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The Vuelta gets going in earnest today, with a bumpy profile that just begs for a breakaway. The only question is, will that break make it to the end, or will the sprinters dominate in the end.
This is anything but a flat stage today, with a category three climb in the first half, followed by any number of unranked climbs and a huge descent to the finish. The descent isn't all that steep, though, so it ought to give the sprinters' teams a good chance to catch the escapees.
And, as expected, we have an escape group. Javier Ramirez (Andalucia-CajaSur), Mickael Buffaz (Cofidis), Johnnie Walker (Footon-Servetto) and Michael Delage (Omega Pharma-Lotto) got away only 4km into the stage. They built up a lead of up to 6:45, and now are 6:14 ahead of the HTC-Columbia-led peloton
But there is some bad news: Buffaz crashed just before the quartet hit the mountain ranking, and has had to abandon the race with a suspected broken collarbone.
Delage takes the mountain points ahead of Ramirez and Walker. So Delage will be the first to be awarded this year's mountain jersey, which is white with blue dots.
The gap is starting to drop again now, down to 6:02.
A lot of the riders didn't sign in today before the stage, which means their will be lots of fines to be paid. But all 198 riders are on their bikes and going.
We are sorry to say Bufaz's collarbone has now been confirmed as broken and he is on his way to hospital.
Dario Cataldo of Quick Step can claim the honour of the first Vuelta crash. He went down within the first km of the neutralised section, but was not injured.
Hmm, seem to be a lot of crashes at the moment. Delage went down, but is now nearly back with his escape companions. HTC-Columbia had two hit the road, Lars Ytting Bak and Martin Velits, but they are back in the field now.
And how's the weather today? About what you expect: hot. It was 37° a while ago...
Judging by the stage of his jersey, Delage fell on to his back.
And on his left arm -- is that is streak of blood we see?
The gap has fallen dramatically, down to 4:30.
The peloton is strung out over a long stretch, as it works its way through some hairpin turns in a town.
Delage is the highest-ranked of the leading trio. He is 41st, only 17 seconds down.
A look at who is wearing which of the special jerseys is a quick one: Mark Cavendish has them all. The speedy Manxman was the first over the finish line for HTC-Columbia late last night, becoming the first rider ever to wear the newly-designed red leader's jersey. He leads teammates (and twin brothers) Peter and Martin Velits, who are second and third.
The green points jersey has also gone to Cavendish, who has 25 points, with Peter Velits second at 20 points and Martin Velits third at 16 points.
The leading trio has gone through the intermediate sprint with Delage taking the points ahead of Ramirez and Walker.
Cavendish also won the combativity classification, which doesn't have its own jersey. In this ranking, Martin Velits was second and Lars Ytting Bak third.
Mark Cavendish pulled on the race leader’s red jersey after the team time trial and told Eurosport he hopes to win again in Marbella and give HTC-Columbia a second win.
“I’m really proud to pull on the leader’s red jersey. It’s a nice new jersey but as I said, it’s not me who won it, I’m just wearing for the team. HTC-Columbia did a fabulous job and I’m so proud of them,” Cavendish said.
“The stage to Marbella is not an easy course but hope fully it’ll finish in a bunch sprint and we can get a second stage in a row.”
Ha! Here is one jersey that Cavendish didn't win – the mountain ranking. Not because of his (lack of) climbing abilities, but because there were no climbs at all in the opening team time trial, and it wasn't awarded.
The gap continues to come down, and is now at 3:20. We suspect this escape group won't be successful today.
A huge crowd is cheering the peloton as they ride through the narrow, climbing streets of a town along the way.
And – surprise,surprise – HTC-Columbia won the team ranking, followed by Liquigas-Doimo and Saxo Bank.
Cavendish was the fastest across the finish line last night, and Julian Dean of Garmin-Transitions was the slowest. The New Zealander was still suffering the effects of a crash while training on the dark course earlier in the evening, and fell back quite early. You can read more about it here.
Delage took advantage of the next intermediate sprint to get off on his own. There is still a way to go, though, so he would be well-advixd to wait for his two mates.
Who are the sprinters in the Vuelta? Cavendish, obviously, and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions, Alessandro Petacchi and Danilo Hondo of Lampre and Theo Bos and Thor Hushovd of Cervelo TestTeam.
But let us not forget Oscar Freire of Rabobank. The 34-year-old is still recovering from surgery to remove polyps from his nose and sinuses, but still can't be counted out. After all, the is a three-time World champion and won his third Milan-Sanremo this year. Plus he already has seven career Vuelta stage wins.
Saxo Bank was “only” fourth in the team time trial, but the Danish team wasn't unhappy. Fränk Schleck goes into today's stage with a 24-second lead over top rival Denis Menchov of Rabobank.
“I'm quite happy about the result and about putting Fränk in a good position in the overall rankings,” directeur sportif Bradley McGee said
Delage is still alone in the lead, 3:27 ahead of the peloton, with Ramirez and Walker somewhere in between.
Delage makes his lonely, hot way up the final ascent of the day. It is the high point of the stage, but not a ranked climb.
The results of last night's team time trial were changed, with Cervelo being awarded third place ahead of Saxo Bank. “We thought we could have a good time trial”, said directeur sportif Jens Zemke. “We were hoping for top 5 with riders like Thor (Hushovd), Theo (Bos), Xavier Tondo, Xavier Florencio and Inigo Cuesta who are always good at that. The surprise came from the intermediate time check where we had the best time. It would have been great to put Inigo in the red jersey at 41 years old! We cheered a lot for him. There’s still a good team spirit even though we got the sad news of the team stopping.”
The gaps are coming down, with Delage 23 seconds ahead of the chasing duo and the peloton at 3:16.
Delage gets a visit from the team car and also gets a bite to eat.
Xavier Tondo of Cervelo has announced that he’s joining Caisse d’Epargne, to be called Movistar, for the next two years. “It has always been my dream to join the team of Perico Delgado and Miguel Indurain that gave me the passion for cycling when I was a kid”, Tondo said. “I broke my collarbone at the Tour of Poland so I don’t know how good I can work for Carlos Sastre here. Today it can be really warm as we’re heading south and it might be a problem for a few of us in the bunch.”
Fabian Cancellara of Saxo Bank and Denis Menchov (Rabobank) are having a chat as they roll along. Wonder which language they are speaking?
The Footon team car driver rips open the gel packs for his rider before handing them over. He opens them with his teeth. Is this really hygenic?
The three leader have come back together again, as their lead has dropped to under three minutes.
Meanwhile, Marcos Garcia of Xacobeo-Galicia has jumped from the peloton.
Garcia looks back to see how much of a lead he has.
And just like that the gap is under two minutes.
Johnny Weltz, directeur sportif of Garmin-Transitions, spoke about his injured rider Julian Dean: “He feels a lot of pain”, Weltz said. “He crashed very badly. We’ll see on the way if he’s able to do his usual work as a lead out man. If not, David Millar and Michel Kreder will take over from him. Tyler Farrar was the strongest yesterday in the team time trial. It’s time for him to beat Mark Cavendish this year. To do so, we need a bit of luck, we also have to break the rhythm of the train of HTC-Columbia and not make any mistake in positioning.”
Looks like Garcia will catch the three leaders pretty soon now.
The three in front are now four in front, as Garcaiia has joined the three leaders.
Garcia gets a drink bottle from the neutral service car. We understand the gap is now under one minute.
Garcia drops back from the other three in front.
Garcia has worked his way back up to the front.
Andalucia-Cajasur is the local team of the first stages of the 2010 Vuelta. Team captain José Angel Gomez Marchante explained that three of them were particularly designated for breaking away: Antonio Piedra, José Vicente Toribio and Javier Ramirez. The latter made the first “escapada” (escape) with Mickaël Buffaz (Cofidis), Mickaël Delage (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Johnnie Walker (Footon-Servetto). “We felt a great support for our team in the streets of Sevilla last night”, Marchante said. “It was a wonderful way for us to start the Vuelta.”
HTC-Columbia continues to grind away at the head of the chasing peloton.
Only 38 seconds between the two groups.
The four leaders tear down the descent, hoping to postpone the inevitable.
Walker takes off from his companions and biulds up a small lead.
The gap has crept up a few seconds, to 45 seconds.
French rider Christophe Le Mével loved racing at nighttime: “This was one of the best atmosphere I ever experienced at a bike race”, the climber from FDJ said.
Australia’s Simon Gerrans from Sky added: “It was definitely something special to race at almost midnight but that’s the time Spanish crowd comes alive, so it was great.”
Basically no changes....
The gap is now under 40 seconds again. Delage, Ramirez and Garcia continue to chase Walker.
Daniele Bennati is one of the sprinters to watch today. “I’m happy to finally be able to ride a Grand Tour this year”, he said. “In April, I had an Achilles problem, that’s why I couldn’t ride the Giro. At the Dauphiné I felt really good but I couldn’t take part in the Tour de France because my initial program was Giro-Vuelta and my team didn’t put my name on the potential list of 15 potential riders for the Tour de France. Now I feel really good but I don’t know what I’m able to achieve really. The team has high ambitions for GC but Frederik Willems, Jacopo Guarnieri and Mauro Finetto will work for me in the flat stages.”
Today's stage winner gets 20 bonus seconds, and 20 points. So we could see a change in the overall rankings, if Cavendish doesn't win.
20km to go, and a gap of 23 seconds.
Walker is not so very far ahead of the chasing trio. They can see him.
The peloton is now only 15 seconds back.
The three chasers have caught Walker again, and they can all expect to be caught by the peloton shortly.
Ah, the sea is in sight. Hopefully it will be cooler there, too.
Delage and GArcia have been caught by the peloton. The other two are hanging on grimly in front.
Their time is nearly up, though. The peloton is coming up rapidly behind them. And catches them, with 12.5km to go.
Now HTC-Columbia will try to hold things together to the end.
No one has tried to break out yet.
Milram moves to the front, right behind HTC-Columbia. Their sprinter is Robert Förster.
The field makes its careful way around a tricky traffic circle.
Lampre has moved to the head of things now.
Delage falls off the back of the field, and looks to have cramps.
Lampre now has firm control of the lead work -- for the moment.
Cavendish is seventh or eighth in the field at the moment, so still in good position.
Still no one has attempted to break out. Perhaps the sprinters' teams are holding the tempo high enough to discourage such thoughts.
Peer Velits has moved to the front now for HTC-Columbia.
Hondo is pulling for his captain Petacchi.
Liquigas up at the front now.
Approaching the 2km marker.....
There are several curves and/or turns in the final km.
Markus Fothen of Milram is at the head of things. The sprint is open!
Hondo leads Petacchi, Farrar goes around them, and Cavendish attcks!
But Cavendish is passed at the last second! Yauheni Hutarovich of FdJ sneaks by him for the win!
Cavendish second and Farrar third.
Cavendish will hold on to his red jersey. He had a 33 second lead over Hutarovich, who gained a 20 second bonus with his win.
That was certainly an unexpected winner today. We congratulate the Belarus rider for sneaking one past the top sprinters.
Thanks for reading along today and be sure to join us again tomorrow for more fun and games in Spain.