Vuelta Stage 1 Preview

¡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


25 thoughts on “Vuelta Stage 1 Preview”

      • Oh please Senor Inrng, let us not waste this fantastic opportunity to look a gift horse in the mouth and give it a big sloppy kiss !
        First Prize today : Kiss Me Quick cowboy hats in victorious team colours
        Second Prize : We’re Only Here For The Beer team bidons
        Third Prize : Jars of Marbella Rock candy (in the shape of fruit, to provide long-lasting sustenance on those mountain climbs)

        PS Riders beware the Donkey rides and sandcastles as they enter the beach section.
        (Non-UK readers probably won’t have a clue what I am going on about but, hey, this is Marbella sea front we’re talking).

  1. This is a road race, not cyclocross. Strade bianche and cobblestones I understand. Soft sand is utterly ridiculous. If I were Simon Gerrans or Fabian Cancellara, for example, both of whom have crashed multiple times this season, I would be taking no risks whatsoever. Very disappointing. Embarrassing for ASO too.

  2. “rotate through in the style of an endless animated GIF”

    again a brilliant turn of phrase from INRNG.

    Complete farce of a stage, and fingers crossed no one is injured because of it.

    No truth to the rumours they’ll all be riding fat bikes (don’t think there is one in Pinarello’s range…).

  3. Very embarrassing indeed this sandy route! And then this decision not to make it count for GC… Very amateurial all of that.
    On top of it, it is not the first time Guillen (and team) makes dangerous routes for TT. Remember the arrival of the final stage last year on the cobblestone in front of Compostelle’s cathedral.

    You are well informed inrng on the current situation of costa del sol! Andalucia (the region where costa del sol is) has almost 40% unemployment (this is a record in UE I think) and is absolutely gangrened by corruption. On Jesus Gil, I will just mention that he was also president of the Atletico Madrid football team, and used Marbella’s funds to finance it… No comment.

  4. Will there be team yachts from Tinkoff and Katusha at Puerto Banus, rather than motorhomes ?

    Some people there with some hugely expensive toys who make Vino and Oleg look positively saintly

  5. I read some speculation earlier in the week that the TTT could become an individual event to prevent the issues around close formation riding/rotation of pulls on the loose surfaces and narrow sections. Was this ever a realistic proposition? It seemed quite late in the day for such a change.

  6. Jesús Gil was also responsible for the deaths of 58 people due to insanely shoddy building practices – it was somewhere near Segovia. He was jailed, but pardoned by Franco.
    The Costa del Sol is just depressing in every way: the buildings, the atmosphere, the disparity in wealth, what they’ve done to the environment, the crime and corruption…
    Still, it could be brightened by today’s farce – ludicrous, of course, but could be entertaining (albeit for all the wrong reasons).

  7. Serious question, would they be better off on cross bikes or road bikes with 28c tires so they can rail through the corners? If the winning strategy is to hop on board your tt bike and hope you don’t die then it’s a crappy course. But if the winning strategy is “use a different bike for once” then its fine (akin to making tdf contenders race over rainy cobbles).

  8. Froome and c/o are chikens and i don’t see why ASO would fold, it’s Armstrong all over again that a single riders has more to say than the organizers.

    They should race it, its part of the parcours – they just need to slow down on the sandy parts and the wooden brigde. It s not dangerrous to ride over sand, its not like that there is a 100 clift to fall down if they go too fast and crash.

    Next step is that ASO will neutralize the +20% sections on Angrilou and the the 5 stared cobble sections in paris roubaix.

    It’s not like they are to race the south decent of Gavia with a finnish in Ponte di Legno – thats scary even when not racing (just did last week)

    • While taking a risk of evoking the image of ol’ Abe Simpson shaking his fist at the clouds, I’m with you – until you whine about the Gavia. I rode down this (on a standard road bike) back when it was dirt, so “qwitcher bitchin” as they say 🙂
      While the Vuelta’s TTT route is certainly unsuited to today’s modern chrono machine – where does it say someone MUST ride one of those? The teams manage just fine in those flyway races in the desert without these otherwise useless contraptions. I say leave ’em to the triathletes.

      • exactly – they dont need to ride those tempo bikes if they dont think they can handle them.

        reg the gavia i just did it last week – o a std roadbike, 27″mm pave tubulars and 12kg of luggage. i wouldn’t want to race on it but i dont mind ride it.

        i was just using the gavia decent as an example of something that CAN be dangerous.

        • And why shouldn’t bicycle racing BE a little bit dangerous? I’ll state upfront as an ex-AMA Superbike professional motorcycle racer what I think is risky or dangerous might be greatly different from what you think, but what is the sport and the races supposed to test? I hope like hell it’s not simply watts per kg or how big is your team’s budget as some who shall remain nameless would seemingly prefer. More than watts per kg I want to see the sport reward skill in operating the bike, tactics, preparation and yes, a little bravery, a little risk-taking, whether the danger is missing the corner and flying off a cliff or blowing up on the final climb because you misjudged your effort. The challenge, the struggle, the suffering, the overcoming of weather conditions or the course itself..all of that is important and what has contributed to the wonderful history and passion of the sport. W Ciclismo!!

          • There’s a clue in title of Road Racing I think. Cobbles and dirt are still roads where as a lot of this is pedestrianised.

            If you allow this where does it stop? Up stairs, through the hallway and out the back door? There’s plenty of other disciplines where people can get their fill of more exotic surfaces.

    • Presumably your statement is some kind meta-comment about the fallacy of the ‘Froome- Armstrong equivalence’, given that this was clearly not a case of a ‘single rider’ complaining?

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