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Buenos dias and harlijke welkom to the Vuelta a Espana in the Netherlands! We kick things off today with a nifty little 4.4km time trial on the GP motorcycle race course in Assen, the Netherlands.
We have four riders in so far, and the best time goes to Frantisek Rabon of Columbia. He covered the circuit in 5:46.
What's the course like? The profile is easy to explain: flat. Not 100 percent flat, but still basically flat. It does have a nice number of curves and turns, and should suit the prologue/short time trial specialists perfectly.
Don't be too surprised if Rabon's mark holds up for a while. He is a time trial specialist and won the Czech national title this year.
Assen is in the Drenthe province of the Netherlands, in the north-eastern corner of the country. The GP circuit here is world-famous, and legend Valentino Rossi won his 100th GP race here this year. The motorcycle course here is so highly-regarded that it is called the “Cathedral”.
Svein Tuft of Garmin-Slipstream is now on the track. He is another upset favourite to win today.
Markel Irizar of Euskaltel has just topped Rabon's time by three seconds, making him our new leader at 5:43.
This is the first time in 12 years that the Vuelta has started outside of Spain, and only the second time ever.
Columbia's Greg Henderson crosses the line in exactly the same time as his teammate Rabon, and slips into third place.
Who is going to take it today? Who else other than Fabian Cancellara, who also won the opener in the Giro this year? At any rate he certainly has to be the top favourite here.
Tuft brought in a good time, but couldn't catch the leader. The Canadian is currently in second place, one second down.
The teams have been out trying out the course here this week. Some photos here: www.cyclingnews.com/features/gallery-warming-the-engines-for-the-vuelta-a-espana-start
Fabian Cancellara of Saxo Bank may well be the first to put on the Vuelta leader's gold jersey. The Swiss time trial specialist is using this race to warm up for the World's next month, which just happen to be in his home country.
Sebastian Chavanel came in eight seconds down, putting him currently in ninth place.
Timothy Gudsell of Francaise des Jeux is very happy to be here today. He started the season off with a dreadful crash in the Tour Down Under, and when he started riding again two months later, he had nerve problems in his left leg. But the New Zealander looks to be healthy again, and raring to go. Read more about him here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/gudsell-to-the-vuelta-hopes-for-end-of-troubles
Things are happening fast and furious. Maciej Bodnar has just set a great new best time of 5:39, and Vasili Kiryienka is now second at 5:42.
And just like that, David Herrero of Xacobeo shoves himself into second place.
Marcel Sieberg has moved into sixth place, six seconds behind Bodnar – that's a good time for Columbia's big man. He is 198 cm tall.
Tyler Farrar of Garmin Slipstream is also a top pick for today's win. The 25-year-old is really on a roll right now, having won the Vattenfalls Cyclassics and three stages of the Eneco Tour. You can read more about him at www.cyclingnews.com/news/farrar-dreams-of-vuelta-gold
Jean-Eudes Demaret of Cofidis brings in a nice time, too. He is currently seven seconds behind Bodnar, who continues to lead.
Saxo Bank's youngster Jakob Fuglsang is now in fifth place, four seconds behind Bodnar.
Dutch Professional Continental team Vacansoleil is starting today with black mourning bands on their jerseys. They are in memory of the father of Liuewe Westra, who died earlier this week. Westra decided to go ahead and ride the Vuelta in honour of his father.
It feels like summer is over in this corner of northern Europe. There is a real autumnal feeling in the air, and the forecast for today is sunny with partly cloudy and showers – a little bit of everything is possible. And the high is only supposed to be 16° Celsius.
We have a new leader: Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas. He puts in a time of 5:37, which is two seconds faster than previous leader Bodnar.
Will Kreuziger hold on to his lead until the end? Or who do you think will claim top honours? Have your say in our forum: forum.cyclingnews.com/
So which teams are riding here? We have a whopping 22 teams, 17 ProTour teams and five Professional Continental teams. Katusha is the only ProTour team missing. From the PC side we have Andalucia Cajasur, Cervelo TestTeam, Contentpolis Ampo, Vacansoliel and Xacobeo Galicia.
Just about everyone sees Cancellara as the favourite here today – except for maybe himself. He is planning to peak for the World Championships next month in Mendrisio, Switzerland, and says, “This prologue is too early for me. There are plenty of other riders who are in better shape."
With the first three stages starting in the Netherlands, you can bet that the Dutch riders are especially motivated to do well. There are 12 Dutch riders in the Vuelta: Rabobank has six, Vacansoliel four. Martijn Maaskant of Garmin-Slipstream and Karsten Kroon of Saxo Bank round out the dozen.
The “Comeback Kid” at this race has to be Alexander Vinokourov. He is back in action after serving his suspension for blood-doping at the 2007 Tour de France. How will he do here? You know he'd love to win the whole thing, but he'll be happy with a stage or two, he says here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/vinokourov-rules-out-vuelta-overall-aims-for-stage-win
He goes off at 18:30.
The expected rain has now started falling. Too early to tell whether it will affect the race.
Did we ask whether the rain would affect the race? Yup! Carlos Barredo went down the ramp and down on to the road – not a good way to start out a Grand Tour! And David Millar has had a few skids and scary moments.
Stijn Develoder is underway now on the wet course, carefully weaving his way through an S-curve.
It is not actually raining at the moment, but the course is very wet. And we see lots of nasty clouds still hanging around.
Devolder brings in a very slow time, very nearly six minutes. But it's sure better to be safe than sorry here today.
Millar may have had a few tricky moments, but it was still good enough to put him in third place.
Barredo's crash at the bottom of the starting ramp cost him, as he finished 28 seconds down.
Good crowds were expected today, but they don't seem to have turned out. The stands are nowhere near full.
One rider we are sorry is not here is Jens Voigt of Saxo Bank. After his horrific face-first crash in the Tour de France, it at first looked like he would be out for the season, but you can't keep Jens down. He has bounced right back up, and will be at the start of the Tour of Missouri September 7: www.cyclingnews.com/news/voigt-to-return-at-tour-of-missouri
There is a female starter here today, counting down and holding out her fingers to mark the time. And another female is holding the bikes. The tv cameraperson is a man, though.
The rain has stopped and the sun has come out enough to cast shadows. Let's see how long this lasts.
Rabo's Koos Moorenhout is currently underway, and his pedaling cadence is 107/minute.
One of the Milram riders, in his distinctive “cow-spot” jersey, just took off.
Columbia's ace sprinter Andre Greipel is now out there battling the wet course. He probably is thinking more of a mass sprint finish tomorrow than of doing anything much today.
The riders aren't the only ones who have to get ready for a Grand Tour. There are lost of other people who have lots of equipment to take care of, too. Have a look at some photos of some of the prep work: www.cyclingnews.com/features/through-the-lens-finishing-touches-ahead-of-vuelta-start
This isn't the only race going on, you know. Over in Italy, Katusha's Filippo Pozatto won the Giro del Veneto today. The results: www.cyclingnews.com/races/81st-giro-del-veneto-1-hc/results
Kreuziger put in a good time, and the bad weather is his friend. No one is coming particularly close to his time. Will it hold up to the end?
There's another race going on, too, over there in the US of A. The men's national time trial race has started. We will let you know what happens, if they finish before we do. Otherwise, of course, you can find all the results right here on Cyclingnews.
Fränk (Big Brother) Schleck is now on the course.
Ivan Basso is not looking forward to the first week of the Vuelta. He has his eye on the latter stages, he tells us at www.cyclingnews.com/news/basso-fears-vueltas-early-stages-looks-to-mountain-triple
It's not a top finish for F. Schleck, as crosses the line in 5:55, putting him in about 62nd place. But time trialing never really was his thing.
Tom Boonen is taking another attempt at a Grand Tour this year, and certainly hopes that he is more successful than at the Tour de France. Actually it would be hard to be less successful than he was there. The Quick Step sprinter has only six wins so far this year (as compared with 15 last year). Unfortunately for him, he has been making more headlines with his non-sporting antics than with his success on the bike in 2009.
Oscar Freire of Rabobank is the centre of attention, as he is accompanied by three cars and a motorcycle. Sometimes it is hard to see the cyclist amongst all those vehicles!
Alessandro Ballan, world champion on the road, is the next to go out on the course.
And Ballan is followed only a minute later by Garmin's Tom Danielson. All the starters are one minute apart, even the last twenty.
Kim Kirchen has sunshine and relatively dry track as he approaches the finish line.
We don't know who will win the overall race title, but we can confidently state that none of the podium riders from last year will repeat the success in 2009. Just in case you forgot, in 2008 Alberto Contador of Astana took the title, with teammate Levi Leipheimer coming in second. Third was Carlos Sastre, then riding for CSC-Saxo Bank. And none of the three is in the race this year.
Danielson doesn't put in as good a time as hoped, not even making the top ten. Liquigas, though, has three riders in the top ten at the moment.
Andy Schleck has now taken to the course and he is riding with a vengeance.
Astana's Chris Horner crosses the finish line in sixth place, as teammate Alexander Vinokourov warms up.
Lars Boom of Rabobank is the next to take off. He would very much like to win here today.
Andy Schleck crosses the finish line with a time of 5:58, making him 99th overall. Like his brother, time trials are not at all his strength.
Liquigas is hot today! Daniele Bennati has just taken over first place with a time of 5:36.
Thre are some big names on the course right now: World time trial champ Bert Grabsch and Tornado Tom (Boonen).
And another new leader! Jens Mouris of Vacansoliel knocks another second off the time. Behind him, Milram's Linus Gerdemann comes in fifth.
Grabsch is now in fifth place, five seconds down. This kind of short TT is not his biggest strength, so that is a very good result for him.
Tornado Tom, anyone? He just whooshed across the finish line in 5:29, as the first to break the 5:30 mark!
Tyler Farrar of Garmin crosses the line in 5:32, as second fastest so far.
Alexander Vinokourov makes his return to the ProTour, as he hits the course.
Last year's Vuelta opened with a team time trial, a very short one of 7 km. Liquigas won it with a time of 8:21 minutes, and Filippo Pozzato was the first across the line, so he put on the gold jersey. And he's not here this year, either.
Cadel Evans is the next to go. There are only four more riders after him: Ivan Basso, Alejandro Valverde, Robert Gesink, and Samuel Sanchez.
A good time for Vinokourov, 5:38.
There are two riders between Vino and Cancellara: Xavier Tondo of Andalucia-C ajasur and Tadej Valjavec of AG2R.
Cancellara may not have felt in good shape for this prologue, but you couldn't tell from his performance. He crosses the line in 5:20, making him our new leader. And Evans comes in in ninth place.
Basso is the next one to head in, but it won't be a podium place for him.
Valverde won't challenge for the final honours today, either.
Two riders to go, Gesink and Sanchez.
Gesink comes in some 24 seconds down. Now it is down to Sanchez.
Sanchez can't challenge the speedy Swiss champion and comes in with a time of over 5:40.
We have a winner! The winner of the first stage and wearer of the gold leader's jersey is Fabian Cancellara of Team Saxo Bank. Second is Quick Step's Tom Boonen, with Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Slipstream rounding out the podium.
Here's the Top Ten:
1º CANCELLARA Fabian 5:20
2º BOONEN Tom a 9
3º FARRAR Tyler a 12
4º MOURIS Jens a 14
5º BENNATI Daniele a 16
6º KREUZIGER Roman a 17
7º VINOKOUROV Alexander a 18
8º BASSO Ivan a 18
9º VALVERDE BELMONTE Alejandro a 18
10º BODNAR Maciej a 19