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HTC-Columbia wins Vuelta opener, puts Mark Cavendish into overall lead

HTC-Columbia set the early top time in the nighttime stage and it withstood challenges from Liquigas-Doimo and Saxo Bank.

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Stage 1, 2010 Vuelta a España, Mark Cavendish
HTC-Columbia's Mark Cavendish dons the first red leader's jersey of the 2010 Vuelta. Photo: Graham Watson |

Mark Cavendish had ample reason to be in a good mood at the end of Saturday’s unique, under-the-lights team time trial at the Vuelta a España.

The British sprinting ace was donning the red leader’s jersey and getting kisses from the Vuelta misses after HTC-Columbia drilled home an impressive TTT victory on a 13km course that looped around Sevilla’s historic district to open the 2010 Vuelta.

It’s the second leader’s jersey for Cavendish in a grand tour thanks to a TTT win. He wore the pink jersey in the 2009 Giro d’Italia after the team won on the Lido island.

Powered by the likes of Olympic track medalist Hayden Roulston, the Velits brothers and grand-tour rookie Tejay Van Garderen, HTC-Columbia stopped the clock in 14 minutes, 6 seconds, to give Cavendish the leader’s jersey as its first rider across the line.

Team times were taken from the fifth rider to finish.

Cavendish was quick to thank his teammates and suggested the Vuelta should spread the wealth.

“There shouldn’t be just one rider who gets the leader’s jersey in a team time trial. There should be nine leader’s jerseys,” Cavendish told VeloNews in Sevilla. “It’s a team effort, the team wins together, so I think there should be more than one rider who gets the jersey. Hopefully there’s a sprint tomorrow. I think it would be beautiful to try to win tomorrow’s stage in the leader’s jersey.”

Cavendish was pumped up before the flat, wide-open team race against the clock and wanted to win the stage against archrivals Garmin-Transitions and Saxo Bank. The team was 30 seconds faster at the first split, then lost some time on the back end of the course, but had enough to hang on for the win.

Liquigas, always strong in team time trials, stopped the clock second at 10 seconds back. Cervélo TestTeam, perhaps riding on pride following the devastating news that the team is closing down at the end of this season, took third at 13 seconds. Pre-race favorites Saxo Bank, anchored by world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara, had to settle for fourth at 14 seconds off the pace.

The victory is HTC-Columbia’s 53rd on the 2010 season, enough to lead the team rankings in points and victories.

There was one minor glitch, however. It seems that Nike was optimistic that Cavendish would be in the leader’s jersey during this Vuelta and had some special shoes made to match its color.

The problem is that someone didn’t realize that the Vuelta had decided to change its leader’s jersey from gold to red at the end of last year’s Vuelta. Cavendish might be wearing some gold-colored cleats tomorrow, at least until a new pair of red shoes can be shipped.

Dean crashes, Van Garderen debuts

Garmin-Transitions saw its chances handicapped when New Zealand veteran Julian Dean crashed while warming up on the course about an hour before the start.

Stage 1, 2010 Vuelta a España, Garmin-Transitions
Garmin-Transitions got off to a poor start after Julian Dean hit the deck during a warm-up. Photo: Graham Watson |

With artificial lighting lining the course, Dean couldn’t discern a shift in asphalt height and took a hard tumble. He was able to finish the stage, but lost contact with his Garmin-Transition teammates early in the race. Dean crossed the line with bandages on an elbow, shoulder and leg.

“He just couldn’t see the height of the different asphalt and crashed pretty hard. There was maybe a 5cm crease in the road and he caught his tire on it and crashed,” Garmin sport director Bingen Fernández told VeloNews. “It’s hard to say how much time difference we might have lost by not having Julian at full strength, but you can say it’s like we started with eight riders.”

Dean’s crash was typical of the major complaint that riders had about racing under the lights. Crews installed more than 1,000 lights along the route, but riders said it was difficult to distinguish undulations and other bumps in the road.

“We inspected the course during the daylight, but under the lights it was completely different,” said HTC-Columbia’s Bernhard Eisel. “I really didn’t like this idea of racing at night. It was difficult to see. I am surprised more riders didn’t crash.”

Race organizers held the TTT at night in part to avoid the extreme heat that’s typical in Sevilla in late August. Temperatures were even more brutal than usual in the days leading up to the start, reaching broiling highs above 115F. Race organizers knew that no one would stand along the side of a road for hours under those conditions.

By Saturday evening, however, temperatures were markedly cooler, with the thermometer “dipping” to the low 90s. With a slight breeze blowing off the Guadaquivil River, race conditions weren’t too bad.

Thousands of sevillanos turned up to cheer the likes of Carlos Sastre, the Schleck brothers and Denis Menchov.

One rider soaking it all in was Tejay Van Garderen, who made his grand-tour debut. HTC-Columbia’s victory earned him a trip to the winner’s podium on his first day in a three-week tour.

“I’m pretty excited to be here. I want to do as well as I can, to help the team and maybe if I feel good, I can try to finish in the top 15 or something like that,” Van Garderen told VeloNews. “The first goal is to arrive to Madrid and help the team.”

Van Garderen will have some work in Sunday’s 173.7km second stage from Alcalá de Guadaíra to Marbella.

The points awarded for the day’s lone third-category are deceiving. The route is very hilly and climbs nearly 1,000 vertical meters before dropping down to Marbella. Race organizers are only awarding one climb’s worth of points in part so the KoM competition isn’t blown apart in the first real day of racing.

With temperatures expected to climb back into the 100s on Sunday, the peloton should be sluggish and most are expecting a bunch sprint into Marbella.

Complete results

Quick results:

  • 1. Team HTC-Columbia, 13km in 14:06
  • 2. Liquigas -Doimo, at 0:10
  • 3. Cervélo TestTeam, at 0:13
  • 4. Team Saxo Bank, at 0:14
  • 5. Lampre-Farnese Vini, at 0:14

Overall (after stage 1)

  • 1. Mark Cavendish (Team HTC-Columbia), 14:06
  • 2. Peter Velits (Team HTC-Columbia), s.t.
  • 3. Martin Velits (Team HTC-Columbia), s.t.
  • 4. Lars Bak (Team HTC-Columbia), s.t.
  • 5. Hayden Roulston (Team HTC-Columbia), s.t.

Points leader

    1. Mark Cavendish (Team HTC-Columbia), 25pts

Best all-round rider

    1. Mark Cavendish (Team HTC-Columbia), 2pts

Team GC leader

    1. HTC-Columbia, 14:06