Team Sky have taken victory in the Vuelta opening stage, the team time trial; by the narrowest of margins ahead of Movistar. Sam Bewley’s Orica-BikeExchange finished third with most of the GC contenders still very close together.
The 2016 edition of the Vuelta a España opened with a team time trial, contested over 27.8 kilometres. With a leader’s jersey on offer at the end of the stage, as well as time gains for the overall contenders, the stage was very important to anyone with their sights set on the final podium.
Astana suffer mechanical issues
The first team off was Bora-Argon18 and as expected set they best time at all the time checks, stopping the clock at 31.34. Astana did not have the best of starts as a mechanical slowed the team, leaving them trailing Bora-Argon18 by ten seconds at the first intermediate check, and still nine seconds down at the second check. The team closed in on the time set by Bora-Argon18 over the last sector, but fell one second shy of taking the lead at the finish.
FDJ was the first team to beat the time of Bora-Argon18 at the first time check, by a single second, but their time did not stand for long, as Etixx-QuickStep rushed through 13 seconds faster, with the Cannondale-Drapac squad of Patrick Bevin slotting into fourth at the first check, 16 seconds down on Etixx-QuickStep.
FDJ, which briefly held the lead at the first check, could not maintain their pace, and ended up slotting into third at the finish, eight seconds down on Bora-Argon18. Etixx-QuickStep did not fade though, and set a new best time at the finish line, breaking 31 minutes with a time of 30:59.
Brilliant ride from Bewley’s Orica-BikeExchange
Meanwhile, Sam Bewley’s Orica-Bike Exchange set a new best time at the first time check, nine seconds quicker than Etixx-QuickStep, as Cannondale-Drapac crossed the finish line in 31:29, 30 seconds down on Etixx-QuickStep, but good enough for second place.
BMC was off to a quick start, going through the first time check fractions of a second down on Orica-Bike Exchange’s time, but by the second time check BMC was in the lead, six seconds up on Orica-Bike Exchange’s time. At the finish line, Orica-Bike Exchange set the new best time of 30:43, 16 seconds faster than Etixx-QuickStep.
At the first check, Team Sky was three seconds down on Orica-Bike Exchange, while at the second check Movistar was 13 seconds off the time of BMC. LottoNL-Jumbo, with George Bennett, was also on a good ride, just seven seconds off the lead at the second check.
Closing in on the finish, BMC was very close to the lead time of Orica-Bike Exchange, but it was not to be as they fell one second short of taking the lead, stopping the clock at 30:44. Team Sky was closing in on the lead over the course as they recorded the third fastest time at the second intermediate check, seven seconds off the time of BMC.
Solid from Bennett & LottoNL-Jumbo
LottoNL-Jumbo delivered a good ride, stopping the clock at 31:04 to take fourth, but the team to watch was Movistar which was flying just behind them. The Movistar team looked a bit ragged as they headed up to the line, but set a new best time at the finish, with their time of 30:37, six seconds faster than Orica-Bike Exchange. With only two teams, Tinkoff and Sky to finish, it was looking good for Valverde’s team.
Sky was struggling in the run in to the finish, with the team breaking up as they headed into the finish line, with the team finishing in the same time as Movistar at 30.37, which meant that it would come down to fractions of a second as to who claimed the stage win, and with it the first leader’s jersey of the Vuelta.
Sky victorious after faulty finish
Tinkoff, the final team on the road, was more than 30 seconds down on Sky at the final time check, leaving them with a tough chase for the line. Tinkoff crossed under the one kilometre to go banner in the same time Sky and Movistar recorded at the finish, with Contador and his team eventually stopping the clock on 31:29 seconds.
Once the race jury had checked the finish times, Sky was awarded the stage win, with the leader’s jersey going to Peter Kennaugh, the first rider from Sky to cross the line.
The result leaves overall contenders Chris Froome (Sky), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) locked together on time at the top of the standings, with Esteban Chaves (Orica-Bike Exchange) and TJ van Garderen (BMC) not far off the pace. However, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) has almost a minute deficit on some of the other contenders already, but his woes pale in comparison to those of Louis Meintjies (Lampre-Merida) as his team finished in last place, more than two minutes off the pace.