Astana Wins Vuelta TTT; Brajkovic Takes Red Jersey
Team NetApp-Endura was the first starter, and the German squad posted a 30:34. This time was better than Orica-GreenEdge's, Argos-Shimano's, and BMC's. NetApp-Endura was not toppled from the top of the standings until Omega Pharma-Quick Step, the eighth starter and the world team time trial champion, crossed the finish line in 30:15.
The Belgian team kept the lead for the best part of three hours. Sky made a strong challenge but fell 0:06 short. Omega Pharma-Quick Step stayed in the lead until RadioShack-Leopard, the fourth from the last starter, posted a 30:09. Astana, the final starter, was already on the road when RadioShack-Leopard finished, however. The Kazakh team had the day's best times at the 9.2-km and 20-km checkpoints. Team captain Vincenzo Nibali, the 2010 Vuelta winner, thrust his fists skyward as he crossed the finish line.
Brajkovic was elated for himself and his team. He regarded the red jersey as recompense for a difficult season. "This was my lucky day," he said. "From the moment I woke up to the moment we crossed the line, everything went right. It's nice to wear the red jersey after so much bad luck this season, and I am especially proud of how strong the team is. We are here to try and wear this jersey on the final day in Madrid, and today is a good indication of our intent.
"After all I have gone through this season, up and down, stomach and crash, I am very relieved to be back in form, and very happy to be on this team." (Brajkovic suffered a stomach virus just before the Giro d'Italia, which he was scheduled to ride, and he crashed out of the Tour de France.)
Astana's victory put Nibali first among the race's contenders. He cannot be unhappy with the day's result. Neither can Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard), who yielded only 0:10 to Nibali. Sky finished 0:22 behind Astana, so Sergio Henao is probably happy enough. So is Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), whose team finished 0:29 behind Nibali's. Roman Kreuziger (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff) is at 0:32, close enough to the lead for now.
Some hopefuls are definitely less than content with their squads' performances. Belkin finished 10th at 0:49, which does not put Bauke Mollema in an advantageous position. Lampre-Merida was one place behind Belkin at 0:56, which is not good for Michele Scarponi. Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) was anything but pleased with his team's 12th-place finish at 0:56. Samuel Sanchez's Euskaltel-Euskadi finished 14th at 1:14, which put Sanchez in a disadvantage in his attempt to give his team, which is about to disband, its first Grand Tour win. And Ivan Basso (Cannondale) and Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) are behind the eight ball with their teams finishing 17th at 1:26 and 19th at 1:41, respectively.
In the overall, Brajkovic leads teammates Nibali and Paolo Tiralongo. Stage 2 will be the first standing shaker of the race. The 177.7-km ride from Pontevedra to Alto de Groba will take the riders over the Category 3 Alto de San Cosme (62 km) before they do battle on the Category 1 climb to the finish. The ascent will be an early test of the contenders' fitness. Who will win the stage? Who will take the red jersey? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!