While BMC Racing once again showed their team time trial pedigree by securing victory on the Vuelta a España’s opening stage in Nîmes, their success putting Rohan Dennis in the red leader’s jersey, the longer-term battle to carry that jersey into Madrid in three weeks immediately swung Chris Froome’s way as he gained time on all of his main GC rivals.
Sky finished fourth, nine seconds behind BMC and three behind Quick-Step and Sunweb, but the gaps behind them were much more significant.
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Orica’s triple-headed attack of the Yates twins and Esteban Chaves were eight seconds down on the British squad, Bahrain-Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali’s 22, Trek-Segafredo’s Alberto Contador 26 and Astana’s Fabio Aru 32.
“I’m pretty pleased with the way that went,” Froome said just beyond the finish line. “We haven’t taken the stage victory but we did put in a very solid ride and are at least there or thereabouts with the best teams.”
The 13.7-kilometre course may have looked stunning as it swept past and through Nîmes’ Roman monuments, but it provided a severe test for the teams.
“It was a very hard course,” said Dennis. “It was technical right from the start. It was a course that tested everything – strength, technique and speed.”
It also provided a test of nerve, and some teams admitted beforehand they had safety very much in mind as they prepared to tackle the many twists and tight turns.
“Some of the teams had some problems on it even in the recon,” said Contador. “We had a look at the course this morning and went out there with a focus on being safe, and as a result of that we’ve lost a bit of time on some of my key rivals, which is a bit disappointing.”
Asked about his condition on his first racing appearance since the Tour de France, the Spaniard said: “I didn’t feel too bad. But it was a time trial that required very explosive efforts, with lots of sprinting coming out of the corners, so it wasn’t easy to draw conclusions about how my form is exactly.”
Looking ahead to stage two, which will take the race to Mediterranean resort of Gruissan, Dennis said he was expecting another complicated day, with the strongly gusting wind that have been sweeping across the Midi in recent days likely to be a factor.