The 2012 Vuelta a España opens with a 16.5km team time trial in the evening. The profile is flat but it doesn’t tell the full story.
The course heads around the city centre of Pamplona, borrowing routes of the famous annual encierro. If the route is flat, it features a few narrow roads and a lot of sharp bends, several more than ninety degrees. This matters as a team needs practice to work as a unit even on flat wide and straight roads but once the corners make things irregular pacing and cohesion get even harder.
Obviously this is all about riding as a team but it is much easier said than done, to get it right requires expert skills and a lot of practice. Riders need to measure their efforts, ideally the stronger riders take long turns rather than faster ones. Done right and a relatively weak team on paper when you scan the names can beat a squad with famously strong riders. And if things go well it can provide a crucial morale boost ahead of a tough three weeks.
On a technical point remember the time is taken on the fifth rider and anyone dropped is awarded with the time it took them to complete the course. And, espite confusion back in July, the times today do count for the overall.
The Contenders: the bookmakers have Sky as the top pick and this seems right given the mix of time trial ability in the squad and the way the team can work as a team. Omega Pharma-Quickstep, Rabobank, Orica-Greenedge and Garmin-Sharp are other picks. Katusha could surprise, they did exactly this in the Giro and several strong riders. Watch Saxo Bank, we will see how they work as a team.
TV: remember this is an evening course and the first team is off at 7.00pm Euro time and the last team (Movistar with defending champion Cobo) will arrive at 8.45pm.
Weather: Hot, temperatures are expected to reach 38°C (100°F) during the day and if the race is in the evening, the urban course means the buildings will have had time to soak up heat all day. But the stage is short, 18 minutes and most won’t take any water. The important thing is to warm up right before and cool down after. Some teams are using “ice vests”, large waistcoats with pockets of gel that are frozen.
Local rider: Miguel Indurain. The five time Tour de France winner is retired of course but still a big name in Spain where he fronts TV ad campaigns. He is from Villava, a small suburb on the outskirts of town.