Liquigas caught the favourites napping in the Vuelta?s opening team time trial in Granada, netting Classics specialist Filippo Pozzato his first ever lead in a major Tour.
If Liquigas provided one shock result, it was almost equally suprising that Euskaltel-Euskadi clinched second place, eight seconds back. This is probably the Basque squad?s best ever result in a team time trial.
So where exactly were the favourites? First home was Alejandro Valverde, whose Caisse D?Epargne squad took third place, nine seconds back. CSC-Saxo Bank, however, could only manage fifth at 11 seconds, with Astana in a lowly eighth place, 14 seconds behind.
Not a great result then – short term. But according to their team leader Alberto Contador, ?the aim was not to take any risks and not to fall off.? If only five of their riders finished together in the front group, so be it.
?We didn?t want to lose too much time on the other favourites, either, and that?s what happened.”
Contador?s concern about possible crashes was a fair point. The city centre circuit was just 7.7 kilometres long, fast and fairly technical, with the road surfaces greasy and oily because of heavy urban traffic. In other words, the accidents were just waiting to happen.
The first team down the ramp, Andalucia-Caja Sur, had gone barely 300 metres before one of their riders, Jose Luis Carrasco, hit the deck. When news of his crash filtered back to the race start, it can hardly have encouraged the main favourites to throw caution to the winds.
So really it was not so surprising that the big names played it safe on an urban circuit in which they had little to gain time-wise and potentially a lot to lose. Their cautious strategy gave teams like Liquigas, a team with no overall Vuelta contenders but packed with strong all-rounders to provide a good lead-out train for their sprinter Daniele Bennati, a great opportunity to get their 15 minutes of fame.
Pozzato?s victory could not have been more timely, either, for the 26-year-old Italian. His only wins this season have been a stage and the overall in the Giro della Grossetto and he had a below-par Classics season, with sixth in Flanders his best result.
?Today?s win wasn?t such a big surprise for us.? Pozzato insisted. ?We?d been and checked out the course, we were motivated, we wanted the win.? (He didn?t mention it, but Liquigas did win the 2007 Giro team time trial as well, so are clearly no slouches when racing collectively against the clock.)
?I?m very grateful to the team for letting me cross the line first, particularly as I?m leaving at the end of the year [for new squad Katyusha]. It?s a great way to bow out of the team.?
Asked if he will try and defend the lead on Sunday?s hilly stage to Jaen, Pozzato said ?it?s possible. The finish is slightly uphill, which is good for me, so I?ll try to go for the win. But we shouldn?t forget Bennati, either. He?s in great shape and he?s hungry for a win, too.?
TOUR OF SPAIN 2008: STAGE ONE TTT RESULTS
1. Liquigas (Italy) 7.7km in 08 min 21sec
2. Euskaltel-Euskadi (Spain) at 8sec
3. Caisse D?Epargne (Spain) at 9sec
4. Quick Step (Belgium) at 10sec
5. CSC-Saxo Bank (Denmark) at 11sec
6. Tinkoff (Russia) at 12sec
7. Rabobank (Holland) at 13sec
8. Astana (Kazakhstan) at 14sec
9. Milram (Germany) at 18sec
10. Gerolsteiner (Germany) same time.
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE ONE
1. Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Liquigas in 8min 21secs
2. Valerio Agnoli (Ita) Liquigas
3. Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas
4. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas
5. Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) Liquigas
6. Enrico Franzoi (Ita) Liquigas all at same time
7. Gorazd Stangelj (Slo) Liquigas at 8secs
8. Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
9. Koldo Fernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
10. Mikel Astarloza (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi all at same time.
115. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Credit Agricole
Liquigas on their way to winning the opening stage of the Vuelta
Euskaltel-Euskadi rode into second place
Caisse d’Epargne came third
Photos by Graham Watson
|TOUR OF SPAIN 2008|