Reigning World Champions Omega Pharma-Quick-Step head into Saturday's opening stage of the Vuelta a España as favourites for the 27km Team Time Trial.
The Belgian-based outfit, which includes individual World Champion Tony Martin, did a recon of the flat, but testing course on Friday in the build up to the final grand tour of the year with the German powerhouse warning that the profile could offer a false sense of security given the three hilly weeks ahead.
"First of all, I'm happy that it's a little bit longer than normal," Martin said of the course between Vilanova de Arousa and Sanxenxo. "Usually they are shorter than individual time trials, but this year it's 27 kilometers. So, not long but it is a nice distance. However, it is not an easy course. There are not really any climbs, but it's always up and down. It's really hard to find a good rhythm. It's not easy anyway to do that in a team time trial, but with small hills it is even harder. So, I think that is a challenge; to find a really nice rhythm and a nice speed where everybody can survive and still be fast.
"I think we will see a lot of destroyed teams. One strong guy can put the power on in the hills, and some guys in the end will be unable to follow. For sure, it will be a challenge for everyone. The wind is one direction from A to B, so a team that starts early and has less wind than those that start later has a big, big advantage. I hope for everyone it will be the same circumstances and the wind won't change throughout the day."
First out of the start house at 6:48pm local time will be NetApp-Endura while last-up winners in the discipline in a Grand Tour, Orica GreenEdge follow four minutes later. Orica GreenEdge got the better of Omega Pharma-Quick-Step in Nice in July by a mere second and while admittedly not at the Vuelta with their best team against the clock, sports director Matt Wilson was non-committal about the team's chances this time around earlier this week saying, “Who knows? Maybe we'll shock them like we did at the Tour."
Astana, nearly a minute behind Orica GreenEdge at the Tour, will surely be looking to gain an early advantage on their rivals with the team focussed on delivering Vincenzo Nibali to the podium. They're just as likely to finish in the top-three on Saturday and will be the last team out of the start house.
"The Vuelta has a tough start with a team time trial which should benefit Astana as we have some strong specialists like Jakob Fuglsang and Jani Brajkovic, and we'll be aiming to gain a few seconds advantage," Nibali said.
Also keen to get an early jump on his rivals, is Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) but it's a cautious approach that will be taken by the Spanish team. Movistar took out the corresponding opener in Pamplona in 2012, 10 seconds ahead of Rabobank on a comparatively technical course.
"The goal is to win in Madrid, but it is clear that tomorrow is an important day for us," explained Valverde. “Perhaps the time trial last year suited us better, but this is not an issue and we will fight to repeat what happened last year. If things go well, it is true that you can take the red jersey soon, but it's not an obsession. The last week is very demanding and fresher the better and have the team, the better."
Start times - Team Time Trial
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Team Netapp - Endura||18:48:00|
|4||BMC Racing Team||19:00:00|
|5||Caja Rural - Seguros RGA||19:04:00|
|6||Cofidis, Solutions Credits||19:08:00|
|7||Vacansoleil - DCM Pro Cycling Team||19:12:00|
|8||Omega Pharma - Quick-Step||19:16:00|
|10||AG2R La Mondiale||19:24:00|
|15||Cannondale Pro Cycling||19:44:00|
|18||Belkin Pro Cycling Team||19:56:00|
|22||Astana Pro Team||20:12:00|