Vuelta Stage 1: Malaga

It was nice watching a European stage where I had some more familiarity with the route. With the exception of the Tour de France finish in Paris, most of the racing occurs on remote countryside roads that I have little chance of ever rolling through. Not so for Malaga -- although I couldn't exactly place the coverage, I have fond memories of strolling along its flat seaside roads with the Castle of Alcazaba above. It's a great place for this unusual start to a grand tour -- a prologue-ish team time trial.

I love the team time trial and after watching this prologue, I think the idea of a prologue team time trial is growing on me. With such a short distance, it is all the more important that your team is well-drilled. Make a couple mistakes -- like Discovery did -- and you can easily lose the seconds you need to finish in first. Very unforgiving, very fast, very fun to watch. CSC was nearly perfect in their run and quite deservingly wears the golden jersey -- for a night at least, as it should quickly be handed over to a sprint team with the stages ahead.

The Vuelta coverage was a bit funky to watch -- the footage focused mainly on the first half of the course for each team, the Vuelta graphics kept obscuring the coverage, and the cameramen were a bit rusty. Here's my observations, as best as I could tell:

  • CSC was clearly the best of the lot. There was a tricky turn/roundabout combination that splintered most of the pacelines going through and caused a crash for Gerolsteiner, but CSC kept everything tight and in control. They dropped Fabian Cancellara in the final kilometer, but Cancellara had put in a great effort at the front and burned everything he had to put his teammate Sastre in the golden jersey.
  • Caisse D'Epargne looked like a well-drilled team. I'm placing big bets on Valverde -- they should be in a good position to pick up their second Grand Tour this year.
  • Discovery didn't look great at the start. They seemed to have a bit of trouble falling into line at the beginning and they confused the rotations a bit. Still, they managed a very respectable fourth place at nine seconds back
  • Gerolsteiner looked horrible. They couldn't keep the line together, they didn't have their rotations down, and it cost them: heading into a roundabout they really split apart and team captain Davide Rebellin went down when he ran into the rear wheel of his teammate. They didn't wait for Rebellin, so he lost over two minutes on this very short stage, and the team only finished with 6 riders at the finish. In fact, Gerolsteiner looked as bad as Euskatel, but at least Euskatel didn't crash and finished with 7 riders.

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related articles: Vuelta a Espana 2006
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