24 hours from the Tour de France

The title of the Gene Pitney song is actually 24 Hours from Tulsa, but what the hell? For both die-hard and occasional cycling fans, the biggest day in the sport’s cycling calendar is now just one day away. Tomorrow, in Liege in Belgium, the 2012 edition of the Tour de France begins. Three weeks of hell. Two wheels. One amazing race.

Will Sky’s Bradley Wiggins live up to his billing as the bookies’ favourite and become the first British rider to wear the coveted yellow jersey in Paris (let alone the first to finish on the Paris podium)? Or will Australia’s Cadel Evans be able to defend the title he won with such battling panache last July?

Will the combination of Mark Cavendish‘s preparations for the Olympic road race and Sky’s focus on Wiggins compromise his effectiveness as he seeks to add to his 20 Tour stage wins in defence of his green jersey? Or will we see a new sprint king crowned in Peter Sagan or perhaps Andre Greipel, Matt Goss or Mark Renshaw, all former teammates of Cavendish at HTC-Highroad?

Who will delight us with their daring attacks on the steep climbs and equally precipitous descents of the Alps and Pyrenees? And who will provide us with the drama and romance which featured protagonists such as French media darling Thomas Voeckler and Johnny ‘Barbed Wire’ Hoogerland?

In previous years I have provided stage-by-stage recaps and analysis here. However, all cycling coverage has now transferred over to our new dedicated site velovoices.com, where you will find full previews, daily recaps, stats and analysis throughout the next three weeks. Just click on the banner above and come and join us!

The week in numbers: w/e 11/3/12

Wiggins' win on the final stage clinched overall victory (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

2 – Bradley Wiggins became only the second British cyclist (after Tom Simpson in 1967) to claim victory in the Paris-Nice stage race, as he won the final stage individual time trial to beat Lieuwe Westra by eight seconds overall. It was also Wiggins’ second major stage race win after the Criterium du Dauphine last year.

4 – Scotland were condemned to their fourth loss in as many matches in this year’s Six Nations as they lost 32-14 to Ireland. Similarly, Italy joined them with an identical record as they lost 24-3 in Wales, who can clinch a Grand Slam if they can beat France in Cardiff on Saturday.

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Cavendish takes World Championship gold to add rainbow jersey to green

Mark Cavendish and the Great Britain team finished the UCI Road World Championships on top of the cycling world. The fastest sprinter in the sport put the exclamation point on a week which showcased Britain’s strength in depth ahead of next year’s London Olympics. Cavendish brought home the second gold – and a table-topping sixth overall medal – for Britain after an exemplary team performance put the Isle of Man rider into position to complete the job with his customary finishing burst.

The elite men’s road race was run over a back-breaking 266km, including 17 laps of a 14km circuit which, though largely flat, featured a difficult ramp in the final 400 metres. Throughout the week, this had frequently produced hard-fought and chaotic sprints which no one team was able to fully control. The uphill finish simultaneously offered the benefit of momentum to anyone brave enough to launch a long sprint while severely punishing anyone who attacked too early and ran out of steam before the line.

Mark Cavendish celebrates victory in the elite men's road race in Copenhagen, bringing GB's medal haul to six (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Britain forced to dig deep

The British team of Bradley Wiggins, David Millar, Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard, Jeremy Hunt, Steve Cummings, Cavendish and Vuelta a España runner-up Chris Froome was arguably the strongest squad in the race. Their sole plan was to ensure that Cavendish was able to contest a bunch finish, in which his power and acceleration would make him the overwhelming favourite. Everyone else knew it too, from those whose interests also lay in setting up a sprint – Australia (for Matt Goss), Germany (André Greipel) and Norway (Edvald Boasson Hagen and defending champion Thor Hushovd) – and those who wanted anything but, such as Belgium (Philippe Gilbert), France (Thomas Voeckler) and Switzerland (Fabian Cancellara). Regardless of their preferred type of finish, all Cavendish’s rivals had the same objective: keep attacking the British team so that they would have neither the manpower nor the energy to set up a proper lead-out train.

An early seven-man break pulled out an advantage of eight minutes before a Britain-led peloton, with a little help from Germany, began to rein them in. A subsequent counter-attack swelled the lead group’s numbers to 11, and with five laps remaining they retained a minute’s advantage over the chasing pack. However, as the peloton allowed the break to retain a small advantage, France’s Anthony Roux launched a solo attack with two laps remaining in one final attempt for glory.

Wiggins put in a monster turn at the front to chase down the leaders

With Wiggins stationed on the front to maintain a fast-enough tempo to dissuade any major attacks, the race entered a brief quiet period until, with 19km to go, the familiar figure of France’s Thomas Voeckler – who led this year’s Tour de France for 11 days – leapt out of the pack, taking Belgium’s Klaas Lodewyck and Denmark’s Nicki Sörensen with him. The trio quickly caught and passed the exhausted Roux, and held an 18-second advantage at the bell for the final lap. They were joined by the Netherlands’ Johnny Hoogerland, but with Wiggins continuing to tap out a remorseless, punishing pace that lined out the peloton behind him, they were all eventually swept up, with Voeckler the last to succumb inside of 7km.

A couple of kilometres later Wiggins finally peeled off, having pulled on the front for nearly 20km, leaving Britain with just Stannard and Thomas to guide Cavendish to the finish. Stannard chose to back off, allowing the Australian train to take over at the front and tucking in just behind them. It was a wise move, allowing Britain to conserve their final lead-out for the last kilometre

Cavendish waits patiently before hitting the afterburners

As the peloton hurtled towards the final right-hander just inside the final kilometre the sprinters’ teams started to mass near the front, with the British trio placed well forward but hemmed in against the barriers. In the ensuing jostling for position, Cavendish lost Thomas’ wheel as another rider chopped in front of him, and he rounded the final corner in about tenth position.

Cavendish delivered when the chips were down (image courtesy of highroadsports.com)

With Stannard contributing at the front to hold station and ensure the pace remained high enough to prevent a dangerous concertina effect, Thomas allowed himself to drop back a few places to reconnect with Cavendish and bring him back up to sit on Goss’ wheel. As the lead-out men gradually fell away on the final rise, a gap on the right finally opened up for Cavendish with around 175 metres left and he immediately opened up his sprint to take advantage of it. It was perhaps 20-30 metres earlier than he would have ideally liked, but his acceleration took him past Goss and he was strong enough to keep the charging Australian behind him all the way to the line by a wheel’s width. In a photo finish Greipel, who started his sprint from too far back, was adjudged to have beaten Cancellara to the bronze medal by a whisker.

Cavendish punched the air in triumph as he crossed the line after a finish which must have been all the more satisfying for having been done the hard way, rather than being handed to him on a plate. There was no full-team lead-out as he has so often enjoyed with HTC-Highroad. Instead the team buried themselves one by one to ensure the bunch sprint he needed occurred. There was no Mark Renshaw to pilot him safely through the final 700 metres – although Stannard and Thomas played their roles perfectly in the closing 5km. In the final sprint he was on his own, with just his instinct, judgement and his confidence in his own ability to rely on. On a difficult finishing straight on which he was pinned into the barriers until the final 200 metres, he did not panic and made his move at the right moment. It was a masterclass in sprinting tactics that showed once and for all that he can still destroy a top-class field without a lead-out train.

It was an immense performance, and Cavendish sounded as if he could barely believe what he had done as he was interviewed immediately after the finish:

It was incredible, we took it on from start to finish. I can’t believe it. We knew three years ago when this course was announced – we put a plan together to put these best guys together. It’s been three years in the making and you just saw they rode incredibly. I’m just so proud.

He added that he had now fulfilled both his major ambitions for the year:

At the start of the season I said I had two goals: the green jersey and the rainbow stripes. Now I get to wear the rainbow bands for the next year.

And – a Cavendish trademark – he was both spontaneous and fulsome in his praise for his seven teammates, who had given everything to their single-minded cause and effectively ridden a 266km team time trial on his behalf:

The team all rode out of their skins today. It’s a shame they can’t wear the world champion’s jersey as well. I’ve won the jersey, but I just put the finishing touches to the mission.

20 career Tour de France stage victories in a sequence of four seasons when he has dominated the sprints in every major race he has entered. A 2011 which saw him take two stages at the Giro d’Italia, five more and the green jersey at the Tour de France, and has now culminated in the rainbow jersey. Cavendish is the first man in 30 years – and only the fifth ever – to win both the world championships and the green jersey at the Tour de France in the same season. He is also only Britain’s second senior male road race world champion (after Tom Simpson in 1965).

Mark Cavendish is indisputably the best in the world at what he does and has been for four consecutive years – the title ‘world champion’ is merely confirmation of what we already knew. If that isn’t worth a vote when it comes to BBC Sports Personality of the Year in December, I don’t know what is.

Chapeau, Cav. Chapeau, Great Britain team. Mission accomplished.

Winners, goodbyes and the ultimate ‘loser’

Overall, Britain topped the final medal table after putting a rider on the podium in six out of ten events, with the men’s and women’s teams each registering one medal of each colour. In addition to Cavendish, Lucy Garner claimed gold in the women’s junior road race. Bradley Wiggins (men’s time trial) and Elinor Barker (women’s junior time trial) were runners-up in their respective events. And Emma Pooley (women’s time trial) and Andrew Fenn (men’s under-23 road race) will return home with bronze medals.

In addition to Britain’s haul, it was also a good championships for France, Australia and Germany, who each won two events. France won both the under-23 and junior men’s road races with Arnaud Démare and Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier. Australia claimed gold in the men’s under-23 (Luke Durbridge) and women’s junior time trials (Jessica Allen). And Germany dominated the senior time trial events, with wins for Tony Martin and Judith Arndt.

The host nation Denmark also punched above their weight, finishing with one medal of each colour. Rasmus Quaade set the ball rolling with a silver in the men’s under-23 time trial, which was then followed by gold for Mads Würtz Schmidt in the junior equivalent and bronze for Christina Siggaard in the women’s junior road race.

Cavendish’s HTC-Highroad team is disbanding at the end of the year after accumulating over 500 wins in senior men’s and women’s races in just four years. And even though riders competed here under national rather than trade team colours – although in some cases the two were practically indistinguishable – the World Championships provided quite a swan-song for the sport’s ‘winningest’ team. HTC-Highroad riders claimed five medals, including golds in three of the four elite races: the men’s road race (Cavendish), and the men’s and women’s time trials (the German pair of Tony Martin and Judith Arndt). Furthermore, the other two places on the men’s road race podium below Cavendish were occupied by both a current HTC teammate (Matt Goss, silver) and a former one (André Greipel, bronze). It was one hell of a way to go out.

Finally, spare a thought also for Dutch rider Marianne Vos. One of the sport’s biggest stars, she won her only world championship road race in 2006, but has finished second in each of the last five years. There is no shame whatsoever in a World Championships record of one gold and five silvers, but Vos is the nearest thing women’s cycling has to Raymond Poulidor, the Frenchman who was five times runner-up at the Tour de France and never a winner, earning him the nickname of ‘Eternal Second’.

All the headlines tomorrow – in the UK press at least – will be about Mark Cavendish, but this was a hugely successful championships for the British team as a whole, and indeed for the sport as a whole. Well done, Copenhagen.

2011 Road World Championships results

Men’s road race:

1. Mark Cavendish (Britain), 2. Matt Goss (Australia), 3. André Greipel (Germany)

Men’s time trial:

1. Tony Martin (Germany), 2. Bradley Wiggins (Britain), 3. Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland)

Women’s road race:

1. Girogia Bronzini (Italy), 2. Marianne Vos (Netherlands), 3. Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (Germany)

Women’s time trial:

1. Judith Arndt (Germany), 2. Linda Vilumsen (New Zealand), 3.Emma Pooley (Britain)

Men’s under-23 road race:

1. Arnaud Démare (France), 2. Adrien Petit (France), 3. Andrew Fenn (Britain)

Men’s under-23 time trial:

1. Luke Durbridge (Australia), 2. Rasmus Quaade (Denmark), 3. Michael Hepburn (Australia)

Men’s junior road race:

1. Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier (France), 2. Martijn Degreve (Belgium), 3. Steven Lammertink (Netherlands)

Men’s junior time trial:

1. Mads Würtz Schmidt (Denmark), 2. James Oram (New Zealand), 3. David Edwards (Australia)

Women’s junior road race:

1. Lucy Garner (Great Britain), 2. Jessy Druyts (Belgium), 3. Christina Siggaard (Denmark)

Women’s junior time trial:

1. Jessica Allen (Australia), 2. Elinor Barker (Britain), 3. Mieke Kröger (Germany)

Link: 2011 UCI Road World Championships official website

Vuelta a España: Rodríguez soars then stumbles in the mountains

A pair of tough climbing finishes – the first a short punchy ascent, the second a long hard slog to the summit of a first category mountain – were supposed to resolve the picture at the top of the general classification of the Vuelta a España. Instead, they have only served to muddy the waters, with Sunday’s finish on top of Sierra de Béjar leaving exactly one minute separating 13th place from new leader Bauke Mollema, and with the title credentials of Joaquim Rodríguez hanging on the outcome of Monday’s individual time trial around Salamanca.

Stage 8: Talavera de la Reina to San Lorenzo de El Escorial, 177.3km

Rodríguez moved to the top of the standings with a dominant win in San Lorenzo

Rodríguez had put himself firmly in the box seat with a coruscating attack on the final 2.4km climb of stage eight in San Lorenzo, which featured 200 metres of vertical gain and ramps of 27% and 28% in the final kilometre. The Spanish Katusha climber – the overwhelming favourite for the stage – jumped off the wheel of Lampre’s Michele Scarponi on one of the steepest sections with around 500 metres to go and pulled out a nine-second advantage by the finish.

Scarponi finished second with Mollema and Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), with the rest of the general classification contenders scattered further down the hill. Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali was 32 seconds back (52, after taking time bonuses into account). Sylvain Chavanel conceded the red jersey to Rodríguez after finishing 63 seconds down. Sky’s Bradley Wiggins was in a group of 11 GC men including Juan José Cobo (Geox), Janez Brajkovič (RadioShack) and Marzio Bruseghin (Movistar) 20 seconds behind the winner, whose advantage at the head of the overall standings over teammate Daniel Moreno stood at 32 seconds.

Stage 8 result:

1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 4:49:01

2. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +0:09

3. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) same time

4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) s/t

5. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +0:12

Stage 9: Villacastín to Sierra de Bejar La Covatilla, 183km

However, if the San Lorenzo climb was tailored perfectly to Rodríguez’s punchy characteristics, today’s finish on Sierra de Béjar – 18.2km with several sections over 10% in its second half – was certainly better suited to those capable of sustaining their power for the best part of 30 minutes. A four-man break had initially pulled out a huge advantage with two survivors – Omega Pharma’s Sebastian Lang and Vacansoleil’s Pim Ligthart – starting the final climb with an advantage of around 3½ minutes.

Mollema moved into the overall lead by just one second

Having caught Lang with less than 7km to go, there then followed one of the most exciting passage of racing seen in any of this year’s Grand Tours. A sequence of attacks by GC contenders shredded the peloton and left Rodríguez blowing hard towards the back of the group. In quick succession, Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis), Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step), Nibali and finally Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) put in big efforts off the front which upped the overall pace and sapped the legs of the less powerful riders.

Martin’s attack, which came with just over 5km to go, initially looked like being decisive. But having dropped his cousin Nicolas Roche (AG2R), Nibali eventually dragged the other leaders back up to him. By now Rodríguez was clearly at his limit, and when Sky’s Chris Froome hit the front to keep the tempo high for his team leader Bradley Wiggins it proved to be too much for the red jersey, who fell away just inside 3km and started to drop back rapidly. With opportunity knocking, Wiggins took over the pace-setting at the front, riding several tough climbers – including Nibali – off his wheel with an impressive sustained burst he has rarely if ever displayed in the high mountains. Only in the final stretch, as Martin launched a sprint in a bid for victory and the 20 bonus seconds that only Mollema could follow, did Wiggins tail off. For Martin, it was his first Grand Tour stage win.

However, the British champion’s effort had achieved its objective, with a pained Rodríguez crossing the line 50 seconds after Martin and conceding the overall lead to Mollema by a single second. The 24-year old Dutchman is good value for the red jersey, having been the most consistent performer in the race so far in a season in which he caught the eye when placing fifth at the Tour de Suisse in June, a year after placing 12th at the Giro d’Italia.

Nibali is a further eight seconds back, with Wiggins still outside the top ten in 13th, but now only 60 seconds behind the red jersey.

Dan Martin savours victory at the end of a punishing climb on Sierra de Béjar (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Individual time trial will shake up the order

With the top of the general classification compressed again, tomorrow’s 47km individual time trial takes on additional importance. Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin will be expected to dominate, although after nine punishing days of intense heat and tough climbs we may see some surprising results.

We will certainly see Rodríguez struggle – he lost six minutes in last year’s time trial over a similar distance, and will probably consider himself happy if he can limit his losses to three tomorrow. Similarly, Scarponi (18th at 1:54 behind) and Van Den Broeck (5th, 0:27) are also likely to struggle and concede large chunks of time which will knock them down the order.

Wiggins now stands just 1:00 off the race lead

Perhaps the most intriguing men to watch out for will be Geox’s Denis Menchov(21st, 2:18), a two-time Vuelta winner, and Wiggins himself. Both are top-class time trialists who could easily make up two to three minutes on the majority of riders around them, and both have performed strongly on the big climbs to date. Do not be surprised if either or both catapult themselves into the top three tomorrow night, a position both men are certainly capable of defending in the days to come. My money is on Wiggins to post a top-ten time against the clock – normally I would expect top-five, but I expect today’s effort will cost him some time tomorrow – which should be enough to put him into the red jersey heading into the first rest day. How long he will be able to defend it for is another matter, but it would be a significant achievement nonetheless.

After a week’s racing which has frequently seen temperatures topping 40°C, the competition for the red jersey is also hotting up. The next week – culminating in next Sunday’s ascent of the Angliru – should definitely reduce the field of genuine contenders to a mere handful.

Stage 9 result:

1. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) 4:52:14

2. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) same time

3. Juan José Cobo (Geox-TMC) +0:03

4. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +0:04

5. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:07

General classification:

1. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) 37:11:17

2.  Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) +0:01

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:09

4. Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) +0:18

5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:27

6. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +0:35

7. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +0:37

8. Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step) +0:42

9. Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack) +0:42

10. Juan José Cobo (Geox-TMC) +0:46

Points classification:

1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 74 pts

2. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) 62

3.  Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) 50

4. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) 48

5. Pablo Lastras (Movistar) 48

Mountains classification:

1. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) 25 pts

2, Matteo Montaguti (AG2R La Mondiale) 23

3. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 20

4. Chris Anker Sørensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard) 15

5. Koen De Kort (Skil-Shimano) 14

Link: Vuelta a España official website

Vuelta a España posts

Vuelta a España preview

Team time trial winners & losers

Stage 2 recap & analysing the sprints

Chavanel leads as heat picks up in GC competition

Rodríguez floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee

Debut wins for Sagan and Kittel promise open 2012 sprints

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

Vuelta a España posts

Vuelta a España preview

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