Swiss Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) won the Vuelta a España's opening time trial and took the race leader's golden jersey on Saturday in Assen in The Netherlands. He rode the 4.8-kilometre course on Assen's Moto GP race track in a time of five minutes and 20 seconds.
"I wouldn't have bet on myself, I didn't to know my condition heading into the Vuelta," said Cancellara. "I thought a prologue specialist would win, but I gave it my best nonetheless."
Belgian Tom Boonen (Quick Step) finished in second at nine seconds back and American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream) finished in third at 12 seconds.
Earlier this season, Cancellara won the opening time trial of the Tour de France on July 4 ahead of Alberto Contador. He led the race for six days, until the Arcalís climb in Andorra.
"I won't have a great race like I did at the Tour de France, I am here to find the condition for the World Championships in my home country," said Cancellara of the upcoming worlds in September. "Though, the next few days suit me, and I am looking forward to the Vuelta a España in Holland."
Cancellara is a six-time Swiss time trial national champion and has won the World Championships twice. This year's World Championship time trial will be in Mendrisio, Switzerland, on September 24.
Farrar's third place in today's opening stage proves he still has the form that helped him win the Vattenfall Cyclassics two weeks ago. Last week, he won three stages of the Eneco Tour and he is a favourite for the sprint wins in the Vuelta a España.
Irizar puts in early best before Kreuziger goes faster
Spain's Markel Irizar (Euskaltel-Euskadi) held the early best time of 5:43 while Canada's Svein Tuft (Garmin-Slipstream) sat just one second back, 5:44.
Czech Republics's Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) posted the next top provisional time. He beat Irizar's time by six seconds, 5:37.
Rain came down later in the day and affected the time trial of several top riders, including Scot David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream). He slid around a few times, but finished in 5:41. Kreuziger's 5:37 looked like it might be the winning time for the day.
The rain stopped for the second half of the riders, though. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), second at the Tour de France last month, rode in a time of 5:58.
Italian Daniele Bennati beat his Liquigas teammate Kreuziger by one second, 5:36. For a time, Liquigas led the provisional top three with Bennati, Kreuziger and Maciej Bodnar.
World Champion Bert Grabsch (Columbia-HTC) found the course too short for him. He finished 10 seconds behind Bennati.
Sprinters then gained control in Assen. Belgian Champion Tom Boonen (Quick Step) beat Jens Mouris' 5:34 time by five seconds for a 5:29. American Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream) posted provisional second best behind Boonen with a 5:32.
Cancellara comes through
The Olympic time trial champion showed the sprinters he can win on both long and short distances. Cancellara stopped the clock to put nine seconds into Boonen's time. The Swiss rider clocked a 5:20
The general classification favourites were unable to knock Cancellara off the top spot. Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) started his first Grand Tour and only third race in two years, finishing with a time of 5:38. Anti-doping controllers had caught him blood doping at the 2007 Tour de France, and he recently finished serving his ban.
Australia's Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) posted a time of 5:39, one second back from Vinokourov. Italy's Ivan Basso (Liquigas) beat Evans and finished just behind Vinokourov with a 5:38. Valverde finished on the same second as Basso and Vinokourov.
Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank) both recorded a time of 5:44.
Cancellara will wear the race leader's golden jersey in tomorrow's 202-kilometre stage from Assen to Emmen. The stage is flat and should suit the sprinters. Cancellara ought to be able to hold his overall lead for the next two stages.
The Vuelta a España returns to Spain on Thursday. The riders will use Wednesday to rest and travel from The Netherlands. The race will end on September 20 in Madrid.