The opening stage of the Vuelta is no introductory prologue. Instead this team time trial is long enough to see significant time gaps open up and shape the overall classification for the first week. This is a fast course for big rouleurs, the antithesis of a race where the winner in three weeks’ time will be climber with a compact chainset.
It’s an evening event with the race concluding as the sun sets off the coast so adjust your TV routine if you plan to catch this on TV.
The Route: it starts… with a boat trip and teams will be line up on a batea (see below) before starting the 27.4km course. It’s from Villanova de Arousa to Sanxenxo and more rolling than the profile suggests with long drags and roads that should have many spinning a 55×11 gear.
The Scenario: Astana have a strong team with some excellent rouleurs like Brajkovič, Fuglsang and Kangert to match Nibali. Belkin have several strong riders and in times past the Rabo team was a real force in the time trial but this is a squad for the three weeks rather than today. BMC‘s Swiss guard of Kohler and Wyss provide some extra support for Marco Pinotti but the superstar team won’t win this. Katusha have often surprised but remember the spine of the team has long been made from graduates of the Russian track cycling system but today’s squad has more Spaniard climbers than flinty Russians who ride without ever rocking their shoulders or hips.
Netapp-Endura won’t win but could make the top-10, their wildcard invitation is not by chance and they should provide some variety during the three weeks. Movistar are built for the mountains but are a well-balanced team and obviously motivated to the max. Orica-Greenedge are another squad build on the back of a national track squad and won, just, in the Tour de France. Different riders are here but the squad has a homogenous look and could make the top-3.
Radioshack Leopard are another pick and not just because they’ve got Fabian Cancellara but also Gregory Rast, Haimar Zubeldia and Ben Hermans amongst others and they’re outsiders to win outright and should be in the top-5. Team Sky’s reputation precedes it and if it too is another squad with track DNA, their Vuelta squad is built for going uphill and I think they’d sign now for a top-5 ride. Team Saxo-Tinkoff have some contenders for the overall but will need to balance how their rouleurs work with their climbers.
Finally OPQS should be the prime pick. Tony Martin is worth two riders and whilst Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and in-form Zdeněk Štybar provide extra horsepower. But they’ve not got the likes of Sylvain Chavanel or Niki Terpstra today and instead have some younger riders like Andy Fenn and Pieter Serry.
Weather: sunny but not hot and with a 30km/h tailwind. A tailwind in a team time trial is not the blessing it might seem as it alters the aerodynamics and timing of the ride, those dropping back down the line take longer to get to the back of the group. As a result they risk softpedalling for too long and so by the time they find their spot in the back of the group the team is going much too fast for them by the time they get back. Not a problem for well-drilled teams but disrupt the harmony of others.
Some of the strongest teams start early so they could be sitting in the hotseat for some time.
BMC Racing 19:00
Caja Rural 19:04
Team Saxo-Tinkoff 19:28
Team Sky 19:40
Local info: an introduction to say reader, cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz is going to be my tutor for the next three weeks with local information and you can follow him on Twitter as manuelsociales.
- During the Galician stages (14) most names will not be written in Spanish but Galician, a language similar to Portuguese spoken in Galicia. For example, Vilanova de Arousa (Galician) is the same as Villanueva de Arosa (Spanish)
- The teams will start the TTT from a batea, which is an artificial platform traditionally used in Galicia to grow seafood (especially mussels, hence the mascot for the start of the Vuelta pictured above)
- Many rías are found along the Galician coast. A ría (built by a river) is similar to a fjord (built by a glacier). The ría de Arousa/Arosa is the biggest of the Galician rías
- Between 1997 and 2004 there was a car named SEAT Arosa, similar to Volkswagen Lupo, a small city car
- The city of Sanxenxo owes its name to Saint Genesius of Rome, whose feast day is celebrated tomorrow. He is the patron of actors, lawyers, barristers, clowns, comedians, converts, dancers, epileptics, musicians, printers, stenographers… and appropriately enough for the next three weeks, torture victims