By Susan Westemeyer
Team Liquigas negotiated a treacherous 7.7-kilometre opening team time trial stage of the 63rd Vuelta a España, setting the fastest time early and watching it hold up to pre-race favourites like Astana and CSC. The Italian team's 8 minute 21 second time was good enough to hold Euskaltel-Euskadi to eight seconds and Caisse d'Epargne to nine. The team's leader, Filippo Pozzato, took the first leader's golden jersey as the team's first man across the line.
Belgium's Quick Step finished in fourth at 10 seconds and favourite CSC-Saxo Bank, with Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre, finished in fifth at 11 seconds.
With a fast, technical and slippery course, most teams were careful to avoid taking chances - especially after the Andalucia-Cayasur squad had a massive spill as the first team off. The GC hopefuls were confident that the time losses would be minimal on such a short stage.
Overall favourite Alberto Contador (Astana) wasn't too concerned with the 14 seconds he lost to Pozzato, as he was more concerned with the time lost to his strongest competitors, Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Carlos Sastre (CSC), whose teams went just five and three seconds faster, respectively. "This first stage has been a beautiful show and the team gave everything. I am happy to see that. Everything has gone well, because regarding to the other favourites, Sastre and Valverde, the differences are so small that we don’t have to give them importance."
CSC's Carlos Sastre, the winner of the Tour de France, was unsure of his form coming into the Vuelta, but said that he felt the team time trial showed he was going well. "The truth is that already have been wanting to get into competition to know how I will feel. And although the team time trial was short, we have drawn conclusions that I am good. The team is highly motivated and eager, and except for two small mistakes that we made, we are satisfied with how we came out in the time trial."
Alejandro Valverde's Caisse d'Epargne director Eusebio Unzúe said that the team took care to not loose time to a crash. "We were quite careful during the time trial because, with the course, it was best not to take unnecessary risks," he said . "The general performance of the team was good, but the riders of Liquigas were definitely the best and we have to consider our third place a good result. Moreover we are happy to be ahead of the great favourites even if we know the seconds we won today will very soon have no importance at all."
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Vuelta a España's opening stage.