A dying art form? What to expect from the Vuelta a España's team time trial

After a three-year absence, the team time trial is back at a grand tour. We take a look at the chaos the discipline can inflict on a race.

Ineos Grenadiers Tour of Britain TTT 2021
(Image credit: Getty Images)

This year’s Vuelta a España begins on Friday with a 23.3km team time trial through the streets of Utrecht in the Netherlands.

This opening stage marks the first time since 2019 that the discipline has featured at the race and, for many of the riders, the first time since that they’ve ridden against the clock in a team. 

When executed well, a team time trial can be a beautiful sight, with riders shifting smoothly through turns in perfect harmony. When it goes wrong, however, it can be a disaster. 

One rider who has experienced the chaos of a team time trial is three-time Vuelta a España winner Primož Roglič. On the first stage of the 2019 edition of the race, the Slovenian was one of four Jumbo-Visma riders who fell victim to a water leak on the course, causing them to slide out across the tarmac and into the metal safety barriers at the roadside.

After a scramble to retrieve their bikes, Roglič and his teammates ended up losing 40 seconds to stage winners Astana, who claimed the first red jersey for Miguel Ángel López in Torrevieja. 

Jumbo-Visma TTT Vuelta 2019

Jumbo-Visma cross the line in Torrevieja after crashing on the opening day of the Vuelta in 2019. 

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Prior to 2019, the team time trial had been a staple amuse-bouche at the Vuelta. For eight editions in a row, between 2010 and 2017, the race kicked off with teams battling it out to set the fastest time. Nowadays, the discipline has become somewhat of an endangered art form.

While today’s pros are no strangers to racing against the clock, only rarely do they get the chance to do it as a team. The discipline has featured in just two of the last seven editions of the Tour de France, and you have to look back as far as 2015 for its last inclusion in the Giro d’Italia. 

The World Championships, too, have had a rocky relationship with team time trialling. After Innsbruck hosted the week-long festivities four years ago, the team time trial was scrapped from the list of events. It was replaced the following year with a new mixed relay, in which teams of three men and three women compete in two legs out on the course.  

Previously, riders competed in their trade teams in the TTT at the World Championships. The 2015 event proved to be one to forget for Tinkoff-Saxo, after a touching of wheels between Michael Valgren and Michael Rogers caused the duo to hit the deck in Richmond. The team finished last on the day, over eight minutes down on gold-medal winners BMC Racing around the 38.6km course. 

After the race, Tinkoff-Saxo sports director Sean Yates said such incidents are “something that can happen in these flat-out team time trials”.

With few technical sections, wide roads and barely an inch of climbing, this Friday’s Vuelta course promises to host some blistering team performances.

One team hoping to emulate their recent successes in the event is INEOS Grenadiers, who powered faultlessly to victory in last year's Tour of Britain team time trial in Carmarthenshire. Interestingly, 23-year-old INEOS Grenadiers rider Ethan Hayter, who will be starting his debut grand tour at this year's Vuelta, has a surprising wealth of experience, having taken part in six team time trials since 2018.

The 2022 Vuelta a España will begin at 18:30 CET on 19 August, with Spanish outfit Burgos-BH the first team to roll down the start ramp. 

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Tom Davidson
News and Features Writer

Tom joined Cycling Weekly as a news and features writer in the summer of 2022, having previously contributed as a freelancer. He is the host of The TT Podcast, which covers both the men's and women's pelotons and has featured a number of prominent British riders. 

An enthusiastic cyclist himself, Tom likes it most when the road goes uphill and actively seeks out double-figure gradients on his rides. 

He's also fluent in French and Spanish and holds a master's degree in International Journalism.