Two stages of the Vuelta a Espana produced two very interesting results, with Astana taking the team time trial and Nairo Quintana bucking the trend of tradition in grand tours by taking the first road stage of the race.
Astana surprise in team time trial
The opening team time trial of the 2019 Vuelta a Espana was a short 13.4km dash from Salinas de Torrevieja to Torrevieja. Almost pancake flat in nature, the stage was made for fast times, but there was high drama in the general classification on a day where tiny margins were originally expected to dominate time gaps.
EF Education First were one of the early fast teams to set the tempo. After CCC Team went through the 7km time check with the fastest time, the American outfit led by Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran went through 3 seconds faster again. They stopped the clock having further extended that lead to 8 seconds, crossing the line in 14.58mins. It would prove a difficult time to conquer.
Astana were every bit the surprise package of the team time trial though. Not renowned as a team time trial outfit, the squad for the Vuelta a Espana is exceptionally strong and a battle unfolded between them and Team Sunweb – who started just ahead of them – for top spot. Sunweb briefly got the provisional lead but Miguel Angel Lopez stormed to take the line for Astana, with his teammates slightly gapped behind him – such was his strength – but finishing in 14.51mins; bettering Sunweb by 5 seconds.
They were expected to be challenged by both Deceuninck-QuickStep and Tour de France team time trial winners Jumbo-Visma with George Bennett in their ranks. BORA-Hansgrohe also put up a good challenge, eventually finishing 13 seconds back and in fifth place at the end of the day. Jumbo-Visma’s day was disastrous though, having originally started so well. The team were in flying form until a crash on a left hander brought down four of their riders; cancelling any chance of stage honours.
Steven Kruijswijk, Primož Roglič, Lennard Hofstede and Neilson Powless all hit the deck before remounting. The team finished the stage, but they suffered a major dent in their GC aspirations; conceding 40 seconds to Astana.
Deceuninck-QuickStep came very, very close to overthrowing Astana, and one of the first major what-ifs of the stage was around whether they would have won had they not been hampered by a Jumbo-Visma car that had stopped to attend to one of the team’s riders. Having had to regather themselves, the wolf pack’s momentum suffered and they eventually finished just 2 seconds back.
Stage 1 results:
|1||ASTANA PRO TEAM||14:51.08|
|2||DECEUNINCK – QUICK – STEP||+2.00|
|4||EF EDUCATION FIRST||+7.00|
|5||BORA – HANSGROHE||+13.00|
|8||GROUPAMA – FDJ||+16.00|
|9||MITCHELTON – SCOTT||+18.00|
|12||BAHRAIN – MERIDA||+26.00|
|13||TEAM KATUSHA ALPECIN||+33.00|
|14||TEAM DIMENSION DATA||+34.00|
|15||TREK – SEGAFREDO||+35.00|
|16||CAJA RURAL – SEGUROS RGA||+37.00|
|17||AG2R LA MONDIALE||+37.00|
|18||TEAM JUMBO – VISMA||+40.00|
|19||COFIDIS, SOLUTIONS CREDITS||+43.00|
|20||EUSKADI BASQUE COUNTRY – MURIAS||+46.00|
|21||UAE TEAM EMIRATES||+1:07.00|
|22||BURGOS – BH||+1:22.00|
Quintana takes stage, Roche claims lead for Sunweb
Stage 2 from Benidorm to Calpe, a journey of 199.6km was an interesting one to try and predict, with a lot of climbing early on with the 20.6km Puerto de Confrides and a further two climbs before a flat run in to the line only broken by a rise inside the final 15km. The day enticed a breakaway of four riders, with Sander Armée of Lotto Soudal, Willie Smit of Katusha-Alpecin, Angel Madrazo of Burgos-BH and Jonathan Lastra of Caja Rural-Seguros RGA getting into the move.
The peloton were pulled along by a combined effort from BORA-Hansgrohe and Astana in the initial stages, with the gap to the leaders sitting at around 2.45mins with 62km of racing remaining; having at one point had a lead of nearly seven minutes. The break’s lead proceeded to hang around the 3 minute mark for a good chunk of the stage, before dropping rapidly towards the minute mark. With just over 40km to go Sander Armee spelled the end of allegiances in the break, attacking solo, in a valiant and spirited effort that tipped his hat to late teammate Bjorg Lambrecht.
Armee’s effort came to an end when Jumbo-Visma led the catch with 31km to go. From here the intensity remained high as Dion Smith challenged for the front of the peloton with Mitchelton-SCOTT. The reason for the intensity was the climb of Alto de Puig Llorenca that peaked with just 26.5km to go. The climb was a short but steep one and hand interest from all sides in terms of finding a team that could lead the way.
In the end the front of the peloton looked like a huge mess of different teams competing for the front of the race, with Jumbo-Visma notably present in numbers. Hugh Carthy of EF Education First set a strong tempo on the front, with BORA-Hansgrohe’s Davide Formolo and AG2R La Mondiale’s Pierre Latour succeeding him at the front. George Bennett of Jumbo-Visma made a big effort to get across to the duo, and with 2km of the climb remaining the trio had a slight gap.
They were joined by a small group that contained Primož Roglič, Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana and Miguel Angel Lopez and then they in turn were joined by a gradually swelling group behind them. Valverde attacked late as the race reached the summit of the climb, taking maximum points in the KOM classification before being caught by a much fragmented ‘peloton’.
With just over 20km to go Nicolas Roche of Sunweb made his move and proved an inspired attack, with just Rigoberto Uran of EF Education First, Nairo Quintana, Mitchelton-SCOTT’s Mikel Nieve, Fabio Aru of UAE Team Emirates and Roglič able to go with him. The red jersey of Miguel Angel Lopez was caught in the group behind and to his disadvantage was the fact that despite the variety of teams present at the front of the race; all were willing to get to work in the name of potential time advantages. Also in the second group on the road was George Bennett; not needing to attack with his team leader up ahead.
With 7km to go the leaders were 28 seconds up on the group containing the red jersey. The group continued to work together all the way until an attack by Nairo Quintana finally decided the stage honours. With the time gap nearing 40 seconds the Colombian made his move off of the wheel of Rigoberto Uran. Hesitation from the group saw a gap open up and it was all on from here.
Roche was the strongest of the chasers behind, attacking the rest of the group and almost having the strength to go solo after the lone leader. Mikel Nieve by contrast almost lost any advantage he’d gained over the group behind with a wheel slide that demanded every bit of bike handling skill to keep upright.
Meanwhile with 500m remaining Roglič was leading the chase behind Quintana, but it looked like the second group were playing games a little too much. Quintana took full advantage, time trialling to the stage win before raising his arms in celebration as Nicolas Roche led home the group for second place; his eyes on the clock to see whether he’d done enough to take the overall lead. As Lopez finally crossed the line 32 seconds behind the Roche group, an it transpired that Quintana had only won by 5 seconds it was confirmed that the Irishman would take the lead by 2 seconds.
George Bennett, after a very strong day, crossed the line 14th on the stage and up to 17th overall, with the general classification already looking surprisingly open just 2 days into the race.