Team Sky means business
The Vuelta a España has not been a race that Team Sky have excelled at the same way they have dominated the Tour de France; they’ve yet to win the race in six attempts, with Chris Froome coming closest with second overall in 2011 and 2014.
But this time around they’re off the a flyer, managing to win the stage with a time that was just fractions of a second quicker than Movistar, despite a disorganised run-in to the line that saw a gap open up between the third and fourth rider in-line after the final bend.
The Vuelta has started with a team time trial in each of the most recent editions, and this is the first time Sky has managed to win. That’s a huge improvement from their last two rides in 2014 and 2015, where they only managed 11th and 20th respectively (although in the case of the latter, Sky were taking it easy after times had been neutralised).
The improvement suggests that significant preparation has gone into this year’s Vuelta, and that the team is united and focussed with the goal of landing Froome’s his second successive Grand Tour overall victory.
Peter Kennaugh in red
It’s always an honour to lead your team in over the line in a team time trial, and today Sky handed that honour to Peter Kennaugh.
With Sky winning the stage, Kennaugh becomes the first overall leader of the 2016 Vuelta, a fitting reward for a rider who performed selflessly in his duties as a domestique.
Having missed out on selection for the Tour de France, and then sacrificing his position on the Olympics team to allow room Steve Cummings to join, the result is a welcome return to the limelight for the 27-year old Briton.
Earlier in the season he held the overall lead at the Herald Sun Tour in February, before teammate Froome took over on the final stage – could this Vuelta follow a similar trajectory?
Contador loses time
However good a rider’s shape is going into a Grand Tour, they can’t account for how the rest of their team will perform in a team time trial.
Alberto Contador went into the race as the bookies’ favourite for overall victory, but he’s already lost time to most of his major rivals after a lacklustre effort from Tinkoff that saw the team finish down in ninth.
That puts him 52 seconds down on Sky’s Chris Froome and Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, 46 seconds down on Orica-BikeExchange’s Esteban Chaves and 25 seconds down on LottoNL-Jumbo’s Steven Kruijswijk – deficits that could prove fatal.
The underwhelming ride could also be a sign that the Tinkoff team lack the kind of first-rate support Contador will need to sustain a challenge for the overall.
Mechanical disrupts Astana ride
Team time trials are usually a discipline that Astana excel in (they won the opening stage of the 2013 Vuelta, for instance), but today they only managed to finish 11th on the overall standings.
Most of their time was lost when Miguel Angel Lopez dropped a chain, forcing the rest of his teammates to stop and wait for the situation to be resolved.
If the mechanical had occurred to another rider instead the team would no doubt have continued riding, but young Colombian Lopez appears to be a protected rider for this race. The fact the whole team was willing to stop confirms their faith in his ability to register a high place on GC.
Specialists miss out on victory
Over the years, two teams have emerged as specialists of the team time trial discipline – BMC and Orica-BikeExchange.
The former has been victorious in both the last two world titles and also won the opening stage last year, while the latter are twice silver medalists at the Worlds and have won a couple of stages stages at the Giro
Both teams may have been lacking some of their biggest engines, at the expense of riders more likely to do well in the climbs and on GC, but were nevertheless still clearly targeting stage victory.
Ultimately neither could quite keep up with Sky and Movistar’s pace, and had to settle for fourth and third respectively.