BMC Racing remain the team time trial supremos
They were the team most fancied to set the fastest time around the streets of Nîmes on the opening stage of the 2017 Vuelta a España and they didn’t disappoint, BMC Racing putting Australian Rohan Dennis into the red leader’s jersey.
BMC, Quick-Step and Orica-Scott have long been the team time trial powerhouses, and their performance under a belting sun will give them renewed confidence ahead of the team time trial World Championships in Bergen, Norway, in a month’s time.
Froome has an advantage already
More importantly, he gained eight seconds on the Orica-Scott trio of Esteban Chaves and the Yates twins; 12 seconds over Rafal Majka of Bora-Hansgrohe, a crucial 22 seconds on Vincenzo Nibali; 26 seconds on Alberto Contador’s Trek-Segafredo; and 37 seconds over Romain Bardet and Ag2r La Mondiale.
The only general classification rivals who posted a better time than Froome were Quick-Step Floors’ David de la Cruz and Bob Jungels, and Team Sunweb’s Wilco Kelderman.
However, they only have a three second advantage to Froome which in the mountains one would expect to be erased quite quickly.
All in all, the Tour/Vuelta double is off to a near-perfect start for Sky and Froome.
Nibali loses 22 seconds
Losing 22 seconds to the British squad immediately puts Nibali on the back foot and will force him to overcome Froome in the mountains, but such a minimal time difference is unlikely to hamper his efforts to win the Vuelta for a third time.
There are nine summit finishes in this year’s race, and the first mountain stage is as early as Monday. There is plenty of time for Nibali to recover his losses.
A stunning course – but was it dangerous?
Nîmes was a visually stunning location for the first stage of the race: medieval streets, Roman baths and gardens, and even an ancient amphitheatre, built around AD 70, that the riders raced through.
Journalists in the Arena of Nîmes, which hosts bullfights, commented how the atmosphere was everything the Tour de France time trial in not-so-far-away Marseille was not; notably, atmospheric.
But the beauty came with a clause. The narrow streets and tight corners caused many riders to fall and crash, with LottoNL-Jumbo pair Antwan Tolhoek and Floris De Tier both crashing quite spectacularly.
Matteo Trentin of Quick-Step Floors twice said in a TV interview afterwards that the course was “dangerous”. He perhaps had a point.
Virgins of the Vuelta
There was a quite staggering 75 Vuelta debutants on the start ramp in Nîmes, enough to put together eight full teams and have a number of riders in reserve. What’s more, 54 of the riders were making their Grand Tour debuts.
A lot will be written and said about how the dozens fare, and for many of the youngsters they have been selected to give them experience in a three-week race.
For riders from Aqua Blue Sports, it was history. The Pro-Continental team, in their first season, became the first ever Irish team to ride a Grand Tour. They didn’t do too bad, either, finishing with a time of 16-36 to record a 13th-placed finish.
Former British champion Adam Blythe is the team’s designated leader in the sprints, while there were five of his teammates making their three week stage race bows, including Isle of Man native Mark Christian and former JLT-Condor rider Conor Dunne.