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.
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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