By Nigel Wynn
Astana and team leader Vincenzo Nibali kicked off their 2013 Vuelta a Espana campaign in style with a win in the opening team time trial in Sanxenxo. The squad's first man across the line, Janez Brajkovic, takes the overall lead with Nibali in second.
RadioShack-Leopard placed second at 10 seconds, with Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 16 seconds.
First team off, NetApp-Endura, put down a very quick early marker which stood up to the times subsequently set by the usually fast BMC Racing and Orica-GreenEdge.
It was down to Omega Pharma-QuickStep to become the first team to better NetApp, with world time trial champion Tony Martin leading them across the line. And it was former world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara that led in RadioShack-Leopard to break through the Belgian team's mark.
Last team off, Astana performed like they meant business, putting in a well-drilled turn to beat RadioShack by 10 seconds.
Despite the undeniably solid start to the race for Nibali, the squad is now faced with having to defend the race lead during the opening week - and perhaps beyond. Not an ideal situation at the start of three weeks of hard racing.
Sky put in a solid performance to place fourth on the stage, with Grand Tour debutant Luke Rowe across the line first. The British rider sits in 18th place overall, 22 seconds behind Brajkovic.
Katusha were one of the teams that struggled with the twisting course, with overall hope Joaquim Rodriguez forced into setting much of the pace after the squad dropped to the minimum of five riders at the half-way point. It was to their credit that they managed to lose less than a minute on Astana.
Also putting in a below-par performance were Ivan Basso's Cannondale outfit, in 17th, and Garmin-Sharp in 19th. Usually a strong team against the clock, Garmin-Sharp's Dan Martin now goes into the second stage with a one minute and 41 second deficit. Far from ideal.
Theo Bos was a non-starter on the opening stage after his Belkin team withdrew him from the race. The Dutch sprinter produced a sample with abnormally low levels of cortisol in a pre-race test leaving the squad with eight riders and a diminished hope of stage wins.
Tomorrow, the riders tackle the first of the 2013 race's numerous climbs on stage two. The 178km route from Pontevedra to Baiona, Alto Do Monte Da Groba, terminates with a category one climb. If the overall contenders are forced to show their hand early, we could see a swift changeover in the race lead.
Vuelta a Espana 2013, stage one: Vilanova de Arousa to Sanxenxo, 27.4km team time trial
1. Astana in 29-59
2. RadioShack-Leopard at 10 secs
3. Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 16 secs
4. Sky at 22 secs
5. Movistar at 29 secs
6. Saxo-Tinkoff at 32 secs
7. NetApp-Endura at 35 secs
8. BMC Racing at 36 secs
9. Orica-GreenEdge at 45 secs
10. Belkin at 49 secs
11. Lampre-Merida at 56 secs
12. Katusha at 59 secs
13. Lotto-Belisol at 1-14
14. Euskaltel-Euskadi at 1-14
15. Vacansolsil-DCM at 1-18
16. FDJ at 1-25
17. Cannondale at 1-26
18. Caja Rural at 1-38
19. Garmin-Sharp at 1-41
20. Ag2r La Mondiale at 1-41
21. Argos-Shimano at 1-53
22. Cofidis at 1-55
Overall classification after stage one
1. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana in 29-59
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana
3. Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana
4. Jacob Fuglsang (Den) Astana
5. Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana
6. Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana at same time
7. Fabian Cancellara (Sui) RadioShack-Leopard at 10 secs
8. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) RadioShack-Leopard
9. Markel Irizar (Spa) RadioShack-Leopard
10. Robert Kiserlovski (Crc) RadioShack-Leopard at same time
18. Luke Rowe (GBr) Sky at 22 secs
155. Andrew Fenn (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 3-14
Astana propel themselves to the stage win
Janez Brajkovic takes the red jersey of race leader
Vuelta a Espana 2013: Coverage index
Vuelta a Espana 2013: Who will win?
Vuelta a Espana 2013: The Big Preview
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