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Will BMC continue their team time trial dominance in the Vuelta a Espana opener?

Photo: Sirotti

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19.08.2016 @ 20:03 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

It has become a tradition for the Vuelta a Espana to kick off with a team time trial and after last year’s scandalous affair where the time gaps were neutralized, things should be less controversial this time around. An unusually long course with several technical sections means that it is much more than a ceremonial affair and the first important time gaps can be opened already on the first day. At the same time, a very prestigious stage win is up for grabs in a very open stage where none of the big teams are at their start with their biggest specialists.

 

A hugely exciting course and a formidable field have set the scene for a huge spectacle at the 2016 Vuelta a Espana. Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana will clash in a race that offers no less than ten uphill finishes and two time trials. As it is the case for every WorldTour race, CyclingQuotes will have daily previews where we analyze the course and the favourites. Hopefully, our tips can serve add to your enjoyment and serve as inspiration for fantasy games and betting. An excellent place is William Hill Cycling Betting which will have interesting H2Hs for every stage.

 

The course

While the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France have had a mix of opening stages, with the Tour varying between prologues and road stages and the Giro using team time trials, prologues and road stages, the Vuelta a Espana seems to stick the format of kicking their race off with a team time trial. For the seventh year in a row, the Spanish grand tour will start with the collective discipline that is a perfect way to present the teams and their line-ups for the audience. The race last started with a prologue in 2009 when Fabian Cancellara won the opening time trial and the race hasn’t started with a road stage since 2007 when Daniele Bennati won a bunch sprint.

 

While they prefer to kick off their race with a team time trial, the Vuelta organizers usually try to make the opening stage rather short and it rarely has a big impact on the final general classification. It seems that the intention has been to have a mostly ceremonial opening that is not intended to play a major role in the outcome of the race. However, like they did in 2013, they have deviated from that pattern for the 2016 edition. While the two most recent openers were just 12.6km and 7.4km respectively, this year’s first stage is a much harder test over 27.8km and the stage will play a bigger role in the overall outcome. At the same time, they have designed a less controversial course than last year’s hugely criticized route that was held partly on a bike path. Due to the dangerous conditions, a late decision was made to neutralize the time gaps and so many teams just rolled safely through the stage. This year the race is likely to get off to a less controversial start.

 

During the last few years, the race has mostly visited the same regions, with Andalucia and Galicia being especially keen on welcoming the race. The former region hosted the start of the race in both 2010 and 2014 and last year they had managed to attract the big start of their national tour again. This year the race returns to Galicia where it also started in 2013, with the city of Ourense being the host of the first stage.

 

The opening Vuelta team time trials have often been pretty technical or hilly but this year the opening stage seems to be a bit more straightforward. It will bring the riders over 27.8km from Ourense pronvincia termal to Parque Nautico de Castrelo de Miño and will be held in the evening. It’s a mostly flat affair with just 232m of climbing and so the main challenges will be technical. The first part consists of a mainly straight run along the Miño River and then the route becomes a bit technical when the riders turn right. Having turned around, they will head back towards the river along a mainly straight road and finally, the route gets a bit more technical in the end. The final 4km are far from straight as the road is very winding but there won’t be any sharp turns. Furthermore, it is largely flat.

 

In 2010, HTC-Highroad won the opening team time trial to put Mark Cavendish in the red leader’s jersey. In 2011, Leopard-Trek emerged as the strongest while Movistar was the fastest team in 2012. In Astana won the technical opening stage and Janez Brajkovic benefited from the win to become the first leader of the race. In 2014, it was again Movistar who came out on top on a short, technical course in Andalusia and like in 2012 it was Jonathan Castroviejo who was given the honour of crossing the line first. Last year, the time gaps were neutralized in the controversial stage that was won by BMC and it was Peter Velits who got a short stint in the red jersey.

 

Ourense has not hosted the finish of a major bike race for more than a decade.

 

 

 

 

The weather

A few days ago, it looked like the riders could have rainy conditions for the opening team time trial but now it seems that the weather will be great. Saturday is forecasted to be sunny and the temperature in the evening when the stage will be held, will be 24-26 degrees.

 

There will be a moderate wind from a northerly direction and this means that the riders will mainly have a crosswind in the first part. A headwind section will lead to a tailwind part and then it will again be a crosswind in the finale. The wind should be relatively constant throughout the stage.

 

The favourites

Last year’s team time trial ended as a farce. A very dangerous route prompted the organizers to make a last-minute decision to neutralize all time gaps and this created a very strange stage. Most of the GC teams opted for safety and just rolled through the course and only a select few teams went full gas, with BMC taking the win and Peter Velits the red jersey.

 

This year we will return to a normal scenario. The course for the opening time trial is far less controversial and has already been praised by riders for its beauty. That doesn’t mean that it will be easy. It is definitely not flat – in fact there aren’t many flat roads in Galicia – and the second half of the stage is very technical. This turns it into a very difficult TTT where cohesion and unity is more important than pure power. At the same time, there are some long, straight sections where the big engines can make a difference.

 

Time differences between the best teams in short team time trials are usually very small but this year the organizers have increased the important by making it much longer than usual. The stage is very similar to the one that was used at the start of the 2013 edition, both when it comes to the profile and the distance. Back then, Astana beat Radioshack by 10 seconds, Omega Pharm-QuickStep by 16 seconds, Sky by 22 seconds and Movistar by 29 seconds while Cofidis lost 1.55 in last place. We can expect something similar this time around and this means that some GC riders could lose valuable time already on the first day. The time gaps are unlikely to be decisive at the end of the race but the stage is important from a psychological point of view as it is preferable to kick off the race on the right footing.

 

Team time trials are generally an affair for a few select teams that really specialize in the discipline and there are rarely any hugely unexpected winners. However, it has always been a bit different at the Vuelta. The mountainous course means that most teams go into the race with rosters loaded with climbers and the biggest engines are often absent. This is not a race where the selection is based on the TTT which is more of an adjacent goal. This has made the teams far less homogeneous and the opening stages of the Vuelta have generally been hard to predict. Furthermore, we have had far more surprises than in any other race.

 

This year’s TTT is definitely no easier to predict. None of the teams are here with their best specialists for this kind of stage and none of them have a completely homogeneous team. A few teams have 2-3 engines but they also have several climbers that won’t be able to contribute much. This makes it a very open affair and at least a handful of teams can realistically hope for the win.

 

Nonetheless, we will put the current world champions on top of our list of favourites. BMC are without any of the riders that helped them win their title in Richmond last year and only Tejay van Garderen was part of the winning team when they took their first title in Ponferrada in 2014. However, it was the same situation in last year’s race and back then they managed to come out on top. In fact, the team resembles last year’s roster pretty closely.

 

However, it will definitely not be a walk in the park to win again. Unlike some of the other teams, they don’t have one big specialist who can make a massive difference on the flats. What characterizes them is their homogeneity and they have fewer weak points than most of their rivals. Only Darwin Atapuma and Dylan Teuns won’t be able to contribute much while the rest should all be pretty strong in this terrain.

 

If the course had been made of long straight, it would have been hard for them to win but on this technical course they should excel. Van Garderen and Silvan Dillier are the engines on the flats but Philippe Gilbert, Samuel Sanchez, Jempy Drucker and Ben Hermans are great TTT riders too. More importantly, those four are all comfortable on a technical course and last year they showed that they can stay together on a route that makes a cohesive effort difficult. The lack of a big TT specialist will make things difficult but the homogeneity means that BMC are our favourites.

 

Sky have done mixed team time trials. On their best day, they have been up there with the best – they won in Romandie last year and in the Tour they were beaten by less than a second – but they have also done some surprisingly poor TTTs in the past. However, we expect them to be strong in this race. With Chris Froome, Michal Kwiatkowski and Leopold König, they have three real specialists on the roster and this is more than most of their rivals.

 

At the same time, the team is very homogeneous and only Ian Boswell and Michal Golas haven’t done good time trials in the past. At the same time, they have several very good climbers who are strong in this kind of lumpy terrain while also being powerful on the flats. Froome will be extremely motivated to get the race off to a good start and with Kwiatkowski to guide the troops through the technical sections and a homogeneous team that should be able to stay together, they could very well take their first gran tour TTT win since the 2013 Giro.

 

Movistar have constantly progressed in the discipline and are now among the very best. Last year they finally got that elusive Worlds medal when they finished third in Richmond. However, their best results have always come in the Vuelta and they have won two of the last four opening team time trials.

 

This year they go into the race with a solid team for this kind of technical course. Jonathan Castroviejo showed great form in Rio and will be the big engine in terrain that suits him well. Imanol Erviti is also a very powerful time triallist and Alejandro Valverde is very strong on this kind of course too. Nairo Quintana has progressed a lot and Jose Joaquin Rojas and Ruben Fernandez are in outstanding form. Rory Sutherland is really powerful too and overall only Daniel Moreno and Jose Herrada stand our as weak points. They could definitely have used another real specialist but you can never rule Movistar out in a Vuelta TTT. Look out for Castroviejo to take the first red jersey for the third time in five years.

 

Etixx-QuickStep were once the dominant force in this discipline but that is no longer the case. Furthermore, they are here without Tony Martin who has usually been the driving force behind their success. Still they have a pretty good and homogeneous team. Yves Lampaert and Niki Terpstra are real specialists and Pieter Serry and Maxime Bouet done good time trials too. On this kind of technical course, tiny Gianluca Brambilaa can also make a valuable contribution as can Zdenek Stybar. The team don’t have any really weak points which is their biggest asset. The question is whether they have the needed power to take the win.

 

LottoNL-Jumbo are not known as one of the TTT specialists but they could be the big surprise in this stage. The Dutchmen have gathered a formidable team of specialists and with Jos van Emden and Victor Campenaerts as the engines, they have more firepower than anyone else. Martijn Keizer is also a very good time triallist and Koen Bouwman has done surprisingly good TTs in the past. If one adds the fact that Steven Kruijswijk has improved a lot, it is clear that the team is very strong. Unfortunately, George Bennett and Enrico Battaglin won’t be able to contribute much and they may lack the experience to win the stage.

 

Astana won the very similar TTT in 2013 but this time, their team is less strong. Dario Cataldo, Dmitriy Gruzdev and Luis Leon Sanchez are all specialists and Gatis Smukulis is a decent time triallist too. Furthermore, the likes of Cataldo and Sanchez should be really comfortable on this lumpy, technical course and Miguel Angel Lopez showed huge TT progress at the Tour de Suisse. The team won the Vuelta a Burgos team time trial with a very similar team and this must make them confident for a repeat win here. However, the team may not be homogenous enough to repeat the performance in Ourense.

 

Orica-BikeExchange are known as some of the biggest specialists in this discipline and they have numerous wins on their palmares. For this stage, they have a solid engine with Svein Tuft, Damien Howson and Sam Bewley. However, they also have riders like Magnus Cort, Simon Yates, Jack Haig and Esteban Chaves who are far from being specialists and even though the nature of the course should help them, they are unlikely to be strong enough to win. As Tuft is also not the rider he once was, they miss the big firepower to continue their winning trend here.

 

Tinkoff had a few years without any major TTT results but in the last few years they have improved a lot. They are almost always in the top 5 and they also have a solid team for this race. Daniele Bennati is one of the best in the business and Manuele Boaro and Alberto Contador are also strong on this kind of course which is not entirely flat. However, the rest of the team is not impressive and Jesus Hernandez and Robert Kiserlovski are really weak points. They are probably not strong enough to win the stage but they shoul definitely be up there.

 

Cannondale were once a real powerhourse in the TTTs but that has definitely changed. In the last few years, they have been among the worst and they have often finished close to the bottom of the results sheets. However, things could change for this race as they actually have a decent line-up for this kind of lumpy course. Patrick Bevin, Andrew Talansky and Moreno Moser are all specialists. However, Joe Dombrowski, Davide Formolo and Pierre Rolland are known as very poor time triallists and so their depth is probably not good enough to be among the very best.

 

Finally, we will point to FDJ. Looking at the team, only Johan Le Bon is a real specialist and they don’t really seem to be in any kind of contention. However, it was the same at this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico where they surprised everybody by taking third and almost all of their riders have improved a lot in the discipline. In this race, they have riders like Kenny Elissonde, Lorrenzo Manzin and Murilo Fischer who are unlikely to make much of a contribution so a similar result is unlikely. However, their big improvement could again result in a surprisingly good performance.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: BMC

Other winner candidates: Sky, Movistar

Outsiders: Etixx-QuickStep, LottoNL-Jumbo, Astana, Orica-BikeEchange

Jokers: Tinkoff, Cannondale, FDJ

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