By Andrew Hood
David Millar won the opening time trial of the 2001 Vuelta a España on Saturday, confirming that he’s one of the top time trialists in cycling.
The 24-year-old Cofidis rider said his crash in the opening prologue of the 2001 Tour de France weighed heavily on his mind during the technical, tight 12-km course through the streets of Salamanca.
“This victory means as much to me as the victory in the Tour last year in the prologue,” said Millar, who won in 14 minutes, 56 seconds with an average speed of 48.214 km/h. “In every curve, I was thinking about the crash in the Tour. I was trying to ride safe and avoid a crash.”
Kelme’s Santiago Botero finished second, just one second slower than Millar, while U.S. Postal’s Levi Leipheimer finished third, just 6seconds off Millar’s winning time.
“It was a complicated course and I didn’t go all out at first because there are some dangerous corners in the opening section. I made up the time in the final section of the course,” said Millar, who takes the race leader’s maillot oro, or golden jersey. “My objective is to win the three flat time trials during this Vuelta. I want to keep the leader’s jersey as long as I can with the strong team that we have.”
Defending Vuelta champion Roberto Heras of U.S. Postal finished 33rd at 46 seconds slower while ONCE rivals Igor Galdeano finished fourth at 17 seconds and Joseba Beloki fifth at 23 seconds.
The pressure was on Millar, who won the opening prologue of the 2000 Tour but crashed hard in the penultimate curve of this year’s Tour prologue in Dunkirk. Millar abandoned the 2001 Tour on the 10thstage.
“I wanted to demonstrate that I am one of the best time trialists in the world. I have been among the favorites in all the major time trials this year so it was important for my morale to ride well,” Millar said “This is not a revenge for me. This was a big objective for the team at the beginning the season.”
Leipheimer’s strong ride was a surprise to everyone except those close to the California rider now hitting his stride with U.S. Postal Service. Leipheimer has been riding strong since July, finishing second overall lat the Vuelta a Castilla Leon and sixth overall in the Vuelta a Burgos, both in August.
“I feel like I’ve taken it to a whole new level this year. I’m a lot more confident and my expectations have increased,” Leipheimer said. “We’re very motivated for the Vuelta. All of our personal ambitions are put aside to help Roberto win again in Madrid. Today and maybe in some of the time trials during the Vuelta I have the chance to ride for a strong result. The rest of the time it’s everything for Roberto.”
Chann McRae, making his debut with the U.S. Postal Service team, finished 47th at 56 seconds.
“It feels great to be on the team, but it’s going to take mea few days to get my rhythm back after not racing for so long,” said McRae, who left his troubled Mercury team to sign a contract to race in the Vuelta for the Posties. “It couldn’t be better. I’m focusing on doing my job right now.”
Heras, obviously a much stronger climber than time trialist, said he was satisfied with his ride.
“I had good sensations. I went hard today but I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks,” Heras said. “I didn’t want to lose a lot of time to Beloki and Galdeano so I am satisfied.”
ONCE suffered a blow when Marcos Serrano crashed in the first kilometer of the course, breaking his right collarbone. Serrano managed to finish the race, but was taken to hospital and isn’t expected to start Sunday’s stage.
The 21-stage,2986-km (1851-mile) Vuelta a España continues Sunday with the 147km (91-mile) second stage from Salamanca to Valladolid.
VUELTA A ESPAÑA, STAGE 1, Salamanca, Spain, Sept. 8
1. David Millar (GB), Cofidis, 12km in 14:56 (48.214 kph); 2. SantiagoBotero (Col), Kelme, 14:57;3. Levy Leipheimer (USA), U.S. Postal Service,15:02; 4. Igor Galdeano (Sp), ONCE, 15:13;5. Joseba Beloki (Sp), ONCE,15:19; 6. David Plaza (Sp), Festina, 15:21; 7. Jose Guitierrez (Sp), Kelme,15:22; 8. Mikel Zarrabeitia (Sp), ONCE, 15:22;9. Jorg Jaksche (G), ONCE,15:24; 10. Pedro Horrillo (Sp), Mapei, 15:26
12. Abraham Olano (Sp),ONCE, 15:27;
18. Oscar Sevilla (Sp), Kelme, 15:31;
32. Alex Zülle (Sw), Coast,15:42;
55. Fernando Escartin (Sp), Coast, 15:52; 83. Richard Virenque (F), Domo,16:10;
148. Marco Pantani (I), Mercatone Uno, 16:39
Best climber’s jersey
1. DavidMillar, Cofidis, 6 points; 2. Robert Hunter, Lampre, 4; 3. Jose
LuisRubiera, U.S. Postal Service, 2; 4. Santiago Botero, 1.
1. DavidMillar, Cofidis, 25 points; 2. Santiago Botero, Kelme, 20; 3.
Levi Leipheimer, U.S. Postal Service, 16; 4. Igor Galdeano, ONCE, 14; 5. JosebaBeloki, ONCE, 12.
1. Kelme, 45:47; 2. ONCE, at 7 seconds; 3. U.S. Postal Service at 25 seconds; 4. Cofidis, at 32 seconds; 5. Festina, at 41 seconds.