A theoretically straightforward opening team time trial for the 2023 Vuelta a España on Saturday ended up being marred by miserable racing conditions that saw multiple mass crashes, and a first abandon less than 10 kilometres into the stage.
Ineos Grenadiers climber Laurens De Plus fell heavily early on his team’s ride on the 14.8 kilometre course, and after struggling to get back on his bike, was evacuated from the race in an ambulance for further assessment of his injuries. Official race reports later said he had injured his pelvis.
While the Belgian will likely be sorely missed by leader Geraint Thomas in the Vuelta’s multiple mountain stages, other teams suffered mass pile ups on a course rendered treacherous by heavy rainfall, standing water and bizarrely poor night-time visibility in one of Europe’s biggest cities.
Alpecin-Deceuninck were one of the teams to go down hard, with Jayco-AIUIa also seeing six of their eight riders hit the deck.
Early finishers sought shelter from the incessant rain under a conveniently located flyover bridge just past the line to check on teammates who had crashed alongside them and share experiences with the waiting media.
“I feel really bad for Jason [Osborne, teammate] I took him out at that first roundabout,” Alpecin-Deceuninck sprinter Kaden Groves told reporters. “Slippery roads, I didn’t think I was taking any risks, but unfortunately I was too fast.”
“It was an off-camber corner and I lost my front wheel. It was my own fault. Thankfully everybody was okay.”
He agreed that some GC riders coming later “would have to take it easy, they’ll take different strategies after seeing us go down,” but said the course in itself was not overly technical.
“In the wet – yes, but in the dry in the recons it was super-safe,” he concluded – although his team was one of the ones that raced in daylight, with later squads criticising a lack of visibility.
“We had to rely on the radios to tell us there was 200 metres to go to the corner, it was really hard to estimate the distance,” Soudal-QuickStep Louis Vervaeke, whose teammate Remco Evenepoel was one of the most outspoken critics of the course, told Danish TV. “It was a nice area of Barcelona but a little bit disappointing.”
UAE Team Emirates contender Juan Ayuso confirmed that his team, one of the slowest of the GC squads on the day, had opted to take things more slowly.
“We set out with the plan to not to risk to much, considering the weather…