Who can steal the march in the general classification?
It is perhaps fitting that such an unpredictable race has developed the tradition of beginning with such an unpredictable discipline. For the fifth season in succession, the Vuelta a España gets underway with a team time trial, and while the Jerez de la Frontera test gives the general classification contenders the opportunity to make some early gains, it will shed little light on the precise state of their form.
Indeed, at 12.6 kilometres in length, Saturday evening’s time trial is less than half the length of last year’s opener in Sanxenxo and far less complicated than the 21.7km effort that kicked off the Giro d’Italia in such dramatic circumstances in May.
The Jerez de la Frontera test is a relatively straightforward one and Cyclingnews’ reconnaissance of the course confirmed that the pan flat profile detailed in the Vuelta road book is entirely accurate, with only the very mildest of false flats around the midway point.
The most precarious section of the course comes right at the outset, as the teams will tackle a brief section of cobbles after rolling down the start ramp on the Calle Sevilla, and a there are a pair of sharp left hand turns in the opening 1,500 metres before they swing onto the wider, straighter roads that circle Jerez.
Indeed, the primary technical difficulty on the course is the sheer number of roundabouts – some 17 in total – although in almost all instances, the roads are wide and there should be little confusion as the course travels straight through all bar five of the roundabouts.
There are two left-hand turns after 4.6 and 5.8 kilometres, respectively, before a sharp right onto the Avendia Andalucia (7.2km). From there, the parcours follows an almost out and back format, with the teams crossing four roundabouts at regular intervals on the way out and the same on the way back, via a brief detour down the Calle de las Clencias.
The primary technical obstacles in this finale are 180 degree turns around roundabouts. They will have to be tackled very gingerly, but they are so heavily advertised and at odds with the rest of the course that it would be a surprise if any team were to come a cropper there.
Chris Froome (Sky), of course, came off on a roundabout elsewhere in Jerez on Thursday after slipping on some oil, and the smooth roads have the potential to turn into an ice rink in the event of rain. Mercifully for the Vuelta peloton, however, it is a hot and dry summer’s day in Andalucia, with a temperature of 28 degrees forecast for the 7.04pm start.
The final 1,700 metres of the course are entirely straight and should favour long, powerful turns on the front from the likes of world time trial champion Tony Martin, whose Omega Pharma-QuickStep is perhaps the favourite for stage victory, which could allow Rigoberto Uran to steal an early march as he did at the Giro in May.
Fabian Cancellara, Jesse Sergeant, Bob Jungels and Haimar Zubeldia backbone a decent Trek team, while BMC are traditionally strong performers in the discipline and boast Rohan Dennis alongside Cadel Evans in their line-up. Motivation being such an enormous factor at this time of year, the usually cohesive Movistar will expect to perform well, and Sky, too, would be disappointed not to be very close to the top of the standings on Saturday evening.
The general classification contenders will hardly admit it, of course, but they would gladly settle for a high placing without the responsibility of defending the red jersey early on. Astana won last year’s opening team time trial and as a consequence Vincenzo Nibali spent far more of the three weeks in red than he would have liked, and his team was forced to try and bring a semblance of order to a race that is notoriously difficult to control. The gaps provoked by the long test also made it difficult to “loan out” the red jersey for any length of time elsewhere.
Considering the calibre – and the attacking spirit – of the contenders on show this around, then, most general classification men will be more than happy simply to limit their losses in this opening test, without riding themselves into a position of responsibility too early.
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