Team time trials offer something different
It has been three long years since the last team time trial at WorldTour level, which was also at the Vuelta a España, so Friday’s stage was an opportunity to watch something a little bit fresh, a little bit different.
One can understand why race organisers are loathe to put these into their Grand Tours, with lengthy courses round a city hard to organise, a sense that they might be a bit dull, and that they offer far too much to some teams.
However, a short-ish TTT will not create too many time gaps, as we saw on stage one, and is something a bit funky and new for fans and riders alike. The fact that 33 riders had never even ridden a pro TTT shows how unpopular they have become, but there is no need for this to continue.
Utrecht comes out for La Vuelta
It should not be a surprise that the Dutch love cycling, this is one stereotype that is both positive and deserved. However, on a mildly moist evening in Utrecht, the Dutch fans proved that they love the sport. It is no coincidence that the city has hosted all three Grand Tours, as they are clearly cycling mad there, and it was refreshing to see such crowds at the side of the road.
The wall of noise for Jumbo-Visma was particularly impressive, as the fans made their love for the home team clear.
A time trial offers onlookers a chance to see all of the riders, rather than the peloton just speeding by, and they were treated to an exhibition of formation riding from the 184 riders. In this post-Covid policy world, it is refreshing to see such numbers at a bike race, long may it continue.
EF Education-EasyPost lose time
Looking at the results, it appears that there was only one serious general classification team that lost time on the opening day – EF Education-EasyPost. Distant are the days of Garmin, when they would be all conquering at TTTs; instead, the American outfit ended up shipping 1-19 to Jumbo-Visma.
Now, this might not seem like a lot, and this is only stage one after all, but it means Primož Roglič already has a considerable advantage over the likes of Hugh Carthy, Rigoberto Urán and Esteban Chaves, who all could feasibly do well on GC.
It is far from race over, but it is an alarm, and proof of changing times at EF.
Ineos Grenadiers and Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl come close, but miss out
Three squads went under 25 minutes on the 23.3km course, but only one could win, which meant Ineos Grenadiers and Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl both put in impressive rides for no reward. Both super-teams controlled their efforts well, not dropping riders at inopportune times, and therefore came close to winning in Utrecht.
It would be simple to say that it was the drier conditions that did it for the pair, but it clearly helped – one of the other pre-race favourites, BikeExchange-Jayco, had to deal with mixed conditions, and came in twenty seconds down.
Both squads are filled with powerhouses, much like the team that beat them, Jumbo-Visma, and so it should come as no surprise that they are so good at TTTs. They are just 13 and 14 seconds down on the red jersey, respectively, so it was a good day at the office. With bonus seconds on offer in the sprints, maybe Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) is in with a shout of claiming the red jersey this weekend.
Jumbo-Visma are already in control of the race
What a difference 12 months makes. After the first stage of last year’s Vuelta, Primož Roglič won the time trial and claimed the red jersey at the opening opportunity. A year on, he did not manage it – shock – but instead it was his teammate Robert Gesink who did the honours.
OK, so not much of a difference. An opening effort against the clock, and Jumbo-Visma in pole position once again; there is just something ominous about the Dutch team at the Vuelta, something that seems unbeatable, however true this actually is.
Crossing the line with all eight riders was a nice touch, a reminder to their competitors that they are very much in control. It is already hard to bet against Roglič winning a fourth successive Vuelta, even this early on. The men in yellow love the red race.