last year before crashing out of the overall lead and is heavily favoured to take victory this year.

Joaquim Rodríguez is a brilliant punchy, attacking rider who is capable of taking large chunks of time out of his rivals in the high mountains. However he is also an awful time-trialist – he lost six minutes in the individual time trial last year to throw away a certain third and possible second-place finish – so a tenth-place finish by Katusha which gained him a few seconds over many of his podium rivals will have been most welcome. It gives him a solid platform on which to attack in the mountains. Watch him fly.

Nibali gained time on all his major rivals

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale)

As the team of defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas had the tactical advantage of being the last on the road, allowing them to note everyone else’s performances and tactics. Though blessed with considerable and deep talent, they have an inconsistent record in team time trials – finishing third at this year’s Giro, but a distant 11th at the Tour – so Nibali will have been delighted with a very strong run to second place, a mere four seconds behind Leopard-Trek.

In addition to his high finish, Nibali will also be hugely satisfied to have taken a significant chunk of time out of Denis Menchov, Michele Scarponi and Bradley Wiggins, but without the burden of having to defend the race lead in the early stages. This will allow his team to enjoy a relatively easy start and conserve their energy for the mountains. It is the perfect start for the 2010 winner.


Menchov's bid for a third Vuelta has started badly

Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC)

Bradley Wiggins is racing in the Vuelta after crashing out of the Tour de France. Two-time Vuelta winner Denis Menchov was not able to compete at the Tour because his Geox team was not granted a wild-card entry. Both are good climbers who can follow wheels but lack the acceleration to ride away from their rivals – or follow late attacks – on the critical mountain summit finishes. Both will have been targeting time gains on this stage and in the individual time trial (stage 10), to gain important time to give them something to defend in the mountains.

Sky were slowed by having to wait for the all-important fifth man and ended up 20th out of the 22 teams, losing 42 seconds to Leopard-Trek, but equally importantly losing rather than gaining time to the Euskaltel-Euskadi and Katusha teams of Spanish climbers Antón and Rodríguez. Geox were even slower, losing a further second as they finished behind everyone bar the minnows of Andalucía-Caja Granada. It isn’t a terminal blow to the campaigns of Wiggins or Menchov, but it is hugely damaging.

Cavendish lost touch with his teammates (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Mark Cavendish and HTC-Highroad

HTC-Highroad were among the favourites to win this first stage, having taken victory in the equivalent races in two of the last three Grand Tours – and they might have won the third, at last month’s Tour, had Bernhard Eisel not crashed in the opening half-kilometre. They would have been doubly keen to win here knowing that this is the last three-week race the team will compete in before it disbands at the end of the season, and also as an opportunity to put either Mark Cavendish (or potentially Tony Martin) into the red jersey for the first few days.

However not only did they fail to win the stage – they were third, nine seconds down – but Cavendish also became detached from the rest of his teammates on the sharp U-turn at the top of the opening climb and trailed in nearly three minutes down. In doing so, he saved his legs for the probable bunch sprint tomorrow but finished so far back that, even with the 20-second time bonus for the stage victory, he will not be able to claim the overall lead. That won’t affect him targeting stage wins, though. In his first attempt at the Vuelta last year he claimed three victories and the green jersey as the winner of the points competition.

Any hopes Farrar harboured about taking the red jersey were effectively dashed on day one


It was Garmin-Cervélo who claimed victory in the team time trial at the Tour de France, and despite a weakened line-up here they would have been optimistic of repeating that win here, or at the very least finishing close enough to the top to give Tyler Farrar the opportunity to snatch the red jersey tomorrow. However they were slightly off the pace from the start and finished 25 seconds down in ninth place. Other than the minimal chance of getting into a succesful breakaway, Farrar’s chances of wearing red are now effectively zero.

Similarly, Rabobank (15th) and RadioShack (14th) will be less than pleased with their distinctly mediocre showings.

Stage 1 result:

1. Leopard-Trek 16:30

2. Liquigas-Cannondale +0:04

3. HTC-Highroad +0:09

4. Astana +0:10

5. Movistar +0:14

6. Quick Step +0:15

7. Skil-Shimano +0:18

8. Omega Pharma-Lotto +0:18

9. Garmin-Cervélo +0:25

10. Katusha +0:25

11. BMC +0:27

12. Euskaltel-Euskadi +0:28

13. Saxo Bank-Sungard +0:28

14. RadioShack +0:29

15. Rabobank +0:30

16. Lampre-ISD +0:32

17. Cofidis +0:33

18. Vacansoleil-DCM +0:39

19. AG2R +0:42

20. Sky +0:42

21. Geox-TMC +0:43

22. Andalucía-Caja Granada +1:03

Link: Vuelta a España official website

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

13 Responses to Vuelta a España: Team time trial winners & losers

  1. Kitty Fondue says:

    Interesting results yesterday. Even Cancellara was surprised by the Leopard Trek win, as per his Fabianese tweet yesterday.

    But even more surprising is Sky’s Chris Sutton’s take on the abysmal performance by his team: “Although we lost 42 seconds, over a three-week race that’s going to be insignificant.” Seriously? 42 seconds don’t count in a Tour? It might be Insignificant for Wiggins against Leopard Trek but it is certainly not insignificant that Nibali. The defending champion who can easily ride away in the mountains is already 38 seconds ahead of Wiggins, who as you point out is not an explosive climber, and that is not significant? What a ridiculous remark!

    Sometimes I wonder if they are taking magical thinking into their press conferences and just saying mad stuff in hopes that it’s true. I’m just flabbergasted by that remark.

    • Tim says:

      Sutton’s remarks sound like the kind of pat answer someone would give when they can think of no other rational explanation for what has happened.

      Wiggins (and Menchov) will have wanted to gain some time on Antonio and Rodriguez at the very least. That he has lost time to both is embarrassing. But it doesn’t really change anything, I think. Brad is riding the Vuelta primarily to add to his bank of experience. Whether he finishes 3rd, 5th or 11th doesn’t really matter that much in the greater scheme of things. But if he finishes second by 41 seconds … oh dear. My money’s still on a solid finish in the lower reaches of the top 10 for him.

      Good result for the Leopard boys, but I really disliked the course. Too twist and narrow to be a proper team test for me.

  2. Kitty Fondue says:

    I must admit, I didn’t know what the world the course was as ITV4’s coverage was terrible! Obviously they’re getting their pictures from whatever TV company has the rights in Spain but it didn’t seem they were showing enough of one team’s ride to get a flavour of the course. But maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention – that could be… I was too concerned with the lack of pictures of Cancellara in his skinsuit. I had a different priority watching yesterday. ha ha.

    Whether Wiggs is riding for a place (which I thought he was) or just to get ready for the Worlds, the remark still makes Sutton sound like a lunatic.

    • Tim says:

      I watched some of it live and then the shockingly bad highlights package ITV picked up, which not only ignored most of the route but didn’t show the teams in the right sequence – Astana were shown relatively late, whereas they actually went off quite early.

      The course was narrow and twisty in many places, with a U-turn at the top of the initial climb at 3.5km or so – which is where Cav lost his teammates. It looked excessively technical for an ITT, but for a TTT it made no sense to me. There was very limited opportunity for teams to get their aerodynamics working. Oh well.

      As we discovered today, Sutton may be a lunatic – but he is a quick one. A very good win by him on an uphill finish which flummoxed most others.

  3. Sheree says:

    Yes indeed, some surprising results in yesterday’s team time trial. Who’d have thought Igor Anton and Joaquim Rodriguez would come out ahead of Bradley Wiggins, Denis Menchov and Janez Brajkovic. It was difficult to comprehend the true nature of the course as we were shown far too few stretches, generally just the starts and run ins.
    Good win by Leopard Trek and while Fabulous Fabian took long pulls on the front, Maxime Monfort is also a very capable time-triallist and one of their protected riders.

    • Tim says:

      I fancy Monfort to show well during this Vuelta. He’s a great team man and an underrated rider with a big engine. I remember him well as a key cog in the HTC train of 2009 (when Cav won six times at the Tour), which remains the best sprint train I think I have ever seen.

  4. Kitty Fondue says:

    Fabulous Fabian … I like that, Sheree! 🙂 He is, isn’t he?

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