23/08 - Stage 1 - Jerez de la Frontera - 12.6 km

Since 2010, the Vuelta has started out with a short team time trial. This year is no exception. The time gaps won’t be very big today but with such a strong field, every second counts.

The route
Starting out on Plaza del Mamelón, the first 1500 meters take place on narrow urban roads with multiple parts of city paves in the center of Jerez de la Frontera. After crossing under the railroad tracks, it’s time to start getting into bigger gears. The following stretch on Avenida de la Universidad is the first time the big engines can open up. However, numerous roundabouts will make for a very technical stage. In fact, the riders have to overcome more than 20 roundabouts during the just 12.6 km on the bike.

Except for the tricky and narrow first part of the stage, there aren’t really any sharp corners on this route. The many roundabouts are definitely the biggest struggle today. It means that even though this is a very technical route, there are still some high speed stretches for the big powerhouses to take advantage of. Given we are in the south of Spain, this is an evening show. To avoid extreme temperatures, the first team starts at 19:04 local time. Still, this doesn’t mean the temperatures will drop much under 30°c. Some riders may struggle in the heat at this late hour.

The favorites
Personally, I don’t remember the last time I saw five teams with an almost equal chance of winning a team time trial. Usually, there is always one of two teams above the rest. Not this time. The way I see it Omega Pharma Quickstep, Team Sky, Movistar, BMC and Trek all have a solid chance of clocking the best time on Saturday evening.

With Tony Martin on the team, Omega Pharma Quickstep will always be a contender for a short TTT. This season almost all their riders perform extremely well against the clock. Rigoberto Uran won the long time trial in the Giro d’Italia with Gianluca Brambilla and Wout Poels finishing 5th and 6th that day. Both are on the team today. The same goes for Tom Boonen who brings extra speed to the team. This OPQS team is not as strong as the one who won the World Championship last year, but it’s definitely a strong candidate for the win.

What Tony Martin is for OPQS, Fabian Cancellara is for Trek. He’s not able to beat the strong German in the individual time trials anymore, but Cancellara is still amongst the best riders in the world against the clock. Together with Jesse Sergent and the Belgian ITT champion Kristof Vandewalle - who recently won the time trials in both Tour of Austria and Tour de Pologne - Trek has an extremely powerful trio to carry the weight today. Add to that the strong youngster Bob Jungels and the Ukranian veteran Yaroslav Popovych and you really have a serious contender for the win. If I had to pick a winner today, it would be Trek.

On paper, not many of Movistar’s riders are great against the clock. However, as a team, they almost always perform brilliantly. Adriano Malori and Jonathan Castroviejo are the main engines on the team. In 2012, Movistar surprised many when they won the opening TTT of the Vuelta with a very similar team. Nairo Quintana knows he will lose time to Chris Froome on stage 10. Therefore, he needs a great start with a strong performance in this team time trial.

However, it won’t be easy for Movistar to beat Team Sky today. The British team is hungry for revenge after a far from ideal 2014 season. In Chris Froome, Dario Cataldo, Vasil Kiryienka, Christian Knees and Kanstantsin Siutsou, Team Sky has a very strong team for this stage. Due to his recent crashes in the Tour de France, Froome might be extra cautious in the many roundabouts. However, it didn’t prevent him from crashing on Thursday when Team Sky was training on the course. Froome didn’t suffer any injuries but another crash today would be unbearable for him. Mentally he can’t afford to lose any time. He has to start out strong, sending a clear message to his rivals.

The last one of the five favorites is BMC. Cadel Evans and Samuel Sanchez are leading the team, fighting for a good overall result. Both are strong against the clock and so are in-shape Manuel Quinziato, the former Belgian ITT champion Philippe Gilbert and Australian Rohan Dennis who just joined the team earlier this month. When he’s in tip-top condition, Rohan Dennis is probably amongst the 10 best time trialists in the world. With a somehow similar team, BMC finished 3rd in the opening team time trial in the Giro d’Italia earlier this year. Some may not see them as a favorite today, but only a fool would count them out prematurely.

Despite winning the team time trial in the Tour de France last year, finishing second at the World Championships and winning the TTT in the Giro d’Italia this year, I don’t see GreenEdge as a candidate today. The Australian team isn’t bringing their big powerhouses and even though Michael Matthews, Bret Lancaster and Cameron Meyer will be able to do well, it won’t be enough to fight for the win with the five teams mentioned above.

The outsiders
With so many strong candidates, there aren’t really any outsiders for the win, or even the podium, today. The best chance of a surprise is probably Belkin with the likes of Stef Clement and their GC hope Wilco Kelderman. In regards of the general classification, it will be very interesting to see how Katusha (Purito), Garmin (Martin), Astana (Aru) and Tinkoff-Saxo (Contador) perform.

To spice up the previews, once again, I’ve asked Eurosport’s on-site Vuelta reporter, Laura Meseguer, to pick a stage winner for each stage of the race. Laura is interviewing the riders before and after the stages and she knows what’s going on inside the peloton.

For this opening team time trial, Laura picks Omega Pharma Quickstep to win.

MTN-Qhubeka is the first team to start at 19:04 local time, while Movistar is the last team on the ramp. Here are the complete starting order:

19:04 MTN-Qhubeka
19:08 Cofidis
19:12 Europar
19:16 Giant-Shimano
19:20 AG2R
19:24 Caja Rural
19:28 IAM Cycling
19:32 GreenEdge
19:36 Cannondale
19:40 FDJ
19:44 Lampre-Merida
19:48 BMC
19:52 Trek
19:56 Belkin
20:00 Garmin
20:04 Lotto-Belisol
20:08 Astana
20:12 Katusha
20:16 Team Sky
20:20 Omega Pharma Quick Step
20:24 Tinkoff-Saxo
20:28 Movistar

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.