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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España stage 1 preview: Rain could shape result of Utrecht team time trial

Jumbo-Visma lines up as favorites in evening opener that might come down to balance between speed and safety.

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UTRECHT, Netherlands (VN) – There’s one question on the minds of many of the Vuelta a España racers before Friday evening’s stage 1 team time trial in Utrecht: Will it rain or not?

Keep an eye on those weather radars. It’s currently expected to rain between 15h and 19h (CET) and the first team, Burgos-BH, rolls off the start ramp at 18h30 for the 23.3km race.

There will likely be damp roads, and that’s if the deluge stops and does not continue throughout the race for all 22 starting teams.

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Wet conditions could drastically change the stage and even the outcome of the Vuelta. No contender will want to fall, lose time, or risk injury.

UAE-Team Emirates captain João Almeida summed up the potential tricky balance facing the teams between speed and safety: “It depends how many risks we want to take. If you take risks, you can win a bit of time but you can always also lose a lot, if you crash.”

“I hope the time gaps won’t be more than a minute,” he said.

Corners, wind and straights for power merchants

At 23.3 kilometers in distance, this is a medium-length, pan-flat opening test. Teams will start at four-minute intervals, so there’s no risk of passing or drafting.

The first quarter of the race, heading south from the exhibition center Jaarbeurs and east out of Utrecht city center, packs 10 corners before featuring more straights to put down the power.

There are a few cobblestones en route, too, but more kinder, city-smooth clinkers rather than Paris-Roubaix rough stuff.

The course forms a rough parallelogram shape around Utrecht.

And this being the Netherlands, there’s wind to factor in as well. The forecast 15km/h gusts should mean a switch from a slight cross-tailwind in the race’s first half to sections of headwind in the route’s second part.

Team time trials are few and far between in WorldTour racing these days, and some competitors here have never raced a top-level one.

There is a true art to TTT riding: It’s a matter of constantly pushing the limits of pain and power without going overboard. A smooth, seamless collaboration with teammates at speeds of 55km/h is the holy grail.

And with the time taken at the fifth rider, teams can only go as fast as their slowest cog in the wheel.

Jumbo-Visma tops favorites list

Dutch-registered squad Jumbo-Visma roll off last at 19h58 (CET) and will line up as one of the favorites.

The team brings defending champion Primož Roglič in their ranks, as well as time trial stars Rohan Dennis (the 2015 Tour de France TT winner here in Utrecht), Edoardo Affini, and former Tour stage winner Mike Teunissen.

The young team of Ineos Grenadiers will be well-drilled, with Paris-Roubaix winner Dylan van Baarle, Ethan Hayter, Tao Geoghegan-Hart, and Luke Plapp on board.

Then there’s Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl posing a threat, with Vuelta contender Remco Evenepoel, world champion Julian Alaphilippe, and Rémi Cavagna spearheading the lineup.

Craddock and Co. could stun

BikeExchange-Jayco could spring a surprise.

Their GC leader Simon Yates won a Giro time trial and many of their lineup have track pedigree, such as Kelland O’Brien, Michael Hepburn and Luke Durbridge. Reigning US time trial champion Lawson Craddock brings more power.

“The TTT is a big goal for us and everyone’s come here with high expectations,” Craddock told VeloNews. “A lot of preparation has gone into it from all sides.

“Fortunately, we’re all based around the same area, a lot of us in Girona and some guys in Andorra. It’s made it easier to get together in Girona and do some specific TTT work. There’s been a lot of focus on going fast.”

There hasn’t been a grand tour TTT since the 2019 Vuelta and it can spring surprises.

Astana were the surprise winners that evening in Torrevieja, and UAE-Team Emirates, including a young Tadej Pogačar making his debut at a three-week race, wiped out on a slippery corner. A reminder to expect the unexpected.