Team Sky turned in a strong global performance in the opening time trial stage of the Vuelta a Espana in Malaga, placing four riders in the top 20, including runner-up Michal Kwiatkowski. But if the win just eluded the British squad on Saturday, Sky's head sports director for the Vuelta promised they would fight for the lead on Sunday's uphill finish.
Kwiatkowski came the closest of all the opposition to defeating Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team), missing out by six seconds. But with time bonuses of ten, six and four seconds waiting at the finish of tomorrow's stage, as well as three-, two- and one-second bonuses in the intermediate sprints, there will be plenty of opportunities to unseat the Australian. Even as Saturday's stage was drawing to a close, Sky's management were already making calculations about the chances of Kwiatkowski repeating his brief spell in the Vuelta lead in 2016.
"Michal did a perfect prologue, really good, no mistakes, so we should be happy, it's a good start," Team Sky directeur sportif Gabriel Rasch told Cyclingnews. "And tomorrow's finish is really good for Kwiato as well, so the red jersey [of leader] is definitely possible." He was more cagey about whether Kwiatkowski would or would not go for a GC placing in the Vuelta, saying "we'll take that on the day by day."
Rasch said he was very satisfied with the way Sky's other riders had defended themselves on the time trial course, "Dylan [Van Baarle, fifth], Pavel [Sivakov, 38th], Tao [Geoghegan] Hart, 18th], Castro' [Jonathan Castroviejo, seventh] all did very well. David De La Cruz [81st] did a similar time to [Vincenzo] Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and [Nairo] Quintana (Movistar), so he's in the game."
De La Cruz himself was somewhat disappointed with his race, telling Spanish television afterwards that "it was a pity, I hoped to do better. I know that I always have a tough time on the first stage of a race, but I didn't expect to lose so much time. I know the form is good, I have to be optimistic.
"I checked out the time trial the other day when the roads were open, this morning I did it twice to be sure of my line on the curves and then I looked at it on my computer. One important goal was not to crash, the other to stay close to the leaders. I was a little bit off the pace but it wasn't a total catastrophe."