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After their wins in the Dauphiné and the Tour, BMC took their third consecutive team time trial victory in the controversial opening stage of the Vuelta a Espana; Velits is the first leader of the race

Photo: A.S.O.

MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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PETER VELITS

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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22.08.2015 @ 21:13 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

BMC confirmed their status as the best team in the world for team time trials when they took a narrow victory in the highly controversial opening stage of the Vuelta a Espana. On a day when half of the teams just rolled safely through the stage, the American stopped the clock in 8.10 which was just one second faster than Tinkoff-Saxo and Orica-GreenEDGE and enough to put Peter Velits into the red jersey.

 

Last year BMC became a slightly surprising winner of the world team time trial championships and many were curious to see if they could live up to their status in 2015. However, with all the important WorldTour team time trials now over, no one can deny that they deserve their spot at the top of the hierarchy.

 

BMC missed out on the win in the Giro and Tour de Romandie TTTs but since then they have been unstoppable. They took a narrow win in the Criterium du Dauphiné and most famously beat Sky by less than a second in a thrilling Tour de France stage.

 

Nonetheless, they had flown a bit under the radar in the build-up to the Vuelta a Espana opener which was the final big TTT before their title defence in Richmond. With most of their big engines absent and a relatively short course that was more for fast riders, the world champions were not expected to make it three in a row.

 

However, in the highly controversial stage whose dangerous course had prompted the jury to neutralize the time gaps, BMC made it three in a row as they came out on top in a hugely thrilling drama that saw three teams finished with two seconds of each other. In the end, the Americans had gone just 0.8 seconds faster than Tinkoff-Saxo and that was enough to keep their streak alive.

 

On the dangerous and narrow course, they allowed Samuel Sanchez, Amael Moinard, Alessandro De Marchi and Darwin Atapuma to take it easy and so were down to just five riders very early in the 7.4km to stage. However, Peter Velits, Tejay van Garderen, Marcus Burghardt, Joey Rosskopf and Jempy Drucker were strong enough to beat their Russian rivals after having been one second faster at the time check.

 

Velits was the lucky one to cross the line in first position and so will get the chance to wear the red jersey in tomorrow’s stage even though there are officially no time gaps in the overall standings. As opposed to this, it was a frustrating experience for Peter Sagan who had been first from the Tinkoff-Saxo team and looked like he was going to take the lead until BMC who were their final serious rivals, went those 0.8 second faster.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo had taken the lead in an even closer fight as they had been just 0.5 second faster than Orica-GreenEDGE who had been aiming at a repeat of their Giro win. The Australians were 8 seconds behind the Russians at the time check but were by far the fastest in the finale. However, that was not enough to put Cameron Meyer into red.

 

For the GC teams, it was a day to stay safe and Astana, Sky, Movistar and Katusha all rolled safely through the course. In general, around half of the teams were clearly not going full gas, with Europcar riding almost ridiculously slow as Jimmy Engoulvent just led his teammates safely around the course in a time that was more than two minutes off the pace.

 

With the ceremonial opener now done and dusted, the real stage starts tomorrow on a stage where Velits will wear red for the first time in his career. However, there will be no easy start for the riders after today’s leisurely ride as a lumpy, mostly flat course has a nasty sting in its tail. A late category 3 climb will test the legs before the riders reach the final category 3 ascent which leads to the finish and averages 6.5% over 4.7km.

 

A controversial stage

The 80th Vuelta a Espana kicked off with a short 7.4km team time trial that brought the riders from Puerto Banus to Marbella. This course was completely flat and without any major turns but as it was held on a bike path along the seafront which partly included mud and sand, the time gaps were neutralized and the riders were only riding for the stage win.

 

It was a beautiful evening in Southern Spain when MTN-Qhubeka kicked the show off. Unlike many of the bigger teams, they wanted to honour their participation and rode full gas to stop the clock in 8.40 and take an early lead.

 

LottoNL-Jumbo take the lead

Colombia have never been specialists in the discipline but they actually got close to a rare lead. In the end, however, their time of 8.43 was three seconds off the pace.

 

FDJ were clearly pleased with the decision to neutralize the stage and they took it pretty easy, with Jussi Veikkanen leading his teammates across the line in 8.54 to slot into third. As opposed to this, LottoNL-Jumbo were going full gas and set a first serious mark when Martijn Keizer led his teammates across the line in 8.18 to prove that it was possible to go fast on the narrow bike path.

 

IAM miss out

With no chance to win the stage, it was an easy day for Ag2r who rode safely through the stage to stop the clock in 9.10. Cannondale-Garmin had a similar approach and were even slowed with their time of 9.30 as Alex Howes led his teammates across the line.

 

IAM were clearly giving it a try and were quickly reduced to five riders. However, Sylvain Chavanel led his teammates across the line in 8.37 which was only good enough for second.

 

Good performance by Caja Rural

Cofidis have many lead-out riders in the race and were keen on giving it a shot on the short course. They delivered a solid performance, with Cyril Lemoine leading his team across the line in 8.37 to narrowly slot into second.

 

Caja Rural have never been known as specialists in this discipline but they were willing to take risks. That approach paid off as Pello Bilbao was first across the line in 8.28 which was good enough for seconds.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE beaten by Tinkoff-Saxo

Europcar seemed to send a signal to the organizers as they were not even trading pulls and it was just Jimmy Engoulvent leading them around the course in 10.25 which was more than two minutes of the pace. However, everybody was already waiting for Orica-GreenEDGE as they were among the favourites and it was no surprise that Cameron Meyer was first across the line in a fastest time of 8.11.

 

The Australians were pleased to see Fabian Cancellara and Boy van Poppel lead Trek across the line in 8.21 which was only good enough for third but already knew that Tinkoff-Saxo had been flying in the first part of the course. In a nail-biting finale, Sagan led his teammates across the line in 8.11.4 which was 0.5 second faster than the leaders.

 

No glory for Etixx-QuickStep

Giant-Alpecin decided to take it easy, with Lawson Craddock being the first rider at the finish in 9.17, but Etixx-QuickStep were giving it a go. However, their efforts were not enough as Gianluca Brambilla led his teammates across the line in 8.20 which was only good enough for fourth.

 

Lotto Soudal were also giving it a short but they laced the pace as Tosh van der Sande was the first rider to cross the line in 8.28. Lampre-Merida had a different approach and seemed to be staying safe, with Kristijan Durasek leading his teammates to the finish in 8.37 to slot into 10th.

 

BMC take the lead

At this point, it had already emerged that BMC had been fastest at the time check and passing the flamme rouge in 7.11, the Americans had to go full gas in the final kilometre to make it. Averaging more than 60ph was enough for them as it gave them a time of 8.10.

 

Astana clearly preferred to stay safe, with Fabio Aru leading them to the finish in 8.40. Movistar had a similar approach and were only slightly faster as Nairo Quintana was first in 8.34.

 

BMC now only had to wait for Sky and Katusha to finish and as it was evident that both teams were not even trying, the win was guaranteed. Ian Boswell was first for Sky in 9.21 and Pavel Kochetkov and his Katusha teammates were just slightly faster with 9.04, meaning that Velits finds himself in red at the end of the first stage.

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