¡Vamos a la playa! The Vuelta starts with a beach team time trial that was supposed to a sensual experience with seven types of road surface including one section along the beach itself. However the course’s narrow route, the loose sandy sections and the flexy section of plastic tiles laid on the beach mean it’s only being ridden for the stage win and the times will not count for the overall.
Jokes about crazy courses aside, the news of the stage’s status downgrade is serious for the race will have had riders on relatively weak teams like Domenico Pozzovivo and Pierre Rolland shouting olé with joy.
It won’t have the race organisers so cheerful. Seeing the opening stage half-neutralised is an embarrassment for the event but it should have foreseen this, it was too audacious for a serious race.
The Course: a 7.4km seaside route from Puerto Banús to Marbella, some of Spain’s most prestigious seafront and the race is meant to showcase this. When the beach route was announced it left some scratching their heads, now the reality has proved just as confounding with a section across the beach, albeit temporarily paved with large jigsaw-like blocks, a boardwalk section and other sections of the coast normally used by tourists to saunter along the beach. It makes this year’s Giro opener on the Sanremo cycle path look regular, fast and safe. Tactically this matters as swapping the lead is difficult in places so teams will need to time the pulls right and it’s so short that if each rider only has to take an 800m pull and the course is over. There are some tight corners on the narrow parts too.
The Contenders: with such a short and awkward course it’s less about having a homogeneous team who can pace each other with consideration and rotate through in the style of an endless animated GIF. Instead having a handful of big engines to tow the team along matters.
Giant-Alpecin have a great chance today. Assuming he’s back to form after his Tour crash Tom Dumoulin brings power to the team and the backbone of the team is sprint train and leadout for John Degenkolb, in other words they can turn on the power over such a short course. Lawson Craddock isn’t part of the sprint train but is in great shape.
Trek Factory Racing have a good chance at early glory with Fabian Cancellara in the engine room accompanied by riders like Danny Van Poppel and Jasper Stuyven.
Normally Orica-Greenedge would be a red hot pick but they don’t have as many ex-team pursuiters in the starting line-up to reassure but Cameron Meyer, Daryl Impey and Damien Howson will help a lot. They’ll still feel like this is “their” event and will race hard and take risks to bank an early stage win.
Tinkoff-Saxo have an outside chance with Peter Sagan’s acrobatics but also Pavel Brutt’s force and engines like Maciej Bodnar, the promising Jay Macarthy and old stalwarts Daniele Bennati and Sergio Paulinho.
Etixx-Quickstep come with a relatively weak team but Niki Terpstra and company will like the short distance and the fact that the GC contenders don’t feel the same pressure here.
Will Team Sky race this? Why not, it helps to send a signal to the others and they’ve got plenty of riders to help get the Vuelta off to a good start. The same holds true for BMC Racing with Amaël Moinard, Jempy Drucker and Marcus Burghardt there to complement Tejay van Garderen. Ditto Astana with many excellent engines but can they work together and trust each other on the course? Movistar have won the Vuelta opener before but they haven’t brought TT aces like Malori, Dowsett and Castroviejo, all were used in the Tour de France instead so it’s harder to see a win today.
Team Lotto-Jumbo have been having a hard season but Mike Teunissen has won time recently and the rest of the team is solid too. A win is probably a dream but with the odd course they’ll do better than we’d expect if this was a 20km race. By contrast IAM Cycling can surprise in team time trial but I think the likes of Sylvain Chavanel and Jerôme Coppel would prefer a longer course to turn on the power.
|Giant-Alpecin, Trek Factory Racing|
|Team Sky, Orica-Greenedge, Tinkoff-Saxo, Astana|
|Lotto-Jumbo, BMC Racing, Etixx-Quickstep|
TV: the first team is off at 6.40pm Euro time and the last will arrive at 8.30pm.
Weather: warm and a 5-10km/h breeze coming off the coast.
Daily Díaz: Welcome to the Costa del Sol, the Sun Coast! Jep Gambardella’s birthday party 24/7! This is one of the touristic hotspots in Spain, where Arab sheikhs and their entourage are said to spend millions of dollars every day, while the unemployment rate almost reaches 30 %. Bags of money, corrupt municipal officers, war criminals in disguise and first, second and even thirdclass celebrities can be found, if you know where to look for them. One last mention to Jesús Gil, who was the mayor of the city between 1991 and 2002. In one video he’s complaining about dirty politicians who take money away from the honest citizenship… before he was found guilty of corruption himself and banned from politics.
Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel