Movistar have won the opening stage of the 2014 Vuelta a Espana.
The Spanish squad, racing in their home tour under the joint leadership of Giro d’Italia winner, Nairo Quintana, and 2009 Vuelta champion, Alejandro Valverde, claimed victory by six seconds from long-term leaders, Cannondale, who pipped third-placed Orica-GreenEDGE.
It was a Spaniard, Jonathan Castroviejo, who led the men in blue and green across the line, ensuring that he will wear the first red jersey of race leader in this 68th edition of the Spanish national tour.
The crowds who lined the streets of Jerez were treated to an exciting display of sheer speed, nerve, and bike handling, with many squads electing to shed the slower among their number with the clock stopped by the fifth man home. It is testament to Movistar that they finished with all nine riders in the same group.
Cannondale produced perhaps the most surprising performance of the day to oust long-term leaders and TTT specialists, Orica-GreenEDGE, victors of the opening test of the Giro d’Italia in Belfast. Peter Sagan was the second member of the ‘green machine’ to cross the line, led home by his team-mate, Damiano Caruso. Alessandro De Marchi, winner of the combativity award at the Tour de France, finished on Sagan’s wheel, suggesting the Italian climbing specialist has held his good form of July.
Trek Factory Racing finished fourth, thanks in part to the efforts of four-time world time trial champion, Fabian Cancellara, but reigning world TTT champions, Omega Pharma-QuickStep, widely fancied for victory in Jerez, could only manage fifth, despite the presence in their number of three-time and reigning world ITT champion, Tony Martin.
The big story among the GC contenders was the relative performances of Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo squad, which finished a creditable seventh, and the less than impressive showings of Chris Froome’s Sky team (twelfth), the Katusha line-up assembled to support Joaquim Rodriguez (sixteenth), and a shoddy eighteenth place for Garmin-Sharp, despite the presence of Dan Martin, David Millar, Andrew Talansky, and Ryder Hesjedal.
Contador especially will consider himself satisfied with the day’s proceedings, after racing for the first time since breaking his tibia in the Tour de France just six weeks earlier.
He said: “I think it’s a good result. The distance up to Movistar is only 19 seconds, but more than that, I’m happy because I could keep up with my teammates.
“I was able to participate in the work during the race and it’s a good sign that I had no pain in my knee. I was really looking forward to the start of the race and the time differences are not significant. From now, I’ll go day by day and see what will happen.”
Tomorrow’s 174.4km stage from Algeciras to San Fernando is expected to yield a bunch sprint. Movistar, occupying the top nine places on GC, will be content if the field finishes together, regardless of who is first across the line.