Big career moment for Sastre as he takes leader's jersey
The date was out by just over four months but when a delighted CSC squad sang Happy Birthday to Carlos Sastre in the waiting area prior to strutting their stuff on the podium as winners of the team time trial, they were marking another significant moment in the Spanish rider's life. In crossing the line first at the end of the flat, lighting fast 7.3 kilometre test, the 31 year old took the first big race leader's jersey of his career and marked himself out as one of the big riders to watch in this Vuelta.
"I am very pleased," he said at the post-race press conference. "I have thought about wearing this jersey from when I was a very young rider. This is a great win for Team CSC, it was a really good effort from everyone today.
"We have a team that is very motivated, very strong and we showed that here. There are twenty days left of a very hard Vuelta ahead of us but it is sure that the team will work one hundred percent for the win."
CSC were off second to last and scorched the course, impressively thrashing the time of GC rivals Caisse d'Epargne - Illes Balears by seven seconds and going a further second quicker than longtime leaders Team Milram. That left just Rabobank to go, but Denis Menchov's squad was found wanting and finished back in twelfth place, giving Sastre an early lead and, more importantly, a significant psychological boost on this opening day of the race.
The affable Spaniard was impressed by the CSC display. "Today I just had to follow the motorbike that was my team. They were very strong but I also felt very good today and am very happy. It is the first time that I have worn a leader's jersey.
"After today there is a time difference but the first significant differences will come in the first day in the mountains. That day will be very hard…it is a very tough stage."
Sastre was asked how this compared to his fourth place finish in the Tour de France, but he said that he is completely focused on going forward rather than looking to the past. "The Tour de France finished one month ago," he answered. "I don't think about the Tour any more, we are at the Vuelta a España now and I want to think about what is ahead, in the future."
He doesn't count on his team fighting tooth and nail to defend the Maillot Oro from this point onwards. "It will be very hard to keep this leader's jersey over the next few days," he stated, knowing well that it is better to let it go and then claim it back once the road pitches skywards later in the race.
Team boss Bjarne Riis was smiling at the finish. "I am very happy. It was a fantastic win for us and the team were very strong," he told Cyclingnews. "They were very, very fast in the last three or four kilometres…it was very nice to watch. We have a very good team here at this Vuelta.
He was asked at the press conference if it was decided beforehand that Sastre would lead them home. "I think it is correct that Carlos was first over the line. We talked about that yesterday. The team will work one hundred percent for Carlos and so it is right that he is leading now."
Like the rest of the team, Stuart O'Grady was delighted with the result. "I am rapt. It is one of the best feelings, winning an event with your team-mates. It is a team effort and everyone put in one hundred percent. It is nice to win, that is for sure.
"We rode a perfect race. We took it really easy for the first kilometre, when we were going around a couple of corners heading away from the stadium, but just wound it up from there. We were going fast, very, very fast."
Caisse d'Epargne directeur sportif Alfonso Galilea was happy with his team's ride, while also being a little frustrated to lose out on the win. "We had the best time, but CSC have just gone quicker," he said at the finish. "We think that we have done a very good time time trial but CSC has come to the Vuelta with a team of very, very good time trial riders. It is a short team time trial and it is very difficult to fight against a team like that here.
"But in this moment we are happy. We will finish second or maybe third, depending on how Rabobank get on. So I think it is a very good time for us and I am happy with that."
How it unfolded
The first stage of the 2006 Vuelta was a rather unique affair in terms of what is customary in major stage races. It resembled a prologue in terms of its length, 7.3 kilometres, but differed significantly in that it was run off as a team time trial.
First off from the start at Málaga’s Estadio de Atletismo was the Relax-Gam team but they had the briefest of spells at the top of the leaderboard before the second team, Lampre-Fondital went a full 16 seconds quicker. There was a light breeze coming off the sea along the flat, lightning fast course and teams were exceeding 65 kilometres per hour at points, driving hard on the straight roads while holding back slightly on the few technical corners.
The sixth team off, Credit Agricole, were the next leaders but their time of 7’49 was pipped by the next team to go, namely T-Mobile. However the German squad is without their biggest hitters here and it wasn’t long before another Teutonic lot, Team Milram, went three seconds quicker. Their squad is built around super-sprinters Alessandro Petacchi, on his way back after a bad knee injury sustained in the Giro, and Erik Zabel, and flat-out speed is their speciality. Could they hold on for the win?
Gerolsteiner - plunged into disarray after one of the team took a bad line around a corner and wiped out captain Davide Rebellin - then Quick.Step, Saunier Duval and Euskaltel came and went before big guns Discovery Channel got under way with their GC hope Tom Danielson. They equalled Milram at the intermediate time check but were a second behind at the finish at Paseo de Los Curas/Paseo La Farola; close but no cigarillo. Alexandre Vinokourov’s Astana team were next but they too fell short, finishing five seconds adrift of the motoring milkmen.
All eyes were on the Spanish squad Caisse D’Epargne- Illes Balears and with GC hopes Alejandro Valverde and Oscar Pereiro spurring the team onwards, they scorched in to the finish to record a time of 7’43 and set a new best. Yet their celebrations were short-lived as straight away CSC tore up the course and set a phenomenal pace of 57.632 kilometres an hour to go a full seven seconds faster; the celebrations started straight away and with the final team, Rabobank, finishing 18 seconds down in twelfth place, Carlos Sastre’s men in black got off to the best possible start. One stage down, 20 to go, but they will be happy tonight.