Stage 1: Pamplona – Pamplona team time trial 16km

Movistar win Vuelta’s opening team time trial

Cobo greets his fans (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

won the opening stage of this year’s Vuelta a Espana with a commanding
display in the opening team time trial in Pamplona on Saturday. The
Spanish team was led home by Jonathan Castroviejo, and the 25-year-old
pulled on the first leader’s jersey in this year’s race. Jose Cobo, the
defending champion, was distanced just before the line, losing seconds
to Movistar’s first five riders. The home favourites beat Rabobank into
second place by 10 seconds, while Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Tinkoff
Bank) finished 15 seconds adrift, but just three seconds down on fellow
race favourite Chris Froome (Team Sky).

It looked as though Rabobank would take the win until Movistar, the
last team to start, rolled down the ramp. Rabobank was only eighth
fastest at the first time check at 8.1 kilometres but kept its pace
throughout the technical sections that littered the streets of Pamplona
before the finish in the local bull ring, and while a number of other
teams fractured through the final bends.

Team after team beat Rabobank’s intermediate time with Sky, Saxo
Bank, Astana Katusha, and Lotto-Belisol all going faster than its time
of 9:21. However each squad crumbled on the run-in. An impatient Jurgen
Van Den Broeck surged to the front and dropped his Lotto teammates,
while Sky, who had set the fastest time at the first check, simply
appeared to run out of gas.

Movistar had started strongly though. It was two seconds down on Sky
at the first check point but 11 seconds ahead of Rabobank. The only
question would be if the team would go the same way so many others and
come up short inside the closing kilometres. However, roared home by the
local support, and with Miguel Indurain watching from the stands,
Movistar demolished Rabobank’s time by 10 seconds, finishing in a time
of 18:51. The only blemish was the sight of Cobo crossing the line a few
seconds back, the defending champion unable to keep pace as his team
approached the line. For Castroviejo, it was moment to savour as he
donned the leader’s jersey in his home grand tour. Incidentally he was
making his Grand Tour debut.

There was less fortune for Garmin-Sharp. The American team was
outside hopes for the stage win and set an early pace that indicated it
might be in contention, but disaster struck when a number of its riders
crashed after the intermediate time check. GC contender Andrew Talansky
remained upright but the damage to the rhythm was irreparable, and the
team limped home in second-last, 1:28 adrift of the winners.

Starting in the Plaza del Castillo, it was Caja Rural who rolled down
the ramp to begin this year’s Vuelta. Orica and Garmin soon followed
but it was BMC who posted the first threatening time of 19:03. Philippe
Gilbert led it home, and it seemed possible that he could break his
horrendous 2012 duck that has seen him ride without a win.

However, despite last year’s team time trial winners RadioShack
falling away, Rabobank was soon on the case, ripping through the streets
of Pamplona. Astana, and Katusha came up short and it looked as though
Sky would ruin the Dutch party. In the final time trial at this year’s
Tour, Rabobank’s Luis Leon Sanchez was held in the hot seat only to
watch Froome and Bradley Wiggins topple his time, and Sky’s marginal
gains looked on course for a repeat at the first time check and although
Movistar hung at two seconds back, all eyes were on Froome’s foot
soldiers and the nine Rabobank men waiting in the bull ring. When Sky
crossed the line in fourth, it looked as though Rabobank was safe but
Movistar were still to come and as witnessed at the Olympics, athletes
can reach incredible height in front of their home crowds.