Rohan Dennis of BMC Racing produced a dominant display to win the prologue time trial of the Vuelta a Espana. The Australian national time trial champion now has stage wins in all three grand tours after victory ahead of Michal Kwiatkowski of Team Sky and Victor Campeanaerts of Lotto Soudal. George Bennett got through the prologue reasonably successfully in the mix with his fellow GC challengers.
Van Baarle sets early pace as Porte struggles
Malaga played host to the opening prologue time trial of the 2018 Vuelta a Espana. The 8km course took in a short rise before the finish and it was Dylan van Baarle of Team Sky who set the early benchmark of the day. Of the 176 riders on the start list the Dutchman was the 20th rider to leave the start ramp, directly after the first big GC threat in Richie Porte of BMC Racing. Van Baarle’s time of 9.59mins was the first sub-10 minute time of the day and it was set to be a long wait in the leader’s seat for the national time trial champion.
The early strong times were set by Alessandro De Marchi of BMC Racing who hit 10 minutes flat, with Fabio Felline of Trek-Segafredo at 2 seconds, Andrey Amador of Movistar at 3 seconds alongside Brent Bookwalther of BMC Racing. Of the major GC contenders it was Adam Yates of Mitchelton-Scott who set the early strong time at 20 seconds. Thibaut Pinot of Groupama-FDJ equalled him, with Richie Porte 11 seconds behind them. Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo would be an interesting rider to watch and an outsider in the list of possible contenders for the GC. His time of 10.07mins was a very powerful one and put him well clear of the rest of the GC contenders early on.
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Steadily though the times came down, with Gorka Izagirre of Bahrain-Merida going close with a time of 10.03mins. Finally though, Nelson Oliveira of Movistar dethroned Van Baarle of the top spot. The Portuguese was quicker at the first time check by 2 seconds and he managed to extend his lead by 1 second to take over top spot by 3 seconds.
Bennett in GC mix, as Kwiatkowski topples Oliveira
George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo was the only Kiwi to take to the start line of this year’s Vuelta a Espana. Having already finished 8th in the Giro d’Italia hopes were high for Bennett that he could do something special overall. The prologue time trial would be something to try and simply get through though without conceding too much time. At the first check Bennett sat in 34th position; slightly ahead of Adam Yates. Bennett eventually stopped the clock in 10.21mins to finish 2 seconds behind Yates and Pinot; and get an early advantage over the likes of Porte.
Ahead of Bennett though Wilco Kelderman got off to an exceptional start, pushing all the way to finish just 5 seconds slower than Oliveira. Also expected to potentially shine were Michal Kwiatkowski of Team Sky and Alejandro Valverde of Movistar. They were among a star-studded finale to the day that concluded with former champions Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali; with Rohan Dennis of BMC Racing the last of the purer time trial riders to depart.
Kwiatkowski set out quickly, establishing himself on the course with the fastest intermediate time, 2 seconds up on Mitchelton-Scott’s Alexander Edmondson. The Polish rider continued to press on and build on his momentum as the kilometres ticked away and he crossed the line in emphatic fashion, smashing Oliveira’s time to stop the clock in 9.45mins. Alejandro Valverde finished well in 10.03mins.
Dennis class above, completes grand tour stage collection
The stage was still up for contest, and although Kwiatkowski was setting the benchmark high, European time trial champion Victor Campeanaerts of Lotto Soudal couldn’t be ruled out as a contender. He went through the first time check 2 seconds adrift of the Pole. The Belgian improved in the latter stages and he sprinted manically out of the final corner, but was denied the win by just 1 second.
Rohan Dennis, wearing his national time trial champion’s jersey, was the last likely challenger for stage honours. The Australian blasted out of the start ramp full of intent and was quickly 2 seconds up on Kwiatkowski where Campenaerts had been slightly adrift. At the first time check Dennis was a full 5 seconds to the good and looking confident of a stage win. In fact, so powerful was Dennis’ ride that he very nearly caught his minute man as he stopped the clock in 9.39mins; 6 seconds faster than Kwiatkowski and with the stage win virtually in the bag.
Neither Quintana or Nibali were able to conquer the Australian, with Quintana crossing the line in 10.10mins and Nibali in 10.20mins. Victory against the clock means that Dennis now has stage wins in all three grand tours in France, Italy and Spain.
The result meant that overall George Bennett took 69th position on the stage ahead of the likes of Richie Porte and Rigoberto Uran. Nairo Quintana was one of the more successful GC challengers along with Wilco Kerlderman, Simon Yates and Alejandro Valverde.