Stage 1: Ourense TTT, 27.8km
Yes, the aero stars... wait, not that Aerostar, I mean the stars of aero cycling... they're coming out to play.
What's It About?
Team time trials are about not fucking up, plain and simple. Well, and blasting out a huge amount of wattage, but that's what cyclists do most days regardless. Here, it's about riding hard in very close quarters according to a predetermined organization that relies on precise positioning. By everyone.
What can go wrong? I think you already know.
That's the exception, by far, thankfully, and mostly TTTs come down to who has the most talent and who has a plan that takes best advantage of the available talent. TTTs are about teams identifying their five guys who should cross the line first, and about burning off assets in a way that will get those five -- one of whom is your GC hope or your sprinter for tomorrow -- home fastest. They are a hip way to kick off a grand tour: they're over fast, they look great, and they create enough separation to result in jerseys for those who do best. In other words, they foster meaningful competition in a digestible first-day portion.
ChrisF's Dirt and Rock Pairings
AmyBC's food and wine pairings are an essential part of our Giro and Tour coverage, but she does have a life outside of writing about food, and I believe we will be without her expertise when it comes to Spain. So instead, I will use the space to talk about one of my favorite subjects that I don't really know much about...
As I mentioned in the Viewer's Guide, the Vuelta is making a big deal out of local geologic features, so I'm going to use this space to pass them on to you. It's actually extremely cool, and making me rethink next summer's European vacation plans (yes, I have European vacation plans for next summer). Here's the story of Ourense.
Since Roman times, thermal baths and wellness spas have featured among Ourense's many attractive qualities. The term SPA dates back to that time, salus per aquam means health from water, which today brings travellers seeking healing, relief or simply relaxation.
Huh! I did not know that.
In truth, there are both natural and thermal springs all throughout Galicia, where the rocks are very ancient (the majority of them formed over 250 million years ago). When Europe and Africa drew closer to each other to assume their current positions, the rocks, ancient and rigid, fractured forming very deep faults. These faults can be thousands of metres deep and the water runs through them, heating up near the Earth's crust, and then returns to the surface through other faults. This is how the water reaches us with temperatures over 60º C, and carrying with it everything that it has dissolved on its long journey. This water contains such dissolved elements as lithium, sodium, potassium, magnesium and sulphur, which give the water all of its mineral and medicinal properties. These fractures are also responsible for the Galician topography, as its rivers forge the valleys as they flow, making the most of the fact that the movements of the faults has grinded the adjacent rocks. If ever proof were needed, one must only look at the Miño River from the sky in order to see the fractured outline of its canyon, which marks the exact outline of the faults. If that were not enough, there are several wellness spas all along the river that are now becoming fashionable once again, just as they were at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Question -- how do these minerals fare when it comes to making a tasty grape? Anyone with a knowledge of Galician wine is invited to chime in here.
Board flat, or close to it. That's good news, since a TTT doesn't look like much if it has to deal with hills. The bigger question is turns, and this one, all things considered, doesn't have many of them.
Such maps can be misleading, and there may be some hazards along the way, but there are clearly some long flat stretches where only a crosswind can do them any real harm. And there, the forecast calls for sunny skies and calm conditions. So this one comes down to wattage and organization.
Whom Does It Favor?
Always a question for the Vuelta, where picking the favorites is nearly impossible. But the schedule gives a hint.
The organizers tend to have some insight into who's the best at the discipline, and sock them away for the end of the stage. I'd say numbers 15-22 are your top contenders, though one can't overlook usual suspects Etixx-Quick Step or maybe even Cannondale-Drapac.
BMC come in as the two-time defending world champions in the discipline, and for all the Olympic hoopla there are still Rainbow Jerseys to be had in about two months. So they have a pretty beefy TTT squad lined up, and this stage almost certainly rates as the most important objective for the entire Vuelta. I wonder if Tejay van Garderen is here to win the overall; if not, he'll propel them to a strong result tomorrow.
Sky, Tinkoff and Movistar are the more conventional favorites, being teams that have a GC objective and a battery of powerful riders around their star for just this occasion. Given the extent to which they've
ruined cycling dominated their opposition this summer, I would guess Sky bring a cohesive and confident unit -- but missing several of their biggest engines -- while Movi are #2, trying harder and maybe with a chip on their shoulder. Tinkoff have one of the stronger TT lineups of the GC teams, with Conta, Benna and Paulinho the driving forces.
Pick to Win
BMC. In a race that calls for bringing out all your climbers, BMC seem most committed to the power squad. That plus experience plus motivation gets it done.