Vuelta a Espana 2009: Stage one preview

Tens of thousands of Dutch cycling fans are expected to descend on Assen’s motorbike circuit in Holland on Saturday for the Vuelta’s 4.8 kilometre prologue. Sadly, the chances of some typically Spanish dry summer weather to go with Spain’s biggest bike race are said to be minimal.

Strong, gusting winds and intermittent heavy rainshowers were sweeping across the flatlands of northern Holland on Friday, and more of the same is forecast for Saturday.

A time trial 4.8 kilometres long normally doesn’t produce big differences, but with weather conditions being so variable, it might be harder to predict a winner.

The Vuelta in Assen, in any case, is already a huge success. 10,000 cyclists are registered for a mass-participation ride finishing on the circuit Saturday morning, Tour of Spain posters and banners are to be seen pastered all over the region, as well as giant silhouettes of Spanish bulls dotted along the sides of local motorways, and a huge turn-out of fans is expected for the race itself.

In his welcome speech to the Vuelta, Assen mayor Sicko Heldoorn pointed out that quite apart from holding motorbike races since 1925, Assen is also at the centre of the Drenthe region, which is one of Dutch cycling’s heartland. Given the popularity of the sport in general in the Netherlands, that’s saying something.

Under normal circumstances, Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) is the outright favourite for the prologue. The Olympic time trial champion and triple winner of the Tour’s first race against the clock (in 2004, 2007 and 2009) is due down the Vuelta’s start ramp at 18.33 local time.

The last rider in the prologue, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) will start five minutes later. A big fan of motor-racing, Sanchez has already checked out the circuit this April.

Of Great Britain’s three starters, David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream) is off at 16.55, Charly Wegelius (Silence-Lotto) starts at 17.06 whilst Roger Hammond (Cervélo) begins the first major Tour of his career at 15.31. Ireland’s Dan Martin (Garmin-Slipstream)  is off at 17.17, and Phillip Deignan (Cervélo) gets going at 15.53.

And afterwards? For the three stages through Belgium, Germany and Holland, Cycling Weekly gathers there’s a widespread fear of crashes on the narrow, exposed roads that are so common in the Low Countries.

A lot of the Spanish riders are very inexperienced at racing in such conditions, and with the leader’s jersey up for grabs – which is red this year, by the way – the pressure will be high to stay on the front. So it seems only logical to expect a few mass pile-ups en route.

Vuelta a Espana 2009 links
Vuelta a Espana 2009: The hub
Vuelta a Espana 2009: Who will win?
Vinokourov back with Astana for the Vuelta
Britain and Ireland well represented in Vuelta
2009 Vuelta route favours climbers
Cycling Weekly’s Rider Profiles: Index