An increasingly familiar sight, this year’s Vuelta a España opens the three week grand tour with another expected team time trial; though this particular curtain raiser differs greatly from the norm. A bizarrely short (7.4km) course for the team time trial was the initial surprise when first unveiled, but what followed was greater confusion when closer inspection revealed the tricky array of surfaces upon which the riders were meant to contest day one’s victory. Rubber tiles, polished stone, loose sand and cement paving are all among the variety of surfaces represented in this prologue sized team contest. Surprisingly, this creation was approved by the UCI who did not deem it dangerous, while it had also not been investigated closely by the teams present here until this very week. The subsequent fallout from the riders reaction of shock at the expectation of racing on such unsuitable time trialling terrain has resulted in this opening affair being neutralised in regards to the expected time gaps; leaving only stage honours up for grabs. A likely consequence of this will be that those who were expecting the need to protect their general classification leader’s hopes immediately on day one, are able to now take it incredibly easy, assuming they do indeed view this as an unnecessary expenditure of energy before the much tougher Stage 2 finale.
In the absence of a squad seriously targeting this team time trial, the opening chance of victory is relatively wide open, with many general classification focused teams likely to limit their efforts hear due to the time neutralisation. Trek Factory Racing should have a great chance of winning this short and flat team time trial which suits their sprint and power based roster for La Vuelta. The Van Poppel brothers, Fabian Cancellara, Jasper Stuyven and Ricardo Zoidl strike a good blend of raw speed and experienced time trialling prowess, but Fränk Schleck was likely to be the rider to drag them downwards with his lack of relevant skills. However, without the opportunity to concede time now eradicated on Stage 1, the more powerful riders may decide to give it everything in the name of victory and let Schleck limp home solo.
Reigning World Champions of this discipline are USA/Swiss outfit BMC, arriving at this race with the hope of remedying leader Tejay Van Garderen’s Tour de France disappointment with an impressive showing at his Vuelta a España debut. Of course this team is not the same as the one which earned them their shared rainbow bands, but they still retain a realistic chance of winning here. TVG, Peter Velits and Samuel Sanchez are no slouches against the clock, nor is classics and prologue specialist ‘Jempy’ Drucker. Regardless of the team not possessing their specialist line-up for this contest, they still know their way around such a test and should be present in the final top five at the very least.
Weather they intended to target a win on day one is unclear, but Giant-Alpecin have arrived with a strong selection for this team time trial; inadvertently or not. Tom Dumoulin obviously catches the eye immediately, the young Dutchman cementing his place as one of the world’s finest against the clock in the last year or so. Given that John Degenkolb is the lead man for the German squad, this means a supporting cast for the targeted sprints brings along with him Luka Mezgec, Koen de Kort and Tom Stamsnijder who bolster the team’s chances of winning with speed and prologue experience.
Lotto Soudal enter today’s stage as dark horses for the win and could see the possibility of them sneaking a victory increase rapidly in the wake of the time neutralisation decision, which is bound to quell the interest of general classification focused teams originally worried about performing well here. Kris Boeckmans, Thomas De Gendt, Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Maxime Monfort are all represented in the ranks of the Belgian outfit and offer a solid foundation to launch a bid for a surprise win on Stage 1.
Beyond those mentioned above, the teams aimed towards general classification goals should now be able to breathe a sigh of relief thanks to the neutralisation of all time gaps. Instead of having to achieve a difficult balance of calculating their risk taking on a dangerous myriad of surfaces, while trying to limit any losses, such teams can now pace their way around the course however they see fit. Sky, Tinkoff-Saxo, Astana, Katusha and Movistar are all likely to do just that; conserving energy ahead of the following day’s difficult Alto de la Mesa finale.
1st Lotto Soudal 2nd Trek Factory Racing 3rd BMC