Different but the same: the Vuelta a España has its first start in Barcelona in 51 years this weekend, but its traditional opening team time trial is clearly designed, as usual, to put the GC contenders through their paces from the gun.
The route is 14.8 kilometres long and runs through the streets of the city centre on Saturday evening; the course is much shorter than the opening TTT in Utrecht last August.
But the combination of broad, flat avenues of downtown Barcelona and some technical corners could easily catch out the unwary or those GC riders hoping to ride into form. Furthermore, in a race with so many GC favourites, any opportunity to snatch a few seconds advantage is not to be missed.
“There won’t be big gaps, but there will be gaps,” Ineos Grenadiers Egan Bernal said on Thursday’s press conference, while his teammate Geraint Thomas pointed out that the TTT format, which allows the entire team to go up on the winners’ podium, is both increasingly rare in bike races and hugely motivating for all the riders on the opening day of a Grand Tour.
Last but not least, the opening team time trial provides all the contenders with an opportunity to wear the leader’s jersey of the Vuelta. In what promises to be an even more hotly contested edition than usual with so many GC favourites, that is no minor matter.
The opening Vuelta a España team time trial course runs mostly on a northeast/southwest axis in the city centre roads, thereby avoiding all the hills that rise away from Barcelona’s seaport area. Instead, with just 98 vertical metres of climbing, the TTT will be one that favours teams with chrono specialists – Ineos Grenadiers Filippo Ganna, World TT Champion Remco Evenepoel, Olympic TT champion Primož Roglič and EF Education-EasyPost’s Stefan Bisseger all spring to mind – alongside strongly built power riders.
The wind is unlikely to be a real factor in such a densely built-up area, and there are no cobbled sections or seriously narrow streets to speak of, either. In fact, the only factors that could prove unpredictable are the state of the city centre streets, which will likely be very grimy given the density of the usual motor traffic, and the weather.
After weeks of drought, rain is forecast for Saturday evening and through the rest of the weekend. The change in weather is a welcome drop in temperatures after this week’s heat wave with peaks in the low 40s and high humidity in the last few days. But it could come at a…