Vuelta a España: Stage 1 review

Stage 1: Pamplona, 16.5km team time trial

With the red jersey metaphorically dangled in front of them, it was Movistar who stampeded through the stunning streets of Pamplona to take the opening team time trial. Jonathan Castroviejo – riding his first ever Grand Tour stage – took the honour of leading the general classification and the first leader’s red jersey of the 2012 race.

The early runners looked more like weary old dairy cattle than primed Spanish Fighting Bulls, with the Pro Continental team Caja Rural team having the honour of rolling off the start ramp first. Garmin-Sharp came not long after, and despite being billed as one of the favourites to win the stage, a crash spelled the end of their charge, the American outfit undone by the tricky and technical course.

The big WorldTour teams followed, with BMC taking the lead before being narrowly knocked off the top by Rabobank, who would hold on to the lead until the death. Omega Pharma-Quick Step came within a second of toppling the Dutchmen, with Sky and Lotto-Belisol two seconds behind, and Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank another couple further back. But Rabobank clung to their meagre advantage right until the very last team crossed the line.

The Spanish Movistar team, headed by last year’s winner Juan Jose Cobo, were the last team to start, and didn’t seem to have the time-trialling prowess to take the win. Lars Boom must have been rubbing his hands in glee, whilst the Rabobank transfers were being pressed on to the leader’s jersey. But, much to the delight of the home crowd, they pulled off a shock win, taking a mammoth ten seconds out of the leaders. Jonathan Castroviejo crossed the line first, taking the race lead in the process.

VeloVoices rider of the day

Castroviejo won on his  Grand Tour debut (image courtesy of Movistar)

A boring choice, but I’m going to give rider of the day to race leader Jonathan Castroviejo.

The Basque time trial specialist moved to Movistar from Euskaltel-Euskadi for this season, and seems to be reaping the rewards. He has taken the first overall race win of his career in the Vuelta a la Comunidad de Madrid and finished sixth overall at the recent Eneco Tour.

He now leads his home Grand Tour – the first of his career – whilst in the form of his life. It can’t get much better!

After the stage, he said:

This is a beautiful moment of my life. At the meeting this morning, we didn’t speak about who should cross the line first. We only mentioned that it was a very difficult finale with cobblestones. We thought it would be tight at the end, so we’ve given 100%. It’s marvellous.

Observations

There isn’t much I noticed other than the beauty of Pamplona and the rather intriguing finishing line, situated within the Plaza de Toros de Pamplona bull-ring, but Movistar’s achievements in taking today’s win can’t be overlooked.

They are a strong climbing outfit, with the likes of Alejandro Valverde and Benat Inxausti riding their home race. Both are decent time-trialists, but not who you would expect to be winning an opening prologue of a Grand Tour. Perhaps the firepower of quick men Castroviejo and Jose Joaquin Rojas helped them blitz the short course.

Tactical analysis

With most of the top teams finishing close together – behind Movistar, the next seven teams are tightly packed between 10 and 15 seconds in arrears – the opening stage is unlikely to seriously influence the GC battle. Even the usually chaotic Euskaltel-Euskadi put in an impressive showing to finish just 28 seconds off the pace. Only Garmin-Sharp, hampered by a mid-stage crash, will be disappointed with their effort as they finished 21st out of the 22 teams, 1:28 behind – and even then the damage feels less severe as their main man Andrew Talansky was never going to threaten the big guns.

Ominously for his rivals, Alberto Contador took noticeably long turns on the front as his Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank kept themselves impressively in touch, 15 seconds behind. Depending on your viewpoint, that either underlines the Spaniard’s individual form, or exposes the relative lack of strength in his team. Chris Froome and Joaquim Rodriguez, on the other hand, demanded less of themselves as their Sky and Katusha units looked more balanced, reassuring them of strong support when they need it.

The opening forays have been made, to little effect. The real race starts tomorrow.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of as many stages as possible on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Vuelta a España official website

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