Leopard-Trek got their Vuelta a Espana off to a flying start this afternoon by winning the 13.5-kilometre team time trial around Benidorm. Jakob Fuglsang will wear the red jersey of race leader.
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Despite losing two men early on after a crash on the testing course, the versatile squad, which includes world time-trial champion Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O’Grady, had the measure of their opponents, clocking a time of 16-30 to beat Liquigas-Cannondale by four seconds and HTC-Highroad by nine.
Meanwhile, Team Sky endured a nightmare start to the race, finishing twentieth, forty-two seconds down on the winners.
A touch of wheels brought Kurt-Asle Arvesen down early on and distanced Xabier Zandio, forcing him to chase back on.
In the closing kilometre, Sky were left with four men and had communication problems. Zandio ended up being the scoring fifth rider.
“It was just an awkward course, pretty sketchy in places,” Ian Stannard (Team Sky) told CW after the race. “It was hard to be super-disciplined on it.”
Bradley Wiggins can ill afford to lose thirty-odd seconds to most of his rivals so early on. Stannard added: “Brad’s going really strong, he ripped us apart the other day [in training].”
Mark Cavendish was dropped from the HTC-Highroad effort at the top of the climb, ultimately finishing 2-45 down.
Crashes and a close finish
It was an unorthodox and technical team time trial, sending the riders up a five-kilometre climb from the start before a 180-degree turn, 75km/h descent and several more tight corners through Benidorm’s old town. Throw in a whipping wind and the cloying heat, and it lent to plenty of action.
Several teams suffered crashes or mechanical problems on the course. Tour of Flanders winner Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank-Sungard) crashed, while RadioShack captain Janez Brajkovic suffered a mechanical problem straight off the start ramp.
Seventh team off, Leopard Trek set the early standard, in spite of being down to seven after Robert Wagner and Davide Vigano fell at a roundabout four kilometres in.
“I think we found a really good balance in how to do it,” Vuelta leader Jakob Fuglsang told CW afterwards. “It’s a tricky TTT, being so short. With the starting climb, you have to be smart about how you use your energy and not blow the team up.”
Liquigas-Cannondale, riding with defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, were the last team off. They went fastest at the intermediate point, by a second, but couldn’t stay ahead.
The winners jumped up and down and shouted “podium!” when they realised their mark had gone unbeaten. It’s a highpoint for Leopard Trek after several near misses in a difficult opening season.
“We’re a winning team. You can be look it in many ways, we’ve been winning more than expected, in my opinion,” team directeur sportif Lars Michaelsen said.
26-year-old Fuglsang will lead the team here. “I hope it’s the perfect start. I was the last Danish rider to have the leader’s jersey here, fourteen years ago – I hope he’ll be more succesful than I was,” Michaelsen joked.
Vuelta a Espana 2011, stage one: Benidorm TTT, 13.5km
1. Leopard-Trek 16-30
2. Liquigas-Cannondale at 4 secs
3. HTC-Highroad at 9 secs
4. Astana at 10 secs
5. Movistar at 14 secs
6. Quick Step at 15 secs
7. Skil-Shimano at 18 secs
8. Omega Pharma-Lotto at 18 secs
9. Garmin-Cervelo at 25 secs
10. Katusha at 25 secs
11. BMC Racing Team at 27 secs
12. Euskaltel-Euskadi at 28 secs
13. Saxo Bank-Sungard at 28 secs
14. RadioShack at 29 secs
15. Rabobank at 30 secs
16. Lampre-ISD at 32 secs
17. Cofidis at 33 secs
18. Vacansoleil-DCM at 39 secs
19. Ag2r-La Mondiale at 42 secs
20. Team Sky at 42 secs
21. Geox-TMC at 43 secs
22. Andalucia-Caja Granada at 1-03
Overall classification after stage one
1. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 16-30
2. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Leopard Trek
3. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek
4. Thomas Rohregger (Aut) Leopard Trek
5. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Leopard Trek all same time
6. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas at 4 secs
7. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas
8. Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas
9. Valerio Agnoli (Ita) Liquigas
10. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas
133. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at 42 secs
190. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad at 2-45
Bradley Wiggins leads Sky
Jakob Fuglsang takes the lead
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