Leopard Trek overcame crashes involving Davide Viganò and Robert Wagner to win the Stage 1 Team Time Trial at the 66th edition of the Vuelta, and put Danish rider Jakob Fuglsang into the race leader’s red jersey. It was a forgettable day for Team Sky though, who also suffered crashes and communication problems that left them well off the pace.
Luxembourg-based Leopard Trek completed today’s 13.5 kilometre parcours in a time of 16 minutes 30 seconds, 4 seconds ahead of the final team out on the course, Liquigas-Cannondale. HTC-Highroad, starting their final Grand Tour, finished third.
“Our goal today was simply to do a good time trial,” said Fuglsang afterwards. “We knew if we did a good time trial we could win. This is a really special moment for the team -- and for me, to pull on the leader’s jersey at the Grand Tour, that’s amazing.”
Four-time world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara was one of the four riders who followed Fuglsang across the line to set the day’s quickest time and was the chief architect of the team’s success today.
“I have had many time trial wins,” reflected the Swiss rider. “This is the most amazing victory. It also the most exciting and surprising. Accomplishing a win like this as a team is really something special.”
Stuart O’Grady was another who was pleasantly surprised by the team setting what turned out to be the day’s fastest time, although he reflected that with another 15 teams due to finish, it didn’t seem like it would be enough to win the stage.
“Honestly, I’m stunned,” said the Australian “We thought we had done a good time trial, but I didn’t necessarily feel like it was a winning day. We were fast the whole time, that’s for sure. We are really shocked in a good way. This is incredible.”
Leopard Trek win Stage 1 TTT in 2011 Vuelta (copyright Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
The victory came after the team had to change tactics halfway through the stage as a result of crashes involving Davide Viganò and Robert Wagner.
“The plan was to have Wagner and Viganò sit on the wheels for the climb,” revealed Sports Director Lars Michaelsen, who was the only Dane, prior to Fuglasang today, to have worn the Vuelta leader’s jersey.
“We would save them for the descent that followed and the first part of the flat,” he insisted. “We had selected [Thomas] Rohregger and [Oliver] Zaugg to really go for it on the climb and then see how long they could stay with the team. We anticipated that our stronger time trialists like Maxime [Monfort], Stuart [O’Grady], Jakob, Benna [Daniele Bennati] and, of course, Fabian [Cancellara] would be able to handle the work in the second half of the stage.”
“After 3.7 kilometers, there is a u-turn, and we had Viganò and Wagner miss the turn. Viganò crashed and Wagner could not avoid running into him,” he added.
“There was no harm done to them, but we were only seven from that point. Really, we were almost like only five since we had used up Rohregger and Zaugg on the climbs. We were without Viganò and Wagner on the part where they were to keep up the speed.
Even without them, we managed. The guys just had to dig really deep.”
Michaelsen added that today’s victory reflected the hard work that everyone in the team had put in, adding that they were formulating a plan for defending it during tomorrow’s Stage 2 from La Nucia to Playas de Orihuela.
“Everyone prepared well for the day,” he said. “The riders previewed the course three times, and everybody did what they had to to earn this victory. The whole team -- the sports directors, the mechanics, the soigneurs, and, of course, the riders --gave 100% to see the team stand on the podium together.
“We have the responsibility of defending the jersey tomorrow,” he added. “It is a responsibility and an honor. We’ll go into the stage with a clear plan and see how things play out during the race.”
Team Sky meanwhile were left to count the cost of a series of crashes and communication problem that at one point left them with just four men riding together, on a stage on which it was the time of the fifth man that counted.
Eventually, the team finished in 17 minutes 12 seconds, with only two of the 21 other teams posting a slower time and costing team leader Brad Wiggins up to 42 seconds on his rivals.
“That wasn’t the best of starts to be honest,’ admitted Australian sprinter CJ Sutton afterwards. “We’d gone over everything a lot in the past few days and thought we had it down to a tee. We’d changed the order a few times and got it perfect, and we started out great.
“Kurt [Asle Arvesen] led us out because he’s so experienced at these things. We began by taking things easy, but not too easy, set a good tempo, and it was all going well until there was a touch of wheels or something which meant [Xabier] Zandio had to unclip. Kurt also crashed at that point which was hard because it meant everyone behind him had to chase a couple of bike-lengths to get back on.
“We regrouped as best we could and gave it everything, and although we lost 42 seconds, over a three-week race that’s going to be insignificant. It would’ve been nice if we could have got a result for Bradley [Wiggins], but we all gave it 100% and that’s all you can ask for at the end of the day.
“Zandio deserves special praise because he did brilliantly to get back on after unclipping,” continued Sutton. “He gave a huge effort to chase up that hill and having him there with us was a big bonus.
“Tomorrow’s stage is one that I’ll be looking to do well in as a sprinter,” he added. “I’m feeling strong so I’ll try and get in the mix and test out the legs and see how I go. I’ve done a few sprints in training over the past few days and have been hitting some good numbers, but obviously in a race situation after 174km anything can happen.
"I’d love to get a stage win but there’s so many good sprinters here so we’ll have to see. I’m just grateful to get the opportunity to get the chance to go toe-to-toe with those guys in a Grand Tour.”
Liquigas Cannondale in Stage 1 TTT in 2011 Vuelta (copyright Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
HTC-Highroad in Stage 1 TTT in 2011 Vuelta (copyright Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.